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Vancouver Election: The Tyee's Four Big Questions

Where do the major parties stand on our issues? We asked, they answered.

By Katie Hyslop 14 Nov 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is covering the municipal elections for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

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Questions photo via Shutterstock.

The Tyee has paid attention to the issues that matter to our readers in the fast-approaching Vancouver municipal election. But despite the plethora of debates, radio spots, and lawn ads littering the landscape, we felt we still lacked the full picture on where the four largest parties stand on four key issues: the creation of affordable housing, balancing density with neighbourhood character, campaign finance reform, and a city's role in pipeline politics.

So we asked them. We sent four questions to the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), Vision Vancouver, Coalition Of Progressive Electors (COPE), and Green Party via email. Here's what they sent back to us, edited for length and clarity:

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Under your party, what would Vancouver's affordable housing landscape look like in four years, and what should the city's role in housing be?

VISION VANCOUVER: To address Vancouver's housing affordability challenges, city hall needs to be active in promoting and delivering housing that responds to the needs of low and middle-income households. Vision Vancouver has created thousands of rental and social housing units over the last two terms, and we have committed to an additional 4,000 new rental units over the next four years, as well as targeting 35 per cent of all units in large new developments for families.

We're also committed to enabling the new Affordable Housing Agency to use city-owned land to build new homes that are affordable for modest income households -- something the NPA voted against. The NPA's record on housing has included over 25 votes against housing and homelessness initiatives over the last three years.

We have also taken additional steps to protect renters by using injunctions to force landlords to repair their buildings; establishing the Vancouver Rent Bank, an important resource to help vulnerable renters avoid evictions; and enabling new laneway homes, co-op housing, and co-housing.

NPA: In four years, an NPA government will have completed an updated CityPlan -- a community-led planning process for neighbourhoods -- that significantly increases the supply of attainable and affordable housing in the city, particularly when it comes to young families and seniors housing. The plan will be completed with neighbourhoods at the centre of the planning process, bringing meaningful community consultation back into neighbourhood planning.

In particular, a more diverse range of housing options are needed in Vancouver. These could include row or terraced housing, or other options that are identified through community consultation. The city can also encourage more affordable rental housing stock by advocating for a tax credit for affordable rental investment and adopting mixed-tenure zones to create residential developments that are predominately rental.

The city's role in housing is centred on two tenets: planning and advocacy. By facilitating a community-led process such as CityPlan, the city can work with neighbourhoods to meaningfully increase the supply of affordable and attainable housing in ways that work best for local residents. We will be a strong and effective advocate to other levels of government for measures to help increase Vancouver's affordable housing and rental stock, like the aforementioned tax credit.

GREEN PARTY: The Green Party would re-define "affordable housing" in the city's Development Cost Levies bylaw to be 30 per cent of gross household income, based on average renters' income in the neighbourhood in the case of rental housing projects, or simply average household income in that neighbourhood in the case of market housing, so that policies to achieve affordable housing actually result in housing that is truly affordable.

We would protect older affordable apartment buildings by exempting them from "interim" up-zoning and provide property tax rebates to owners to upgrade them.

We would pursue zoning changes that help retain older affordable homes and allow an additional non-strata suite in homes if citizens are agreeable to rezone some single family neighbourhoods to a zoning similar to the RT-8 zoning in Kistilano.

We'd also enable our Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency to own and rent or sell housing similar to the Whistler Housing Authority, requiring developers to sell at cost to the agency 10 percent of the housing units they develop in projects of 10 units or more, whether rental or owned, which the agency would re-sell or rent at cost. This would diversify the affordable housing landscape to include both ownership and rental housing of various types.

COPE: Under a COPE council, four years from now the city will have the capacity to address homelessness. According to the 2005 Homeless Action Plan, created by the 2002-05 COPE majority city council, we needed 800 units of social housing per year. We didn't get that under the NPA or Vision. COPE's Housing Authority will build 800 units of housing on city-owned land each year, because we believe affordable housing is part of the city's infrastructure. We have a plan to fund public housing development through multiple sources, including through a vacant properties tax.

Vancouver's affordable neighbourhoods will be vibrant and inclusive, with no luxury condo towers in sight. We'll revisit Vision's condo plans for Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, Downtown Eastside, and the West End to protect our affordable rental housing stock. We can't let this precious housing be replaced by luxury condos built by Vision's big corporate donors.

A COPE council will make rents more affordable and tenants more secure in their housing. On COPE's first day in office, we will declare a housing "state of emergency." We'll ban renovictions by placing conditions on building permits. Don't let anyone tell you the city is powerless.

DENSITY

With an average 5,000 new residents arriving in Vancouver each year, how would your party balance the need for increased density with what current residents want for the future of their neighbourhoods?

VISION VANCOUVER: Vancouver is an immensely attractive city for new residents, whether they come from within the region, the province, country, or around the world. We have a shortage of housing that's affordable for low- and middle-income families and our focus is adding that kind of housing.

Our Vision council has approved new community plans that plan for the future and protect neighbourhood character. The best way to protect the unique character of our neighbourhoods is to locate new housing along transit routes, which our Vision team has been able to do with our new West End and Marpole neighbourhood plans, for example. Vision's goal is to get new housing built that provides a range of options for different households, including rental apartments, laneway homes, co-ops, and co-housing. These options ensure residents of all backgrounds -- students, young families, seniors -- can afford to live in our city.

NPA: There are ways to increase housing supply that could be done in concert with neighbourhoods. It starts with genuine consultation. The NPA is committed to revitalizing CityPlan, which will put residents first and foremost when it comes to having a say in how to address density in their neighbourhoods.

