Category Archives: COPE

Back to School Activism: Wake Up, Parents!

From BC's Kindergarten English-Language Arts Curriculum Guide

I’ve already begun with A Back-To-School Wishlist for Society and now that school is finally starting this morning it’s time to talk about parental advocacy and activism.

Parents: you are the most fundamental advocate for your students. The BC Minister of Education, for instance, is not.

Do not forget that this year, and not just because tomorrow is World Literacy Day.

Why? Her open letter to you [below] is perfectly reasonable, arguing about why we matter so critically to our children’s success. But when we compare its contents to some basic facts of how the BC Liberal government is undermining our social institutions and other trends in society, we really see what kind of manipulation is going on and why we need to be vigilant against the BC Liberals’ gruesome plans for education.

This is going to be a long 10 months. You need to stay frosty.

While the minister is correct in asserting the value of parents in a child’s education, the BC Liberals have done the following to support an anti-Robin Hood wealth transfer from the poor and middle class to tax cuts for the rich and large and mostly foreign corporations:

  1. closed over 200 schools
  2. laid off thousands of teachers and support staff
  3. refused to fund K-12 pay increases or carbon offsets they legislated themselves, meaning boards of education must make cuts to fund those costs
  4. attacked working people with a decade-long minimum wage stall, privatization, contracting out and legislated wage roll-backs, all of which impoverish workers, forcing them to take on extra work…all of which erodes parents’ and caregivers’ ability to spend precious moments with their students
  5. enhanced the high stakes testing regime and industrial warehousing of students which undermine individualized education
  6. forced budget cuts that erode supports for vulnerable students
  7. threatened the democratic legitimacy of boards of education who question the minister’s “wisdom”

Years ago I described the BC Liberal government’s political philosophy as sado-masochistic. They keep abusing us, we seem to keep electing them. I used to characterize it as forced sado-masochism, but since we have re-elected them twice, I’m not sure how forced it is. This is clearly an unhealthy relationship that feeds on feelings of apathy and powerlessness.

When you read the minister’s words below, you will surely see that time is of the essence. We must have free time to engage in all the positive support we can provide our children.

If the minister really wants to acknowledge the important role parents play in education and the solid research that supports that goal, the rest of her government wouldn’t be doing so much to undermine that relationship for the sake of tax cuts to the rich and global corporate shareholders.

The minister’s advice is still useful, though, assuming we can create the time to engage in political activism. In fact, the BC School Act’s fundamental purpose is to “enable all learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”

The BC Liberal party’s goal is the economic focus, since so far this decade we’ve seen a constant erosion in our healthy, democratic and pluralistic society. But let’s look at how we can re-frame the minister’s advice to restore our society:

  • join your schools PAC [parent advisory committee]…to stay informed of parent and community action to protect our students and education system from further government cuts
  • get to know the teachers…to keep up with what kind of decimation is occurring in classrooms this year so you can mobilize to fight the government
  • learning truly is an active social process…that is currently being undermined by the government, so parental involvement in community action to protect public education is an essential civics lesson

And we need to keep up with our neighbours to see signs of things to come.

  1. We must be vigilant to make sure the government doesn’t engage in creative initiatives like attaching RFID chips to students to cut down on the time and expense of tracking attendance, so we can lay off some more support staff and help teachers focus more on weightier tasks. California is experimenting with this. Just because technology lets us do something doesn’t mean it’s right.
  2. Let’s avoid the thrust of academic inflation, cramming more and more knowledge and homework into the system at earlier grades because of some insane notion that the more students memorize before graduation, the smarter they will be. This comes from a lack of understanding of lower and higher order thinking. Learning is about learning how to learn, finding information, and improving analytical skills more than memorizing the dysfunction of Charlemagne, his heirs and the Carolingian dynasty. In fact, wise teachers have realized those addicted to the policy of increased homework are off the mark: “Once it leaves this building, we’re not using it for report card marks,” he said. “Once it leaves here, we don’t know who’s been working on it.”
  3. And in the same category as treating our children like RFID carriers, we need to avoid early streaming and its clones. At one Calgary school, despite their ineffective anti-streaming spin, they are streaming 7-year-olds into visual and performing arts, humanitarian and environmental issues, scientific inquiry and innovation, or sports and athletics streams. Streaming is wrong. It is particularly wrong with 7 year-olds who are far from able to pick or be assessed in one area. And more fundamentally, it perverts notions like Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory [which argues for enhancing students experiences in ALL intelligences] by picking a subset and ignoring the rest. But it can be quite cost effective to inject some Brave New World class juice into our culture. We must resist this.

