LETTER TO THE EDITOR, NORTH SHORE NEWS
From Councillor Ernie Crist
We must be grateful to Trevor Lautens for his story in the NORTH SHORE NEWS (Friday, March 26th) on Direct Democracy. What other guest columnist writes about local issues? Even bad ink is good ink. With a less than 30% voter turnout for municipal elections, we need all the help we can get.
Mr. Lautens' story was about the District of North Vancouver, so allow me to start there. The model of representative government in the District, as in the rest of Canada is not so much democratic as it is government by manipulation. The District Heritage Fund for instance was manipulated right out of existence. The public certainly was never asked the 150 million dollar question.
It was through manipulation that a $48,000 report dealing with shared services between the City and District, with the potential of addressing the larger issue of amalgamation, was skewed. This District - City BI-Municipal agreement puts the bureaucracy effectively outside the control of both Councils while District taxpayers are footing the brunt of the bill. To insure that the slumber continues, one of the shared services bureaucracies even provided misleading information to the authors of the shared services report. District owned recreation facilities worth $30 million were listed as worth only one tenth of that amount. Even listed jurisdictions were wrong.
Manipulation too allowed 4 members of the present District Council to literally hijack the Seymour Community Planning process to ensure the creation of a business park. But the businesses settling there will be suitable to Can Oxy rather than the District. Yet the District will pay the lion's share of the cost of the new Dollarton realignment needed to accommodate this venture.
Unlike the District, which needs labour and tax intensive industries, the Hazardous Chemical producer wants to surround itself with industries that are non labour intensive such as warehouses. In the event of a disaster, fewer people fewer casualties they said. The project was strenuously opposed by virtually every community organization in Seymour. What they objected to most, however, was that the planning process was torn right from under their noses. It was a rude awakening for the residents who, during the previous election campaign, had supported candidates who promised to "listen". These are but two examples. There are countless more.
The point to be made is that, under the present system, the voters have no real power except the power to protest, more or less. They are allowed only to "practice" democracy and at the local level at least, only once every three years. There is no final recourse to any decision made by Council between elections. Accountability is only marginal. Only poorly informed persons, would argue that this is true democracy. On truly crucial issues, the voters are effectively excluded from having any say.
With a referendum process, as proposed by the Citizens Task Force for Direct Democracy, the outcome of important community issues might be different or it might not. It would, however, give the public the power of veto if necessary. More important, it would provide them an opportunity of sharing civic responsibility. Most important of all, it would protect politicians from becoming corrupt and being drawn into the orbit of self-serving systems of bureaucracy. To believe that people are not to be entrusted with the welfare of their own community and to even deny them the right to vote whether they want Direct Democracy or not, is the ultimate form of corruption. It is well to keep this in mind and that is the point Mr. Lautens missed.
INQUIRING REPORTER -- Martin Millerchip
Do You Support The Concept Of Voter Initiated Referenda For Municipal Government?
Kay Sarling: Yes, definitely. It is an opportunity to tell council where to put the money for important things. I don't follow local politics closely but I always vote.
Ben Lynn: Yes. Everybody should have a voice. We elect these politicians and then they do what they want it seems.
Mary Donnelly: Yes I do. It sounds like a basically good idea. But getting people out to vote on an issue, that's a different story. So few bother.
N.B. If the 27% (11%+16%) who either had no opinion or did not know are excluded from the tally (as they would be in a referendum vote), then of those remaining (61%Yes+12%No ) 83% are in favour and 17% are not. .Statistics make for dry reading, but surely these numbers speak for themselves. The grid below says that 61% of the 491 North Shore adults we asked support the concept of citizen initiated referenda applied to local government. North Vancouver District set up a task force to look at the ideas involved in direct democracy. After over a year of work, the committee suggested that the idea of voter initiated referenda should be placed before district voters during the November elections. A 4-3 majority on council voted against that idea. Just to be certain we checked our survey stats for the district and found 58% support for the idea, 15% opposed it and 27% either didn't know or had no opinion. So, 58% of district voters support the concept of voter initiated referenda but four councillors (57%!) do not. This issue needs a referendum.
