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Decision 2014: Why Ray Tomlin Blogs on Vancouver's Civic Scene

Why Ray Tomlin blogs about politics on VanRamblings

Approximately one week ago, Vancouver Magazine columnist Frances Bula casually asked me why I was covering Vancouver's civic election scene on VanRamblings — stating that, "I don't recall you doing that much before."

Now, Frances' query was framed as a simple question — she was curious, and given that we'd been corresponding, and I turned up at the NPA breakfast meeting with Kirk LaPointe on July 14th (unusual for me), the question seems a valid one, and deserving of a reply. Because the question Frances poses is a question that has been asked of me by many (not the least of whom was COPE's Sarah Beuhler), I'll use this forum to respond.

The primary reason VanRamblings revived itself on June 15th to commence in-depth coverage of the current civic election cycle was to create an alternative narrative to the one most often expressed by Vision Vancouver.

On VanRamblings, I want to hold Vision Vancouver to account for their decision-making, practice and conduct over the course of the past almost six years, and to remind VanRamblings' approximately 17,000 weekly readers of Vision Vancouver's position on a number of issues: development, community consultation, the arts, parks as well as green and environmental issues, affordable housing, and transit — and of how what Vision Vancouver says (or said in the past), and what Vancouver's majority municipal party actually does in practice are often two very different things.

As I've also written on VanRamblings many, many times before, I believe Vision Vancouver to be the worst municipal government that Vancouver has had since the hoary days of Tom 'Terrific' Campbell — and, what I've set about to do on VanRamblings is back up that contention with dogged research, and the regular breaking of stories on this blog, commencing with intensive coverage of Vancouver's civic scene some eight weeks ago.

Vancouver City Hall

Now, to the second part of Frances' query (before returning to a continuing answer of the initial question): while it is true that VanRamblings has not had a history, over the past decade, of providing intensive coverage of the civic scene, as the last PoliSci / Anthropology / Sociology graduate from Simon Fraser's old PSA department, I can tell you that my interest in the art of politics captured me whole in the early days of my young adulthood.

At Simon Fraser University, where I undertook two undergraduate degrees throughout the 1970s, I developed an overweening interest in politics that was honed and academically informed through the guidance of professors and activists of political conscience. I was privileged to continue a process of a refining of my political understanding as I undertook a Master's degree in Policy Administration, again at Simon Fraser University, in the early 1980s.

The allure of politics, and of democratic engagement and empowerment dates back even earlier, to the first part of the 1960s when I marched with my father on postal workers' picket lines, on strike after strike after strike.

As I've written previously, I worked on my first political campaign in 1963, volunteering on NDP MP Harold Winch's Vancouver East campaign for re-election to federal office, and from those days until now, the allure of politics and democratic engagement has held a pull and a fascination for me, as part of a lifelong endeavour that has consumed me, as a good portion of my life has continued in dedication to building a fairer, more just and truly democratic society, an interest that sustains me until this day.

In additional answer to the query, although I've not covered civic politics to distraction on VanRamblings (I'll explain why in a moment), I have consistently covered the federal and provincial political electoral scene: for instance, in my Decision Canada coverage of federal elections, and last year's intensive Decision BC 2013 coverage of our BC provincial election.

As to why I turned up at the NPA breakfast meeting with Kirk LaPointe, or attend press conferences for the other municipal political parties? I've asked to be placed on the press contact list, and the various civic parties have kindly acceded to my request. I'm retired, I've got the time, I have the interest, and I have the forum — VanRamblings — to publish. Yes, we live in a new and different age. We now have citizen journalism on the web!

While it is true that there's not been all that much coverage of civic issues, on a regular basis, on VanRamblings, and certainly not intensive coverage of Vancouver's civic scene, there's good reason for that ...

During the course of the 2005 election, I was a member of Vancouver's Board of Variance. Given that the BoV is an independent, quasi-judicial body, I believed that it would have been unseemly for me to pronounce publically on civic election affairs — which doesn't mean that I, and other members of the Board of Variance on which I sat, didn't stump for and support civic parties running in the 2005 election; rather, it was that such engagement was quieter, and reflective of the position of trust we held as members of the Board.