Honestly. Happy first day of school!

It will definitely be a long 10 months. The system is more handicapped than last year. Our resources and time are strained further. But the need for our vigilance, advocacy and activism has never been higher. And it doesn’t hurt to read BC’s curriculum guides to find out what should be going on…and if you don’t see how they translate into real things in the classroom, ask your children’s teachers, who would be thrilled to see parents that engaged in learning.

But we are not along. Even the minister thinks we should get involved with the PAC, for instance.

Let’s make sure that’s the worst advice for her political career she ever issued, and I’ll see you at the other end in June.

Words from the minister:

As your child heads back to school this year, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the important role you, as parents, play in the success of all the children and young people in our education system.

Research has shown that when parents are involved and engaged, it not only helps their own child, it helps other children in the school. The evidence is consistent and convincing: parent engagement is one of the key factors identified by researchers in high-performing schools, and families have a major influence on their child’s achievement in school and through life.

I really encourage parents, when thinking about back to school, to talk to their child’s teacher. Really get to know your child’s teacher. Offer to volunteer. Become part of the parent advisory committee. You need to know what’s happening in the classroom to support your child.

Keep in touch with your school and discuss your child’s education. The close co-operation between home and school contributes significantly to creating a positive learning environment for children.

Learning is an active social process. You are your child’s first and most important teacher. Your role in their education remains as important today as it was when they were saying their first words or learning to walk.

As your child heads back to school, please get engaged to ensure all our children have a successful education experience. We can’t do it without you.

Margaret MacDiarmid
Minister of Education
Government of British Columbia

Campaign Stops Corporate Voting in BC Municipalities, Probably

As it turns out, corporations have been able to vote in BC municipal elections for most of our constituted history. That this appalled me is a testament to a new regime of rights and entitlements of humans over corporations that makes me smile.

That I was disgusted that the BC neoLiberal government was fishing around for bringing it back further entrenched my concern with the lengths they would go to disenfranchise human beings further.

So I was very happy to see that a modicum of democracy was able to steer a BC legislative committee stacked with provincial neoliberals–a modicum, supported by intense organizing efforts. Though I wouldn’t put it past this government to implement the municipal corporate vote despite the committee report. Remember the impending HST?

In looking at the details of the committee’s report [Report of the Local Government Elections Task Force (PDF 638KB)], I was thrilled to see a few things.

  • 6,039 petition signatures for the corporate vote submitted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business

I can’t be surprised they built a petition. I am happy to see they could only find 6,039 future corporate voters and their lackeys in the whole province of 4.2 million people to sign it.

  • 2,354 member Facebook page against the corporate vote

Sure, it’s easy to build a Facebook group to push for something. But really it’s a huge effort to build a group and promote it to get this many people signing up in a short period of time. Not every movement can have the nation-wide hatred of abused prorogation behind it.

  • 71% of the 920 written submissions commented on the corporate vote, with campaign finance being the topic of next greatest interest.  Many submissions touched on a wide range of other election‐related topics – from alternative voting systems to the date of the vote to elected officials’ accountability. The following identifies the general trends in those 920 written submissions:
  1. Corporate vote – total: 223 for; 428 against
  2. Local governments:  8 for; 23 against
  3. Organizations:  11 for; 29 against
  4. Individuals:  204 for; 376 against

    I was especially thrilled to see an almost 2:1 ratio of submissions opposing the corporate vote to supporting it, with almost 3/4 of all submissions addressing it.