North Shore Demographics
YES NO NO DON'T
Horseshoe Bay 75% 5% 13% 7%
Dundarave/Ambleside 53 11 17 19
British Properties 57 14 9 20
Norgate/Pemberton Heights 79 6 6 9
Capilano/Delbrook Highlands 50 24 16 10
Lower Lonsdale 61 11 9 19
Central and Upper Lonsdale 47 12 7 34
Lynn Valley 66 11 11 12
Blueridge/Deep Cove 71 11 6 12
TOTAL 61 12 11 16
-- end --
This article appeared in North Shore News
on Friday, March 12th, 1999
AN angry group of approximately 35 direct democracy supporters left North Vancouver District hall Monday yelling insults at council.
“Your cheques are in the mail,” shouted one. “See you in November,” yelled another, referring to the municipal election.
A split 4-3 vote had just seen council ignore the recommendation of its own task force and direct staff not to proceed with any form of a direct democracy bylaw.
North Vancouver Reform Party MP Ted White was more polite than those doing the shouting but delivered the same message to media representatives in the hall.
“They hijacked the agenda. I guess there will be some accountability at election time,” said White.
Suggested by Coun. Ernie Crist, a “citizen’s task force” to investigate the possible implementation of direct democracy was unanimously endorsed by council Nov. 3, 1997.
Task force members were generally involved in local politics and included White, Coun. Pat Munroe, former council candidate Eric Andersen, community association representative Corrie Kost, political activist Dallas Collis, and Canadians for Direct Democracy founder Reimar Kroecher.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the task force concluded that council should draft a direct democracy bylaw that would give residents an opportunity to initiate referenda on any district issue.
Such referenda would give voters an opportunity to amend or repeal any bylaw, or district issue, passed by council. Citizens could initiate a referendum by a petition supported by 5% of eligible voters. Task force chairman Paul Gallagher described the recommendations as a “moderate” form of direct democracy and emphasized that the task force concluded that it was “only fair and proper” to put the issue of such a bylaw “to the test of a referendum.”
Council then debated just such a possibility but ultimately chose not to give voters an opportunity to express an opinion on the issue in November.
Mayor Don Bell initially staked out a compromise position by suggesting the possibility of going to public referenda for information purposes only.
However, any referendum would not be legally binding on council unless the Municipal Act is changed by the province or the district was to be “bound” by a provincial cabinet regulation to accept its results.
Bell finally sided with councillors Trevor Carolan, Glenys Deering-Robb and Janice Harris to defeat any further staff consideration of direct democracy.
Asked Carolan: “What are we being asked to enter? Expensive advertising wars for referenda? Petition battles where victory lies in who can shout their version of reality the loudest?”
That position was endorsed by Kathryn Beavis who told council that the California experience with citizen-initiated referenda was whoever “won” was “the side who spends the most on advertising.” Beavis also said that complex issues were simplified to a “yes” or “no” situation.
Carolan also stated he’d had more calls on the issue of a sign bylaw and said the core issue was “...does the larger community really care about this issue.”
Harris noted there was sharp criticism and cynicism for senior levels of government “but the complaints directed at the federal and provincial levels of government do not fit local government realities.”
Harris also said the support of 5% of eligible voters to initiate a referendum “was ludicrously low as a benchmark.”
Munroe argued that 5% was chosen to “eliminate frivolous proposals and yet not block the process.”
Munroe, however, was unsuccessful in persuading a majority of council to agree that “if the idea is such a stupid one, let the voters reject it.”
A signature drive for 5% of the district’s approximately 50,000 voters would need the support of 2,500.
Deering-Robb said council believed in democracy, whether it was direct democracy or representative but said the fact that “referendums become ‘neverendums’ becomes more obvious as this debate drags on.”
Collis later told the News that “This is just the delay of an inevitable future. For us this isn’t over. It was just the first step. By the election, those councillors will be changing their tune or they will be changing their jobs.”
Voters are not smart enough
By Grady Semmens, Sterling News Service
This article appeared in Vancouver Sun on Thursday, March 11th, 1999
(North Shore Zone, page B1)
North Vancouver residents lobbying for a new form of political
decision-making say district council showed this week it believes voters
are not smart enough to figure out complex local issues.
After spending more than a year investigating the concept of "direct
democracy," a 10-member committee recommended council hold a referendum at
the November municipal election to determine if the public wants a direct
say in major municipal issues. But council defeated the recommendation by a
4-3 vote this week.