During the course of the 2008 and 2011 Vancouver civic elections, I worked as a co-campaign manager on Tim Louis' campaign for office, designed, created and posted to his campaign website, and worked assiduously on the COPE campaign, as a whole, to elect members to Vancouver City Council, Park Board and School Board.

In 2008, given that I had a relationship of some longstanding with Aaron Jasper, I worked as a campaign organizer on the Vision-COPE Park Board slate (both at the request of COPE, and at Aaron's request, and with the support of Vision). Throughout both campaigns, I was busy working on Tim's / COPE's campaign for office, as well as engaging in grassroots campaigning, going door-to-door campaigning for COPE.

So, as you see, my interest in civic politics was always present — I have chosen in 2014 to direct that involvement in the life of our society, online.

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Back to the implicit question contained in Frances' initial query: why you, Raymond, why now — and, perhaps, how is your voice a valid one?

The answer is simple: although I have not previously acted as a journalist covering Vancouver's civic electoral scene, I believe I am in a unique position to cover the 2014 Vancouver municipal election: which is to say, I have a personal relationship with, and have had a personal relationship, with almost every civic politico in town, dating back a decade and much longer.

For instance, for a year-and-a-half, commencing in early 2012 through until the autumn of last year, one Sunday every month, I met with a group of progressives in COPE to help develop a framework for COPE policy — as such I was "inside" the process of decision-making for one of Vancouver's four main political parties. During that time I was afforded the opportunity to get to know Tristan Markle, Stuart Parker, Kim Hearty, and the nine others who sat around Dr. Penny Parry and Tim's Louis' dining room table.

I also worked closely with COPE Executive Director Sean Antrim, and was very much involved in various aspects of the COPE planning process.

Vision Vancouver Board of Education Chairperson Patti Bacchus, Christopher RichardsonBoard of Education Chair, Patti Bacchus, and NPA BoE candidate, Christopher Richardson

Given my gregarious and curious nature (and much to the chagrin of my COPE colleagues), I have also come to develop a close rapport, verging on friendship, with a number of folks involved in the Non-Partisan Association.

For instance, for the past year and a half, I have met once a month with current NPA Council candidate Rob McDowell (one of my very favourite politicos in town, and my favourite of the NPA candidates for Council). As the Park Board watchdog (so named by The Courier's Sandra Thomas), in addition to speaking regularly with the Vision Vancouver Commissioners on Park Board — Chair, Aaron Jasper, Constance Barnes, Niki Sharma, Sarah Blyth and Trevor (each of whom I both like very much, and for whom I have much respect and admiration) — I have also had the privilege of speaking and meeting with the two NPA Park Board Commissioners, John Coupar and Melissa DeGenova. I like, admire & respect both John & Melissa, very much.

If I am over the moon about Rob McDowell (and I am), my regard for current NPA Board of Education candidate Christopher Richardson knows no bounds — he's not just one of the finest politicos I've ever met, Christopher is one of the best people I've ever met, period; it is a privilege to have the opportunity to speak with both Rob and Christopher.

In addition to Rob McDowell and Christopher Richardson, I've come to hold NPA Board of Education candidate Sandy Sharma, and NPA Park Board candidate Erin Shum in the highest personal regard. My admiration for NPA Council candidate Ian Robertson also knows no bounds — I think he's the smartest politico in town. I've also become more familiar with NPA Councillor George Affleck, and have long known NPA Councillor Elizabeth Ball, dating back to the days when I was the de facto arts and entertainment editor for a number of community newspapers, and regularly met with Elizabeth, in her capacity as Managing Director of Granville Island's Carousel Theatre.

That I believe that each of these candidates for the Non-Partisan Association to be principled, honest and humble, and deserving of the public's support at the polls should be considered a given — truth to tell, though, these are early days, and I have not as yet determined the list of candidates I will endorse in the final week of the current civic election cycle.

For Council, I can tell you that COPE's Sid Chow Tan and Tim Louis will be on my final endorsement list, as will the Vancouver Cedar Party's Nicholas Chernen. Clearly, the NPA's Rob McDowell and Ian Robertson are at the top of my list for Vancouver's natural governing party.