    The following highlight a number of positive recommendations. Not to say that they aren’t controversial in themselves, but the fact that the elements and structure of our democracy are on the table is encouraging. I wonder if whichever of these changes come into force before the next municipal election will have an effect on what the public tolerates in other levels of government.

    The report makes 31 recommendations for improvements to local elections to: ensure accountability; enhance transparency; strengthen compliance and enforcement; increase accessibility; and expand education and advice.

    Key recommendations include:

    * Establish expense limits for all campaign participants (e.g. electors, elector organizations and third party advertisers)

    * Regulate third party advertisers, requiring them to register and disclose expenses and contributions

    * Ban anonymous contributions

    * Require sponsorship information on all election advertising

    * Shorten the time for filing campaign finance disclosure statements to 90 days post election

    * Establish a central role for Elections BC in enforcement of campaign finance rules and in making campaign finance disclosure statements electronically accessible

    * Establish a separate Act for campaign finance rules in local elections

    The Task Force recommends a four-year term of office to provide local governments more time to plan and implement their vision, and to reduce the potential for voter fatigue over time. It also recommends no general contribution limits, given proposed expense limits and the need to ensure that all affected by local government decisions can participate in local elections discourse

    While it also recommends no corporate vote, the Task Force does recommend that UBCM, the Province and business groups work together to recognize the concerns expressed to the Task Force and to encourage effective local ways to engage with business, further strong relationships and foster a competitive business climate.

    via Local Government Elections Task Force – Terms of Reference.

    Is a Car Free Vancouver Possible?

    CarFreeYVR posted a nice video [below] discussing the motivations and inspirations for car-free days in Vancouver. With car-free days festivals coming again on June 20 on Main Street, Commercial Drive, Kits and the West End [happy Father’s Day!], I’m excited to see hundreds take over the pavement.

    But how does Vancouver ever become the first car-free city in North America? It’s all about systems theory.

    Sure, elected leadership reflect dinosaur corporate interests. It will take us to “think outside the box” and embark on “grassroots mobilization” to self-actualize our “community organizer” vibes…and all the other cliches. But really, it’s about understanding the interconnectedness of everything.

    And it isn’t necessarily about converting everyone who shows up to the festivals and getting them to sign a petition. It’s about living the community we envision. People will come. They will enjoy the day. The next day they will watch cars drive over all the great kids’ chalk art. A small part of their souls will be maimed.

    Then next year we will have maybe more than four locations. Then we’ll have more than one day. Then people will finally stop griping about bike lanes in the downtown.

    And through this we simply manifest the reality we want. Systems theory. Let’s see how the main areas of systems theory play out in car free days:

    We move from understanding ourselves merely as isolated individuals to seeing ourselves as parts of a social, community whole. We are part of a hive mind. We have our own existence, but when we get to stroll down the yellow line of Main Street, we’ll see how our neighbours are a part of us.

    We will realize that the objects in our communities are not distant items, but connected to us. When cars drive on our streets, we are separated from all these objects. Sitting on the pavement in the middle of Main and King Ed chatting with friends and sharing popsicles helps us see objects as part of us, not alien.

    In the end, we become more attuned to our context. We get to question it from the perspective of sitting on the road instead of bolting across King Ed on a yellow light to catch a bus.

    When we adjust our normal relationship with roads we get to move past the normal and embrace the rich quality of alternatives: what we can do with streets if we don’t let cars on them. Knowing comes from doing.

    Instead of being humans with defined roles in an urban world, when we shift our relationships, we notice the patterns and processes that consume us. We enjoy different relationships and get to evaluate whether we really need the prescribed, unquestioned patterns we have endured forever.

    Finally, when we take the rubber off the road we get a chance to build new patterns and relationships with the people, landmarks, shops, artists and green space in our road communities. We can’t get outside any box without experiencing an alternative. Imaginations can be powerful, but a car-free day is worth a thousand words.

