Monday, October 31, 2011

Preferential ballot

Our current system of electing the Metro Electoral Area A Director is a first past the post system - that is the candidate with the largest number of votes, irrespective of whether they have a majority of the votes, gets the job.  This tends to generate a system in which a well organized minority voice can easily win the election.

Why not use a preferential balloting system when more than two candidates are running?  It would certainly lend authority and legitimacy to the candidate who then wins.  In our current situation the last candidate to win did so with a clear minority of votes.  Had we had a preferential ballot the outcome would have been unambiguously the choice of the majority of voters.

The most common preferential voting system works by voters ranking their choices.  When votes are tabulated the last place candidates votes are redistributed to the other candidates in successive waves until one candidate is assigned a simple plurality.  The end result is the election of a candidate who is the majority choice of all and ensure that a minority perspective candidate is not elected.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the doorstep with Mischa Makortoff - Metro Electoral Area A Candidate

I've had a chance to speak with each of the five candidates running for the position of Metro Vancouver Director - Electoral Area A.  When I ran myself last time I argued that we needed "local leaders who are willing to work with diversity, who aren't afraid of being wrong, who are tolerant and open to collaboration."  I also believed that we need to take decisive and immediate actions to address the lack of democratic representation in our community.  Over the course of the last three years very little has been done to address the democratic deficit and, from what I have seen, there has been little attempt to include a diversity of voices from our local areas into the processes of governance.  Instead we have seen a worsening of our democratic representation.

Over the course of the past three years Metro Vancouver precipitated a land use battle with UBC that transferred local planning decisively into the hand of UBC's Developer led Board of Governors.  While this may work for property owners in the UEL it has serious consequences for the rest of us.  A minority of residents in the UNA area benefit from their longstanding ties to the UBC administration and, like property owners in the UEL, are not that concerned with UBC's control of local governance within the University boundaries.  But UBC isn't the right agency to make land use plans.  One simply needs to think about the current south campus plan to massively expand high rise construction along the front of Pacific Spirit Park and the imposition of the hospice on the residents of Promontory after a minority of students allayed with the Wreck Beach Preservation Society rejected it in near Marine Towers and St. John College to see how UBC handles land use plans - profit first, residents second.  Given this context we need a representative who is experienced in working collaboratively, who is not tied to local vested interests, and who is willing and able to work across and through intense political divides.

Through meeting and talking with the candidates I have come to the decision that Mischa Makortoff is the most reasonable and effective selection for our representative.  Mischa and I don't agree on every point - but that is an important point.  What we do agree on is that democracy is built upon real inclusion and civil consideration of disagreement. 

Here’s what I saw in Mischa that I find appealing – first he gets the way things are working out here and some of the key issues.  He’s the first to admit that he doesn’t know everything there is about the way things work but he is a quick study.  He has time to spare and energy to burn.  He’s flexible and he’s willing to work with people to get a job done.  I also found him very honest about what he is advocating for and what he needs to reflect upon before responding to, and what he sees as requiring discussion.  For example, on the governance issue he doesn’t have as clear a position as do I – but he is very willing to work with that and for an effective solution.  I was impressed by Mischa and believe that others will share that impression.

This time around my vote for effective, local leadership goes to Mischa Makortoff.   

I'll be working with Mischa to ensure that our representative speaks with and for all of us.  I'll be on the doorsteps in our community working to introduce Mischa and calling upon you to vote for our new Director for Electoral Area A, Mischa Makortoff.

Meet your Metro candidates - update

Earlier this week I had a chance to meet with Alexandria Mitchell and her campaign manager, D. Matthew Millar.  We met in my office in the Anthropology-Sociology Building in between my Tuesday lectures.    I would have prefered a more informal setting - but one takes the times that are avaible in our busy schedules!

Alexandria, Alex to her friends and colleagues, is a second year Arts student at UBC with a record of public and volunteer engagement that would put many older adults to shame.  From her earlier years in high school Alex has been prolifically engaged in environmental causes in the lower mainland.  She was a youth delegate at the Copenhagen Climate Conference several years ago and has been an invited youth representative on a range of local and regional environmental boards.  Clearly she has the experience in public service to stand above the typical first or second year student that I meet through the course of my work day - in fact, she's the very model of students that I would love to see populate my courses - she strikes me as way more interested in learning and making a difference than in grade grubbing!

All this experience aside I asked Alex why a voter such as myself should consider voting for a youngster from the valley.  Her answer was far more considered than my question.  "I bring a level of experience passion and commitment to this position" she explained.  "I live on campus; I'm committed  to engaging all voters in the electoral area."

Alex certainly has the experience to do so  She was one of the leaders of the UBC Vote mob campaign that focused on bringing out student votes during the most recent federal election campaign.

Alex has strong green credentials.  She sits on a provincial board concerned with rural issues, was a youth delegate at the COP 15 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, and is a member of the Fraser Basin Council’s Air Quality/Climate Change Task Force.