Some possible methods to increase supply and choice of housing could include creating new 'transition zones' to facilitate the development of row houses and townhouses, and making it easier to redevelop older one- and two-story properties along commercial streets.

For larger developments, more transparency and openness is sorely needed around Community Amenity Contributions. These funds must be redirected to provide adequate services for affected neighbourhoods. The NPA will greatly increase the transparency surrounding this process as part of our initiative to make Vancouver the most open government in Canada.

GREEN PARTY: Vancouver will grow, but how fast and in what form should be determined by citizens, not developers. Vancouver needs a new citywide plan, building on the original CityPlan, which collaboratively involves citizens in decision-making that includes setting both citywide and neighbourhood growth projections. None of the current plans engage citizens in discussions of overall city growth and increased density goals. The citywide plan must incorporate neighbourhood plans that enable citizens to decide on what scale and form of development they prefer in their neighbourhood to accommodate growth.

COPE: Right now, all of the city's new housing inventory is built by private developers, who focus on luxury towers for the wealthy. Under COPE's Housing Authority, the city itself will build real affordable housing, where rent will be 30 per cent of the residents' income. This new housing stock will be affordable, low-rise, high quality, and will include important amenities such as child-care. Please read COPE's 98-page report on how this plan will work.

The bottom-line is that neighbourhoods embrace new housing development, so long as it is truly affordable and they can imagine themselves or their family making a home there.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

With both labour unions and private corporations donating large sums of money to municipal parties, does your party believe campaign finance reform is necessary? Why or why not?

VISION VANCOUVER: We have championed campaign finance reform since first elected in 2008. Vision Vancouver has called for amendments to the Vancouver Charter by the provincial government that allows for spending and donation limits, ban corporate and union donations, and increase accountability through enhanced disclosure requirements. Last week, Councillor Andrea Reimer presented to the Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits to continue making our positions clear on this issue.

NPA: The NPA has been a strong advocate for campaign finance reform. We believe that finance reform is necessary to create a fair and level playing field and take big money out of politics, while increasing transparency around campaign contributions. In this election, we have taken the initiative to voluntarily release our campaign donor list in advance of the election.

If elected, we will continue to advocate to the province for fair and meaningful campaign finance reform. If the province doesn't choose to act expeditiously, we will find ways to institute reform within Vancouver.

GREEN PARTY: Yes: campaign finance reform is need both in terms of restrictions on sources of donations (i.e. ban donations from developers, unions, out-of-country sources) plus restrictions on election spending to per voter limits similar to those in Ontario.

This is essential because unlimited donations and spending create an unequal playing field that advantages those who spend the most, which is antithetical to fair play and real democracy. Given that so many decisions at the council table are related to development projects where companies stand to gain considerable profit by council decisions, it is critical that there is no real or perceived influence of developers on those decisions.

COPE: Let's be clear, Vision took over $1 million from property developers this election. COPE refuses donations from property developers.

We'll take action on this crucial problem starting on our first day in office. We'll ban corporate and union donations, and will work to change the Local Government Act to strengthen conflict of interest standards. Parties shouldn't be able to take $34,500 from Rize Alliance during this election (like Vision) then vote on their luxury condo development at Main and Broadway only months later. Nor should it be up to the mayor or councillors to "self-report" on conflicts-of-interest.

COPE will create an Anti-Corruption Office, which will proactively investigate areas of perceived conflict-of-interest, as well as investigate complaints. It will put in place simple rules, such as: on staff reports, relevant donations to councillors or their parties will be clearly presented.

PIPELINES

What role should the city play in pipeline politics?

VISION VANCOUVER: Kinder Morgan is one of the single greatest threats to Vancouver's environment and continued prosperity. An independent economic analysis report released this week states that Kinder Morgan has vastly exaggerated estimates of job creation and underestimated costs of potential spills. Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson have spoken up against the risks of this project and of 340 more oil tankers on our coast because we recognize the leadership role that cities can and should play in the national conversation on natural resources. 

NPA: The City has a responsibility to represent the concerns of all Vancouverites. The NPA supports intervenor status for the city in the National Energy Board process. We will advocate very strongly on behalf of the city, and accept nothing less than the most stringent environmental and safety standards. If the National Energy Board doesn't propose sufficient ways to address these concerns, we will vigorously oppose the pipeline.

GREEN PARTY: The City of Vancouver should:

a) Strongly express our opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker expansion project to the federal government based on potential negative impacts to Vancouver's environment, adjacent waters and beaches, economy (especially tourism), quality of life, and green city goals.

b) Defend the city's financial interests by requiring that those companies involved in shipping oil products within our city or in the waters adjacent to our city bear full financial responsibility for any negative impacts of any accident that would negatively affect our city.

c) Facilitate opportunities for citizens to express their opinions to the federal government on pipeline projects, including holding hearings in Vancouver if the National Energy Board fails to do so on pipeline and tanker expansion projects (which I proposed in a motion to council), and holding a plebiscite on this issue (which I also proposed in a motion to Council, but was changed by Vision councillors to a request that the federal government pay for a plebiscite).

COPE: First, we need to stop the Kinder Morgan expansion. We also need to phase-out current crude oil tanker traffic, which has doubled under Vision Vancouver's watch. COPE will work toward a tanker free zone, and will hold a referendum to phase-out oil tanker traffic.

COPE has a proud history of taking stands like this. In the '80s COPE council worked with the strong peace movement to make Vancouver an official "Nuclear Free Zone"-- a slogan declared on official welcome signs to our city.  [Tyee]

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