    And just like another great cliche bumper sticker: when the people lead, the leaders will follows. Eventually, the politicians will start showing up to car-free days because they’ll realize there is a serious constituency there. That’s where we earn the political legitimacy to force the leaders to follow our lead and start legislating car-free space.

    And the fact that it’s all an open source, volunteer coordination effort is just icing on the cake. Actually, really, though, if it were all sponsored by Red Bull or Dasani, it would flop.

    So what are you doing on Father’s Day? I know what I’ll be doing.

    YouTube – Car Free Vancouver.

    Which Politicians Think We’re Imbeciles?

    When I try to infer the mental state of some politicians from what they say publicly, I can only conclude that they must think we’re too profoundly stupid that we’d not be able to think for 3 seconds to realize that they are full of shit. Let’s look at Kevin Falcon and Gregor Robertson.

    Health Minister Kevin Falcon: “when we are making changes in health care delivery, it doesn’t mean it’s just a cut.” The provincial government decided to “change” the funding to the 6 health authorities in BC by negative $360 million. It’s certainly a change. To stress that it isn’t a cut means Falcon thinks the air coming out of his lungs is worth forming into these words because there is some value to it all, that enough people will believe he has achieved plausible deniability of cuts occurring.

    Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson: “The core traditions of the Olympics are very powerful, and we lose sight of that with all the corporate sponsorship, Olympic bylaws and the gigantic scale of the event.” What a nuisance, hey, so let’s get over our criticism of the following and just get that lovin’ feeling!

    1. VANOC has bought ALL the outdoor advertising for Olympic corporate sponsors.
    2. Corporations are going to wrap ads as mammoth building condoms around the tall buildings all over the place, with video ads broadcast on buildings–think Blade Runner.
    3. BC neoLiberal MLAs and cabinet ministers get to use swanky private boxes in stadiums to watch events…paid for with our tax dollars.
    4. VANOC has set aside $30 million for bonuses to ostensibly keep their employees WHO ARE ACTUALLY PLANNING THE OLYMPICS from quitting before the big show–hard to imagine; $30 million works out to around $23,000 for each of the 1,300 employees, though I doubt it will all be distributed equally.
    5. The IOC business model requires communities to sanitize society of the ugly: homelessness, poverty, dissent; so, we have broad, sweeping legislation that threatens our civil libertiies.
    6. The IOC will not allow women’s ski jumping regardless of domestic courts ruling the action unconstitutional.
    7. Provincial legislation will allow law enforcement to come into my home to seize anti-Olympics signs, under penalty of up to 6 months in jail and $10,000/day fines, while neoLiberal cabinet minister Bill Bennett says that’s a reasonable thing to do when the Olympics are in town.
    8. Officials can now round up the homeless and forcibly house/confine them during the games; this, in the context of massively neglecting effective social housing for the whole decade.
    9. $1 billion to be spent on security with 5,000 imported rent-a-cops and military, not to mention the black helicopters that were buzzing the downtown east side this morning, with much more of that to come.

    So what core traditions is Gregor Robertson waxing on about as he gets on a plane to go to Greece for the flame lighting? Nobility, competition, purity of athletic competition? Is that what the Olympics mean now? Or is it special rights for global corporations using the Olympics for a marketing bonanza at the expense of democracy, domestic constitutions and court rulings, and civil liberties?

    People are coming around to the reality that the Olympics stink, that they aren’t worth the social, political and economic costs and that with the overwhelming majority of Canadians unable to acquire or afford tickets to the actual events…people are starting to feel duped. A recent survey shows only 9% are very excited about the show, while 71% or not very excited or not excited at all.

    This is showing up in not enough people volunteering, signing up to rent out extra bedrooms to rich Olympic tourists, or applying for the scut jobs needed to make the whole thing function.

    Well. I told you so.

