by Yule Heibel on November 18, 2005

Tomorrow approximately 30% (maybe 33%) of eligible voters in Victoria will complete casting their ballots for the city’s mayor and councillors. (I write “complete” because voters could vote early, from Nov.14th on.) That’s a sadly anemic projection, but consider that our City-of-Victoria-the-Legal-Entity (not counting the Greater Victoria area or the entire Capital Regional District) is less than 75,000 people strong, yet there are 28 candidates running for 8 council seats, and 5 running for the mayor’s seat. I’ve gone to 3 all-candidates meetings (in Fernwood, Vic West, and Fairfield), and if one is a fan of Monty Python, these meetings have had their moments, thanks to some of the candidates. Even if the voters aren’t galloping to the polls, many of the candidates more than make up for the voters’ lack of enthusiasm by espousing strongly held opinion and reducing complex issues to the point where they’ll fit into the kitchen sink.

As an aside: It occured to me that while this is not a chiasmus (scroll down to “C”), there is an interesting kind of “crossing parallelism” in campaigning. In one approach you’ll find everything and the kitchen sink pressed into rhetorical service, while in another you’ll find a populist kitchen sink (single issue “Big Idea”) serving as a kind of demogogic hold-all for everything. …Not that either approach does justice to the complexities facing today’s cities.

One would think that some of the candidates would be ideal blogger-types (ahem!), but curiously, many of them display a seemingly profound disinterest in creating for themselves an online presence. There are two interesting sites that provide a central collection point for candidates’s positions. One is the City of Victoria Youth Council (CVYC), which started shaping up in earnest last year (see their About page) and began its first concerted public recruitment efforts just a few months ago. CVYC asked the candidates “to respond to the following questions: how would you support youth should you be elected, what issues do you identify as ‘youth issues,’ and how would you define a youth friendly city?” This is a very serious question in Victoria, which is projected to face a drastic decline in its under-20 population (shrinking to less than 10% within the next decade, or something like that), and it would seem like a good idea to think about policies that can attract and retain youth as well as families with young children. The responses, by the very few candidates who bothered to respond (a mere 13, plus a blanket statement by the Victoria Civic Electors slate, which is fielding 6 candidates), are on this page.

The other site that Victorians should look at, whether they vote by tomorrow or not, is PlanVictoria, which asked the candidates to respond to very specific questions around urban planning and development. PlanVictoria’s The Issues page lists candidates in the order that they responded. Twenty-two candidates responded, some to all questions, others selectively to a few, while eleven candidates haven’t responded at all. The Issues page is very useful because the top of every column states a topic, which is clickable. Follow the topic link (“Built Vision” or “Public Consultation,” for example) and you’ll find a clearly articulated explanation of what policy or policies are involved in this area, as well as a question to the candidates. Thus, for the question “What is your philosophy of planning?” we learn the following:

We already live in a city that was created by the combined efforts of people who came before us. The future of our city now relies on our efforts as citizens to understand what the city is, how it works, what it could become and take the actions needed to ensure its finest livability. We want future generations to live in a city they are proud to belong to and be inspired to continue to plan for the future. Ray Spaxman

There are different ways planning can be approached: we can plan ahead according to our vision of the city in the future, or we can react to present market forces within a planned context. An extreme would be to respond specifically to individual requests. We can leave planning to the professionals, or we can include the citizens.

British Columbia municipalities are required, by legislation, to have an Official Community Plan (OCP). In Victoria, we also have neighbourhood plans which inform the interpretation of the OCP.

Every rezoning results in a change to the OCP.

If you want to plan ahead, updates of the vision and the OCP will be necessary. There are various ways to do this.

After everyone (elected councillors, planning department and the public) go through a huge effort to prepare plans, these plans can then be used in different ways. They can be fully enforced, or they can be changed by simple bylaw. Enforcement can be spotty or broad.

What is your philosophy of land use planning? How do you see the planning process happening? If you are a serving Mayor or Councillor, what specific actions have you taken in the past to implement your philosophy of land use planning? If future planning is done, what do you think about enforcement of the plans? [see this page]

It’s a great resource. There’s also a helpful Links page, and I hope the entire site stays up for a long time after the election is over.

For an interesting look at the municipal election from the point of view of pro-highrise development fans (who seem overwhelmingly rightwing-libertarian), check out this Skyscraperpage forum (and while you’re at it, see “Victoria Construction,” on the same forum). It’s an amusing read — populist, often smart, usually smart-alecky, sometimes painfully dumb, and over-confidently full of itself. After reading what they’ve written about the candidates, I thank my lucky stars that I’m not running for office…. And after reading what they’ve written, I don’t think any of them will ever run for public office, either. They may write anonymously, but it’s pretty easy to figure out who many of the key contributors are, and the web is almost like diamonds, which are themselves almost forever…

n.b.: “click-think-vote”© is PlanVictoria‘s motto. I like it.

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