This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Cities shying away from the public

Over the last two years of writing the Duel, the lack of accountability in government at every level has come up often. But as prior City Hall writers have discovered, there’s never a lack of material when it comes to civic politics.

So why are so many people asleep at the wheel?

The people you elected last fall are now serving four-year terms and the decisions made by mayors and councils often impact our lives directly — and not always for the best. You’re doing yourself a disservice when you don’t pay attention to civic decisions.

I suspect that lack of attention is just fine with some civic politicians because the less you are paying attention, the easier their jobs are. And perhaps that’s part of why getting accountability on their actions (or inaction) and what should be public information is increasingly difficult.

Between websites that are difficult to use, councils that eliminate question periods, and a lack of meaningful public consultation, there’s a strong sense of disconnect among many residents across Metro Vancouver.

Compounding the problem is the lack of knowledge many people have of how city halls process development applications and stage public hearings, or how to speak at a council meeting work. While the onus falls on each of us to keep informed, the process needs to be a two-way street.

For example, cities like White Rock that have removed public question period at council meetings justify the decision by saying residents can apply to speak as a delegation. But they fail to tell the public they don’t have to approve those requests.

That small question period is, for many, the only unfettered access to civic politicians that people have…

READ the rest of this weeks column, comment or share at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2015/05/27/cities-shying-away-from-the-public

It’s been a very busy week which accounts for the lack of posts but having just caught up on the mornings breaking news of the deleted emails FOI scandal of the BC Liberals, I’ll try to have a post up on that soon. Good grief.

6 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Cities shying away from the public

  1. “So why are so many people asleep at the wheel?”
    THEY ARE BORED TO THE POINT OF BEING ASLEEP.
    But you can fix that if they don’t silence you first.

    Part of it, I think, is that people don’t really ‘see’ the connection between their everyday lives and the machinations of politics at any level. Their taxes go up and they feel that topic pretty clearly and quickly so taxes is one of the few meeting points of discussion for politicians and people (i.e. the HST debacle). Money. Bloody money. Always stinking, bloody greed-money. Both sides. That’s why politicians preach tax breaks and giveaways. People want to get some of that. Yum yum.

    But other topics: is street crime directly related to the function of the mayor or the premier? Answer: the majority of people don’t see a direct correlation. “Like, duh, isn’t, like street crime done by like, street criminals? So, howza mayor gonna fix that!?” Reporters like you have to connect the dots, find the bread crumbs, see the connecting trails and the cover-ups. Reporters like you have to make politics real to people because politicians are always promoting their ‘distance’ from the problems, not their closeness to them. They do not want the public to see how INVESTED they are in there being problems, too. They are in the fear business, after all.

    Bear in mind that poli-speak is dull and designed to NOT inform the listener. The mayor says nothing. The premier says nothing. The Prime Minister says nothing but lies. But their lips are always moving. They smile a lot. They get a regular pay-cheque. And they speak in cliches and poli-babble. THAT is on purpose. That is the system they signed up for. They want to look good and tell us nothing. What good could come of ‘the truth’ for them?

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  2. Heather

    North Vancouver City Council has also tried this. There was a great outcry because the governing “team” has been trying to muzzle the public and even threatened them with the RCMP. Not to mention wanting to muzzle insults and comments made about them on social media. Good luck with that!

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  3. misallocationofcapital

    The public won’t be bored when the forest industry resource income which sustains government program spending collapses and ‘austerity’ becomes a necessity.

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  4. Scotty on Denman

    It might be splitting hairs, but speaking at council session certainly isn’t the only way for citizens to communicate with their elected civic servants. Nevertheless, I detest the kind of officiousness that pretends it doesn’t hear if points aren’t presented in this particular forum; I wouldn’t go so far as to say it always means some ulterior agenda is being affected, but there’s definitely a perception that it could be, and, like conflict-of-interest regulations (sometimes interpreted cowardly as [only] “guidelines”), that should be enough to initiate some kind of adjudication with teeth.

    I recall Mayor Harcourt holding court where citizens could voice their concerns directly—and publicly on community television—to him, officially and in session. Only sometimes would there be exchange and development of ideas concluding in a promise of action; more often, the Mayor would refer the speaker (it’d be too sweeping to call them all “complainants”—but most often they were) to the appropriate agency, or recommend other options to further a particular case.

    I admired Harcourt’s courage to face questions which could potentially put him in bad light—and without warning; I also sympathized when he’d have to shut down rambling, unprepared, erroneous, malicious crusaders and bushwhackers— but, I’ll admit, usually when I happened to agree with his decision to do so. Otherwise Harcourt ran the risk, and suffered politically to some extent, I think, by appearing officiously stonewalling or evading an issue—whether this was the case or not. But I’d sooner have this than the officially condoned, perfunctory stonewalling we see sneaking past a sleeping constituency these days.

    I can understand some conversations between, say, developers seeking permit and city council needing to be done in camera, but all of these absolutely must, at some point, be made public as part of the process, and not after the fact—or never—as we increasingly see.

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