    As did the entire No Olympics campaign years ago. And now we all get to eat it…with the black helicopters flying overhead as I test out my remaining civil liberties as I wear my “I am a free speech zone” t-shirt wherever I can. I also have a “Democracy is Nice” sign I carry on the end of my hockey stick. I wonder which of those will be a security threat.

    Fixing Vancouver’s Homelessness: A Survey With Teeth

    Welcome to our Community Consultation Survey on Homeless Solutions and the Howe Shelter

    via City of Vancouver Homelessness Solutions Survey.

    In a time where Vancouver city council may or  may not have the will to oppose a provincial government they seem to be cozying up with, they issue a survey to see what the citizens think of addressing homelessness and the Howe Shelter.

    Even if they do the wrong thing with this, asking for our input is better than an NPA council will do.

    Even if the province ignores it all, this is a survey to take part in, especially if you live downtown!

    “I Am A Free Speech Zone”: A T-Shirt for the Olympics

    “I Am A Free Speech Zone”

    Let’s put it on t-shirts to let VANOC know that citizens are in charge in a democracy!

    What if we all wore them all around town during the Olympics as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card? Would it be like when I used to hand out copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to my grade 9 students upon their arrival in high school, and watch them stroll through life calling bullshit?

    Maybe it’s more like an inoculation against the emerging police state.

    Read some of the nonsense here: then go make your t-shirt!

    A Sad “Vision” of Billboards

    Vision Vancouver is going to suffer from billboards for quite some time to come.

    “The Olympics are prime time advertising and the city might be offering it to Vanoc at the regular market rate,” the Richmond mayor said.

    “But all of this has been discussed at closed meetings, so I really can’t go into the details.

    “The details will be released soon, perhaps within the month.”

    via Mayor questions Vanoc ad deal.

    We now have some new insight into the visual ad pollution of billboards in Vancouver, courtesy of Richmond’s mayor Malcolm Brodie.

    Not only has VANOC acquired access to all the billboard space in the Olympics universe for its official sponsors, the deals they’ve made for rates are part of closed municipal meetings.

    This is no surprise since VANOC, much like a vampire, does nothing in broad daylight. Don’t hold your breath on anything related to VANOC being released ever.

    A couple months ago, Vision Vancouver cynically killed municipal plans to take down the billboard pollution around the city that contravenes rules about how far away from homes they are supposed to be. With 2 billboards within 60m of my living room window, I’m eager to see them gone–and their repulsive car and horror movie ads that have caused more than a few neighbourhood children turn away in fear.

    But as Charlie Smith featured weeks ago, Vision Vancouver voted to drift those plans into a bureaucratic purgatory.

    Smith noted how Vision’s Geoff Meggs is connected to Glen Clark who is connected to Jim Pattison whose name is on many of the polluting billboards. Connecting the dots allows us to see a rather transparent motive and example of what Vision Vancouver’s vision actually is.

    But Richmond’s Mayor Brodie has now also reminded us that these are not ordinary times. The Olympics gold rush means we CANNOT risk taking down even one billboard, despite how heinously it may contravene muncipal by-laws.

    We see the VANOC vision again appearing as our masters.

    This is very bad news for Vision Vancouver. As a new party, with little stable ideological roots and now only months of governing history, its identity is still in the fetal stage.

    Its membership swelled with the Obama bump. It had dozens of prospective candidates vying for nominations, many of whom were very progressive, but some were temporarily out of the NPA.

    They’ve had policy meetings, but those mean little until they get a chance to actually enact policy through governing. And now we’re seeing what they are like: Jimmy Pattison, billboards, VANOC.

    And like many new political parties or movements, their membership will dip when renewal time comes. But for Vision, their membership will plunge as people realize that the amorphous hint of progressiveness they robed themselves in ends up lacking anything solid.

    A political party walks its walk. If it talks a different line, people who pay attention to the walk will see the gap and act accordingly.

    Real progressives currently in Vision will have to make a decision very soon about whether their vision of Vision is shared by the ones in charge. If not, they’ll have to move on.