Direct democracy would allow citizens to hold a referendum on any municipal
bylaw if at least five per cent of the voting public support the
Most councillors said they feel they do a good job representing the public
and the referendum process should be saved for federal and provincial
"Direct democracy doesn't fit local government realities," Councillor
Janice Harris said.
"We are not alienated from our constituents, we live in our communities and
through the public input sessions at our weekly council meetings and our
numerous public hearings we give people a lot of chances to become involved
in the decisions we make."
Council was heckled by members of the committee and supporters of direct
democracy throughout the discussion, forcing Mayor Don Bell to threaten
removal of some individuals. The boos and hisses escalated after Councillor
Trevor Carolan said direct democracy caters to special-interest groups.
"Despite the people who are here tonight, the public hasn't embraced this
idea at all," he said.
Committee chairman Paul Gallagher said he was disappointed with council's
"My impression is that much of this debate should have taken place before
the task force was set up," he said.
"We're talking about citizen participation and giving people a way of
expressing their views. Saying that it should only be used at higher levels
of government is just a way to deflect the issue."
North Vancouver MP Ted White, who sat on the committee and is the Reform
party's direct democracy critic, said the district has missed a valuable
opportunity to let citizens have a true form of democracy.
"What council has said by their decision is that the people are too stupid
to make decisions on their own," White said.
Direct democracy has a place at the local level
By Victoria Hogan
This letter appeared in the Vancouver Sun, Saturday, March 13, page A22
I attended the March 8 meeting of the North Vancouver district council where the issue of direct democracy was discussed and defeated.
I was shocked to see our mayor, Don Bell, vote against a resolution that would have let the citizens decide in November whether they would want to have voter initiated referendums. This, after 18 people stood up to speak in favour of it, and none against.
Adding this vote in November would have cost nothing additional (debates on other issues showed the council to be prudently watching the public purse, which I applaud) and would have ensured that these elected officials would be acting in the interests of their constituents.
What would they have had to lose and what were they afraid of?
Councillor Janice Harris was quoted in The Vancouver Sun as saying:
"direct democracy doesn't fit local government realities" (District council vetoes direct democracy bid, March 11).
What realities would these be?
That we are too stupid to decide for ourselves how we should be governed?
Though councillors Munroe, Crist and Muri put up a valiant effort to support the findings of the task force, we were denied the right to decide.
I know who I'll be voting for in November!
Democracy takes a beating
By Colin Stark
This letter was written to newspapers on March 15
Canadians for Direct Democracy
A Referendum Advocacy Group
I welcome your incisive coverage of the "democracy debate" at DNV Council.
Having followed closely the tortuous progress of the DNV Task Force on Direct Democracy since its inception on November 3rd 1997, I am appalled at the treatment accorded the authors and supporters of this unanimous Report at the Council meeting on March 8th.
Four members of Council not only voted against this meticulously prepared report -- prepared by eight citizens of the Mayor's own choice -- they advanced arguments which indicated that they had not opened themselves to absorbing the substance of the Report, even though they had already been in receipt of nine Draft Reports, and had discussed Draft #9 at an in-camera shirtsleeves session with the Task Force, before submission of the Final Report.
The comments of Councillors opposing this report do not merit repetition here, but will be long-remembered, and difficult to forgive.
And for Mayor Don Bell to accuse those in attendance of disrespect on two occasions when spontaneous outbursts of "SHAME" filled the chambers -- to accuse 70 citizens, of whom all 19 who spoke were in favour of the Report, and none against -- is for Mayor Bell to whitewash his own delaying tactics.
Does Council have ANY RIGHT to discard hundreds of hours of first-class volunteer work in such a cavalier manner?
I believe that it is better to voice these feelings publicly now, since it was not possible do so at the Council Meeting because of its hierarchical restrictions.
I beseech Mayor Bell to use the POWER vested only in him and Council to call a Public Forum to openly discuss and begin to heal this open sore, without the restrictive rules of an official Council Meeting.
Surely it is in Council's interest to open a comprehensive and balanced discourse on Democracy, on a level playing field, at the earliest possible opportunity!
Colin Stark, MBA, Vice-President
Canadians for Direct Democracy