At this point, I can't imagine not endorsing Vision Vancouver's Andrea Reimer and Niki Sharma (tough, incredibly bright, principled women) — regardless of my somewhat untoward coverage of Vancouver's majority party at City Hall. And, of course, current Green Party City Councillor Adriane Carr, and her running mate, Pete Fry (about whom I feel as equally strongly as I do Tim Louis, Rob McDowell, Ian Robertson, Sid Chow Tan and Nicholas Chernen) will likely be on my final endorsement list.

Still, as I say, it's early days — the final civic election candidate endorsement list is three months away from publication date.

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Civic Engagement, the 2014 Vancouver municipal election

All of the above is by way of saying, I believe that the perspective I offer on Vancouver's civic scene to be fetchingly humane and idiosyncratic, as well as informed to a degree unusual among those who cover the civic scene.

Given my relationship of long duration with politicos from across the political spectrum, and based as well on my work with many of Vancouver's most activist politicos, I have most certainly developed a more intimate rapport than most reporters would allow to be the case, all of which provides me with a unique insight into the character of those who are running for office, and those mounting and backing the various municipal political campaigns.

As such, VanRamblings can, and will, offer a warmly idiosyncratic (and we hope, as well, often amusing) take on the civic scene, in the days, weeks and months leading up to the November 15th municipal election.

An aside, if I might, on two issues concerning VanRamblings ...

Humour. You'll notice above that I employ the phrase "natural governing party" to describe the Non-Partisan Association. Allow me to point out that use of such phrase does not constitute an endorsement of the NPA, nor is it meant to suggest in any way, shape or form that I am "in the tank" for the NPA — I am simply having a little fun (mostly at the expense of some of the folks in COPE, it would seem, although that was never my intention). Readers should know, as well, that I have fun with the headlines / titles of the various articles: surely, having read VanRamblings for awhile now, you must know that I indulge my penchant for hyperbole at almost every opportunity that is afforded; sometimes after I've finished writing a column, and read it back to myself, I laugh out loud at how outrageous and over-the-top my "seeming endorsement" of a candidate would be to the casual reader. That a good many of my readers read some of my writing as amusing (as is intended) is heartening for me; that the converse is also true is, well, unsettling for me — doesn't mean I'm going to stop from composing headlines that, as I wrote a couple of days back, are designed to "engage, enrage and misdirect (challenging the reader to actually read through the commentary below the 'meant to outrage' title)."

Pejorative attack: Although I believe that the politics of personal destruction is the modus operandi for both Vision Vancouver and Stephen Harper's federal Tories (an electoral strategy that has proved successful for both political parties, thus far), on VanRamblings you will never read an attack on someone's character. Ever. There's no one on Vancouver's civic scene that I dislike (I have some personal favourites, and some quite not-so-favourites) — I am admiring of those who are engaged in the civic political scene, & in service of the public interest.

Yes, it is true that I've had some fun at the expense of Vision Vancouver's campaign team, but let me tell you that not for one moment do I ever forget that a person I am writing about is someone's son, daughter, husband, wife, companion, beloved uncle or aunt, someone's father or mother, brother or sister, or cherished friend.

I do not, and will not, deny someone's humanity.

When I write about the Mayor's Chief of Staff, Mike Magee, I do not forget who he is as a man, as a husband and a father and a friend, in addition to his work as a politico of stature and much accomplishment. You will never see me going after someone personally on the VanRamblings blog — sure, I'll take Vision Vancouver to task, but you will never read personal invective or ad hominem personal attack on this website.

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Happy Birthday, Raymond

Today's post constitutes only the first part of my answer to the question posed by Frances; there's more that I have to say — but not today.

This is my pre-birthday week. This coming Monday, August 11th, is my — as a neighbour suggested to me — "Beatles birthday". I will be 64.

I may have one more post before, or on (or after) my birthday (nothing political), after which time I'll take a break from VanRamblings for one week, before commencing with posting once again on Vancouver's civic scene. I look forward to your return on Monday, August 18th, for VanRamblings' continuing coverage of the upcoming 2014 Vancouver municipal election.



Posted by Raymond Tomlin at August 8, 2014 5:10 AM in VanRamblings

   

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