    Olympics Bring CCTV, Not Solutions for the Homeless

    David Eby, from BC Civil Liberties, told the COPE AGM on Sunday of his concerns about the Olympics not so much being a lever for solving homelessness, but an excuse for a reduction in civil rights.

    It seems he got it right.

    When the provincial government floats examples like the Bard on the Beach as being a place for CCTV, to the surprise of the Bard organizers’ reflection that theirs has never been an event worthy of surveillance, we know this is just spin.

    Despite written assurance, several councillors including COPE Coun. Ellen Woodsworth–the lone dissenting vote on council–raised concerns about the “temporary” nature of the CCTV plan and the potential erosion of civil liberties.

    But last Friday’s provincial government press release told a starkly different tale.

    Vancouver, it read, will receive $400,000 for a “re-deployable CCTV unit for special events and emergencies.”

    via City admits surveillance cameras here to stay.

    Why Vancouver’s NPA Lost Badly Today

    Because I like to make electoral predictions, I guessed that the NPA would elect 5 people to various councils in Vancouver. It turns out I was generous. They got 4 in, unless more official results in the coming days alter that.

    This doesn’t really prove that the NPA is dead. Corporate donations will keep the NPA or some future clone alive forever, regardless of the fact that the 4 NPAs elected will likely never cast a meaningful vote in the next 3 years. This is good because I’m quite tired of Ken Denike. But that’s another story. Ask me over a beer at the Public Lounge some time. Even if Kennedy Stewart were right and they were totally wiped off all councils, they’d still be back, strong as ever with their corporate cash.

    Here are some of the stories that made for today’s COPE/Vision/Green win, in their order of significance:


    North American politics are populist right now. Obama, the rise in the federal NDP, the federal Liberals’ inability to raise more funds from more people than the federal NDP, and the mobilization of people rejecting apathy to join Vision Vancouver–all these show that citizens matter. The NPA is like the federal Conservatives and Liberals: complacent, corporate-friendly parties that have never felt the need to <irony>pander</irony> to human beings for money and volunteer support, while relying on corporate cash to use the media to encourage enough voters to drink their Kool-aid.

    The progressive win in Vancouver is a testament to grassroots mobilization. And as much as the Republicans demeaned Obama as being a community organizer, that’s exactly what got him ahead of Hillary Clinton and into the White House, and what got the NPA machine out of Vancouver city hall.

    This is also why the BC Liberals’ recent Whistler convention was demonizing the NDP all day, all the time: they’re afraid of being tied in the polls, they’re fiscal neoliberal Milton Friedman worshippers during the biggest global economic crisis in capitalism in a century, they watched Obama get elected and Harper not win a majority [despite calling the election for before the US election, knowing he’ll never get a majority after Obama wins], and they know that even with the soft fascist censorship of Bill 42, they are screwed because they are as unable to mobilize human beings to vote them into a third term in May as the NPA was in recent weeks. [Exhale. Sorry for the long sentence!]

    The right always loses to mobilized progressives who get out the vote by shedding the apathy we’re lured into by the cynical right wing. And the provincial NDP just successfully ran its third dress rehearsal for the May 2009 election [working on the federal election, the 2 Vancouver by-elections and the munis]. Obama has a database of 3 million contributors. He will not be throwing that away now that he’s elected. He’ll mobilize it. The NPA and the BC and federal Liberals and Conservatives will never have that. But progressives do.

    Red States, Blue States

    The map of mayoral votes: can you say red states, blue states?


    OK, even with no guarantee of data quality and with some oversimplifications, if you know anything about the rich and poor in Vancouver, this map makes perfect sense. Where do the rich and/or conservative live? Yaletown, Point Grey, south of 16th and west of Main, the bedroom community/pseudo-suburb of southeast Vancouver. No surprise, all red for the NPA. Coal Harbour would go NPA if it weren’t largely filled with empty condos owned by thousands foreigners needing a Vancouver home.