Alex is also a strong advocate of the UBC Farm and the protection of regional parks and greenspace.  Based on what I have found checking her history of involvement her advocacy stands on more than simple promises - she's actively involved in the issues.  Whereas some of the park supporters in recent years from the UEL and nearby Vancouver Neighbourhoods have focused on saving parks for their own use, Alex has a wider regional perspective that understands local needs but also sees them in the wider regional context.  

One things is certain in this election -we have a strong field of candidates for Metro Director.  In the past a vote for the student candidate would have been wasted vote.  I don't think that's the case with Alex.  She has the skills, the time, and most importantly the experience to do an excellent job.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Meet Your Metro Electoral Area A Candidates

The past week I took some time to try and meet with each of the five candidates running for the position of Electoral Area A Director.  Sadly I’ve only been able to meet with three  candidates, Mischa Makortoff, Scott Andrews, and Maria Harris.  I have a meeting with Alexandria Mitchell on the dock for next week.  No luck so far with connecting with Vancouver resident Colin Dejarlais.

I’ve been meeting at the Beans Around the World coffee shop in the Old Barn Community Centre in Hawthorn Place within the University Town.  It gives us a chance to talk and visit in a place that is arguably the centre of non-student resident activities – at least for those of us not living in the UEL. 

Part of my desire to meet with each candidate is to try and make up my own mind about who to support in this election.  I am also interested in presenting a perspective on the candidates that is lacking in a more general sense.  Our local area may well be a playground for non-resident vested interests from developers to ecologists, but aside from that sort of unwanted attention our little election gets precious little media coverage.  I will make a choice about whom I will personally support, but in the meantime I intend to use this blog as a site for engaged commentary on the Electoral Area A and the Vancouver School Board elections.

As with any election the candidates demonstrate a range of different levels of knowledge about local and regional issues.  They live in different places and come from a range of divergent political and social backgrounds.  My conversations with the candidates focused on their familiarity with the local area (do they live here and for how long) and their past political experience (including asking each of them who they vote for provincially and federally).  For the two candidates I haven’t been able to speak with I’ve pieced together a profile from what I can glean online.

I present my summaries in order of our meetings.

Mischa Makortoff is a relative newcomer to the UBC-UEL area – he’s lived here on Toronto Road for about two years.  He is, however, no stranger to university life or the politics and dynamics of the Vancouver Region.  Born and raised in the lower mainland, Mischa completed a BA in Political Science at Simon Fraser.  He is currently a UBC staff member working in classroom services. 

Mischa has a clarity of purpose and exudes a sense of dedication and the capacity to get a job done and to do it at a high level.  He’s not afraid to pause to reflect on a new idea or to carefully consider a question that I frame in an unexpected way.  When asked about governance issues in the University Town and UEL areas he began his response by noting the difference between the two areas and the legal constraints that structure just what Metro can do.  Rather than hide behind that legal framework as has been the case with other candidates, Mischa pointed to the real problems that local area residents experience in terms of inconsistencies in local bylaw enforcement.  “What is needed is more accountability and direct involvement in the decisions that affect us a residents living here,” he said.

When asked about his partisan political affiliations he declined to comment noting that in the context of Metro Vancouver Board federal or provincial party membership should be less important than being a person “who is able to work together with others to get the job done.”  If I were to hazard a guess as to his partisan leanings I would peg him as a progressive centrist.

Scott Andrews is an energetic young man with a passionate desire to make our world a better place.  He has solid Green credentials and would be well placed to address ecological issues related to the overall region.  Scott completed his BA at UBC and, while he lived on campus, was a member of a local fraternity.  He was actually the fraternity president during his last year as a student.  I hope that Scott will excuse the surprise that I expressed upon learning this –
            “is that a common outlook for a frat boy? Being Green, that is?” 
            “While, maybe not,” Scott allowed.  “But as I continued in my studies I came to see that our world faces ecological issues of critical importance.  We need to take action and positions such as the Electoral Area A Director can be important in these regional issues.”
            Scott's membership in COPE, he left the municipal Greens when they refused to form a municipal alliance with Vision Vancouver and COPE, is a matter of public record (GeorgiaStraight).

This is Maria Harris’ election to loose.  Last time around she won by just ten votes over her closest opponent, Ben West.  West mounted a hard campaign popular with student and green voters propelled on by the dynamic of the UBC Farm debates of three years ago.  I also ran against Harris last time (I polled third in the five candidate field). In the spirit of disclosure I did say to the Ubbessy that my second vote on a preferential ballot would have gone to Harris.

Harris is clearly the old hand in the election.  She was trained as an economist.  She used to work for BC Hydro prior to moving with her husband and her two children to the UEL in the mid-1990s when she dedicated herself more to raising her family then paid employment.  As Harris points out she is fortunate to be freed from having to work long hours to make a living and consequently has lots of time to give to her community. 

