Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Judging Candidates

I am having a hard time figuring out which candidates to vote for.

I've looked over all the responses to the questionnaires that NWEP, the VACC, TTTF and the local newspapers put out. I've read lots of opinion columns. I've pressed the palms of a couple of candidates and chatted with them. I've visited lots of candidate websites and read lots of pamphlets. But I'm not getting much wiser, mostly because the questionnaires and the responses, as well as the websites, seem full of generalities. So I have to resort to other methods...

There are a couple of things that get my dander up straightaway, the biggest one being candidates who avow "no tax increases", or the related "tax increases in line with inflation". Anyone that spouts either of these gets stricken off my list, instantly. Why? Because we live in an era of downloading, where the province and the feds are cutting spending left and right, leaving municipalities holding the bag. So my immediate thought is: what are you going to cut to make this happen? And the next thought is: just how much money are we talking about here? Last year the mill rate was upped by about 3%, resulting in an increase to my tax bill of some $100. Sounds like a lot of money, but really, this is basically equivalent to the taxes I got back from the province last year thanks to their tax cuts. And even if it wasn't, that $100 is going directly back into my community. And you know, I can't think of a place I'd rather invest it! This will pay dividends to me, my kids, and my neighbours - much more so than a foreign vacation or more consumer durables from out-of-town companies, which is what I'd otherwise blow my bucks on.

The next hate-on I have is for those who state they want New Westminster to "live within its means". This of course sounds Serious, but to me only demonstrates ignorance about how a City works and what it is supposed to do. New Westminster does not have a lot of sellable assets (ie. city-owned land). This means that for capital projects, it must borrow money. Yeah, we need to pay this back, and sure, it'll cause our taxes to go up. But see my point above: I think a dollar spent on a new Massey Theatre or acquiring waterfront property is money well spent, and I'm happy to fork over for it. And, unlike an individual or most businesses, the City can often leverage the money it puts up, by a factor of 2 to 4. It does this by going to the Province or the Feds and saying: look, we've put money on the table, how about doubling that? If the City just goes, cap in hand, to the higher powers, they are far less likely to get funds. Foregoing this ability to leverage on purely ideological grounds is shortsighted.

The next way of judging candidates I have is by their views on transportation. This is an issue close to my heart. We do not own a car, so I am a heavy user of sidewalks, cycling infrastructure, transit, and car-sharing. Further, I think our way is the way of the future - energy costs will continue to go up and more and more people will be forced out of their vehicles. Less dependence on a car means better health, better businesses as people shop more locally, and safer streets. So I look for candidates who understand this, and don't just mouth the words. There is at least one candidate who, like myself, does not own a car. Clearly someone who gets it, and encounters the utility poles in the middle of bike lanes and the non-existent sidewalks the same way I do, rather than driving by them in a car and not getting it.

I look at the VACC survey results and immediately can weed out candidates who see cycling as a "bauble", something not to be taken very seriously. Biking is not a form of recreation, it is transportation that deserves the same level of attention as the automobile. As in: dedicated lanes. Let's get this straight: the car still rules, here in New Westminster. The City spends waaaay more on car-based infrastructure than it does on transit, bike, and pedestrian-related stuff. We need to spend more on bikes and pedestrians. Anyone who says not, or claims that cyclists somehow do not pay their way, is ignorant of some basic facts and is off my list.

Another easy way to weed out candidates is to see if any do not support tolling on the Patullo, or if any support adding more road space to our city. Candidates with these views have not thought clearly about the unintended consquences of their policies, and are backing the wrong horse: continued motordom and business-as-usual.  This is not the way of the future, and these people should not be running our City.

Finally, I have tried to get a picture of the quality of work performed by the incumbent council. This is very, very difficult. You can read the minutes of council meetings, but I have found that there are precious few times when the council does not vote unanimously. In addition, if questions are asked, the questioner is not named. This means that it is very difficult to get any idea of who is simply sitting there warming the chair, and who is thinking. The last way of judging performance is by seeing who serves on which advisory council, and to talk to citizens involved to see if the Councillor actually does anything. I can't find meeting minutes or attendance records of any of these advisory committees on the City pages, so judging performance is practically impossible. This, finally, makes me quite cynical about motherhood statements regarding accountability and transparency.

In the end, unfortunately, I cannot find 6 council candidates who I can whole-heartedly support. I have 2 who I would rate as very good, 2 who appear OK, and then it degenerates rapidly into the categories of "who?", "useless", and "actively harmful". So I will have to pick two from the "useless" category to make sure the "actively harmful" set doesn't make it in.

I love voting, don't you?

No comments:

Post a Comment