    Where do the not so rich or conservative, and/or working class and/or immigrants who didn’t buy their citizenship and/or young and/or single live? Everywhere else, where people outnumber the NPA voters and voted Gregor green.

    The $100 Million Olympic Village Elephant

    Peter Ladner and so many others commenting on the $100 million problem with loaning the Olympic Village development with our cash still don’t get it. It’s not about how certain things happen in-camera. It’s not about whether councilors were fully informed before voting. It’s not about the privacy of businesses. “It’s the economy, stupid!”

    Here’s how. Stephen Harper’s sweater vest didn’t save him from demonstrating how out of touch he is with most Canadians when he said the global economic meltdown is a good time to invest in some bargains in the stock market. Heck, even the CanWest toxic waste machine is laying off 560 workers in part because of the global meltdown and their share price dropping 90% this year. They’re sure a bargain, but the better bargain will be in watching them implode so that we can dilute the corporate concentration of media in Vancouver and Canada with more competition and less autocratic control of news…and, frankly, better jobs for the journalists forced to work for the Aspers.

    But the $100 million problem is about how the International Olympic Committee and VANOC are not transparent organizations. They are secret, above democracy, and the IOC is even above countries. They’re designed to be unaccountable to us even though they are spending billions of dollars of our tax money while people die in the streets and on surgery waiting lists. Shameful.

    Ladner is so out of touch: “It’s completely irresponsible and ridiculous to think that we could do all this in public and still protect the taxpayer….Why would the Olympics be different? The scope is bigger but the framework of the deal is the same. The city does this stuff all the time — it has done this for years.” But when you mix this repulsion with the secrecy of the Olympics oligarchy, you get one pissed off electorate. Whoops.

    And he doesn’t even get the irony about how little the taxpayer is being protected in any of this Olympics deal anyway. The solution would have been to explain how in-camera works, then come out and say that when it’s out of in-camera, they’ll explain to people all the details. No, wait. They can’t do that because of all the Olympics secrecy. That’s the bigger whoops. Like it or not, the city is symbiotically embroiled in the grand, global secrecy regime of the Olympics. Watch your wallets, folks.


    Ellen Woodsworth was elected in a very small part from plumping. Plumping works. Some COPE supporters who were frustrated by the nature of the deal with Vision and Green–and others–voted for only COPE members and not for others on the slate from Vision. Ellen Woodsworth got elected to the last city council spot by 1023 votes over Kashmir Dhaliwal [the only Vision candidate for any council to not get elected] as of 10:24pm Saturday night. I doubt all those votes were from people voting for her and avoiding voting for Vision candidates to keep one or more of them from getting more votes than her. But with not too different arithmetic, the plumpers would have made the difference.

    Privatized Police

    Korina Houghton didn’t get elected to city council for the NPA even though she had a full-page ad in 24hrs on Friday. Part of her plan was to “combat crime through continued support of the ambassador program” meaning the Downtown Ambassadors, the partially city-funded, private pretend cops designed to criminalize the <irony>unsightly</irony> people from business areas. If 11,300 more voters actually wanted a private police force created by business owners and not transparently accountable to the public despite their public funding, she would have beaten Ellen Woodsworth for the 10th spot on council. Thankfully those 11,300 people don’t exist. And while we’re at it, let’s de-fang the Ambassadors and get them back to helping tourists get from the art gallery back to the cruise ship terminal. And I’ll leave out all that business about Kanman Wong’s campaign literature saying one thing in Chinese and another in English. He’s had his political career maimed enough already…remember David Emerson?

    Plumping the Municipal Election

    There is no grand prevailing wisdom about how people should vote. It’s hard enough to get people to show up at the polls as it is–and for many good reasons. But once people show up, there are competing views about how we should cast our votes: in this case, to plump or not to plump.

    This is particularly important with municipal, district and school board elections on Saturday, November 15.