Harris was part of the UEL Ratepayers Association that dealt with the necessity to find a way to be more inclusive and to include resident renters into the advisory structure of the UEL.  The resulting four area advisory committee was an outcome of that mid-1990s work. 

Harris has also been a long time advocate for UEL interests on a variety of UBC advisory planning committees.  Finding common cause with the Wreck Beach Preservation Society and the Friends of Pacific Spirit Park, Harris see’s her role as one of making connections between people to ensure that critical regional issues like solid waste management, water supply, and sewage are dealt with. 

When I asked Maria who she voted for provincially and federally she exclaimed that that is totally “irrelevant here!  It’s irrelevant to the effectiveness of the director.”   My guess would be that her politics would best be described as fiscally conservative and socially center-right. 

For Harris the role of Director has it’s greatest promise in building connections between people.  She believes that as the incumbent her insider knowledge will be useful in helping other people make connections through her.

I’ll be meeting with Alexandria Mitchell later this week.  She’s actively involved in university student politics and has actively supported federal Liberal Party candidates.  She’s a special member of the SUB rebuilding design committee and Fraser Valley rural boards and associations of various sorts.  Her personal web page is breathless in its self-coverage and leaves one marveling at all the meetings and events and causes that she contributes to.  [Update Oct. 30 - read report on my meeting with Alexandria here.]

Colin Desjarlais.  I really don’t understand his motivation for running for the position of director.  I can understand why he may have wanted to run for Vancouvercity council as a member of COPE.  But there is nothing in the little one can find online or in his brief candidate statement that explains why he is running for Director.

Updated Oct. 24.

I was able to speak with Colin Desjarlais by phone this morning.  Our conversation was brief but the crux of the matter for me was why should I vote for a candidate who doesn't live in this area.  
"We have a right to do it," he stated.  "It is constitutionally open.  We live in a democratic society and there is no residency requirement for running for elected office in Metro Vancouver."

When pushed to discuss local issues his response was there is a "broader picture then just local life.  This is a  voice on a regional level.  I have lots of  experience in the past.  I see this position as a regional voice, not a parochial one.  There are bigger issues than just UBC."

One example of a bigger issue for Mr. Desjarlais is commuting - "there's a lot more traffic now going out to UBC," he claimed.  [Single occupant car trips have in fact gone down while bus ridership has gone up.] 

I asked him why should local residents vote for a person who came up last choice for COPE Vancouver City Council candidates.  "I don't support the COPE-Vision party or the NPA.  We need to get rid of that old style political parties.  It's a whole new world out there.  I wanted to get a taste for what it was like on the inside."  Desarlais' experience campaigning for a COPE nomination and loosing left an obvious bitter taste for him and he now says that he is no supporter of any political party.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vancouver School Board Election - 2011

The list of candidates can be found on the City of Vancouver Election page.  The candidates represent the three main civic electoral groups:  Vision Vancouver, Non Partisan Association (NPA), and the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE).  Two independents are also running.

As residents west of Blanca we get to vote for School Board but not Vancouver Mayor, City Council or Park Board.

Last time around I endorsed Patti Baccus (Vision), Ken Clement (Vision) Alan Wong (COPE), and Carol Gibson (NPA).  With the exception of Gibson, this group is standing for reelection.

As a parent activist and former member of the Vancouver District Parents Advisory Council I have also worked with two of the new candidates running Gwen  Giesbrecht (Vision) and Shandy Sharma (NPA).  Both demonstrated a concern for education and, while situated within their particualr political silos, managed to work across diversity of opinion toward making improvements for all children in public education.

Jane Bouey (COPE), Al Blakey (COPE) and Ken Deinke (NPA) have all been hard working advocates for their particualr visions of education.  Over the decade or more that I was involved in public education issues these three struck me as reasonable people who have much to offer to our public education system.

The sad thing is that the school board elections tend to be decided by the struggle over mayor and Vancovuer City Council with many of the diehard political supporters following voters' lists rather than trying to get to know the specific education issues and the ways in which each possible candidate might act.

Over the course of the election I will try to bring information to you that will allow an informed decision independent of party affiliation.  I will ultimately also offer my selection of a short list of candidates.  While our area (UEL/University Town) has a small number of votes, these are votes that can make a difference to the candidates who are on the borderline of being elected.  If you look at the election results last time you will see that the spread between the 7th to 11th ranking candidates weren't that many votes and there are only 9 places on the school board to fill.  So a concerted and tactical intervention could have an influence over the final outcome of school board elections.

2011 Election for Electoral Area A Director is on!

Five candidates are vying for the relatively powerless position of Metro Electoral Area A Director.

Incumbent Maria Harris faces off against UBC/UEl fellow resident Mischa Makortoff, and three non-resident candidates:  young Liberal Alexandria Mitchell, ex-Green/turned municipal COPE Vancouver resident Scott Andrews and a 6th place candidate for a COPE Vancouver municipal council seat, Colin Desjarlais.