    Voter turnout for local elections in BC is traditionally well below 50%. Add to this the recent 20 month US presidential election soap opera, another minority government election in Ottawa last month and for many in Vancouver, two provincial by-elections also last month. More on lessons from these later, though.

    When we look at how to vote in local governments, it’s critical to understand how the “at-large” electoral process is different from voting provincially, federally and in the United States. In fact, understanding the at-large nature of local elections motivates a greater number of people to actually vote.

    The at-large system is in some ways opposite to the first-past-the-post system in the provincial and federal elections. At-large means there are no ridings or constituencies within the municipality or regional district. Aside from casting one ballot for mayor, voters will vote from a pool of candidates anywhere from one to however many sit on each local council or school board.

    This is where plumping comes in. If there are six spots beyond mayor on your city council we can vote for up to six candidates standing for election. But why not vote for one? This is plumping or bullet voting, where we target one or a small number of candidates to focus our vote on without diluting the effect of our vote by voting for other people who could end up beating our preferred candidate(s).

    Many object to the spirit of plumping for some good reasons. They argue that it undermines the value of at-large voting where we get to vote for more than one candidate, unlike in provincial and federal elections. It can also undermine one view of the spirit of voting: if we are allowed six votes, we shouldn’t waste any of them.

    Fans of plumping argue that most people are not familiar with enough candidates running to be able to cast completely informed votes. So many people want to avoid casting ballots for people who aren’t necessarily deserving of that vote.

    Plus, our electoral system is broken, so we should make the best of it when we get that pencil in our hands. This is a tired refrain for many of us, but it is something you should be braced to hear much more of in the future as there are broad movements to fix our electoral process.

    I won’t even go into the complications of the US Electoral College, that great 18th century relic that skews the popular vote to elect a president, but the provincial and federal systems are equally irrelevant.

    First-past-the-post worked quite well a century ago when there were typically two parties running for government. With only two candidates in a riding, the winner will get more than 50% of the vote and wasted votes were always less than 50% of those cast.

    But today, with five viable federal parties (even with the Bloc only in Quebec) and more than two viable parties in most provinces, first-past-the-post ensures millions of votes are wasted across the country.

    Dreadfully, in 1988 Brian Mulroney was reelected prime minister and rammed his Free Trade Agreement through government when 43% of Canadians voted for his party, which perversely allowed him to get a majority government. Considering that voter turnout was only 72%, less than one-third of eligible votes actually voted for free trade. Now we need to clean up that illegitimate mess.

    The electoral reform referendum almost passed in BC in 2005 and likely will this spring, even though a similar referendum only got around 37% support in Ontario’s election last fall [see the comments below]. But then again, Ontario has often been pivotal in Liberal and Conservative governments for all of Canadian history, so they likely aren’t eager to move to a proportional representation system and lose their inordinate electoral power.

    Also, our system typically produces majority governments for parties that earn less than 50% of the popular vote, where federally, voter turnout has declined in almost every election since that disastrous free trade election in 1988.

    With five viable federal parties, a voting system designed for a two-party system is obsolete, as are majority governments. So people have responded with coordinated vote swapping systems on the internet, and some rather complicated strategic voting schemes.

    All this means that our electoral systems are up for debate.

    When it comes to your municipal, district and school board votes on Saturday, ask yourself how many candidates you are capable of effectively evaluating. Search the web, check your municipality’s website. Get informed.

    Then ask yourself how many of them you can truly support with integrity. And then vote responsibly. This will likely end up meaning that in Vancouver many COPE, Vision and Green supporters will likely only be voting for their own party’s candidates, despite the electoral agreement. The agreement does not outlaw plumping, after all.

    And while you’re fighting off the strain of so many elections, look into BC-STV. That referendum will be on the ballot again on May 12, 2009 during our provincial election. It’s not a perfect proportional representation system, but it makes our current system look like the largely inadequate attempt at democracy we’ve been stuck with for our whole history.

    So plump if you want to, but by all means make your vote matter–at least to yourself.