Monday, November 24, 2014

Vancouver Progressives: Divided, They Fell Short - Thanks To Vote-Splitting

Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson election night on stage - Bill Tieleman photo
Centre-left risked disaster, lost school and park boards with vote-splitting

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday November 18, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"Where there is unity, there is always victory."
- Publilius Syrus, Roman author 1st century B.C.
Vancouver's centre-left risked political disaster in Saturday's municipal election and still paid a price for well-intentioned vote splitting.
Mayor Gregor Robertson won a strong victory, leading a Vision Vancouver third term majority council after a very tough, nasty battle.
But lack of unity resulted in Vision losing Councillor Tony Tang, its majority on the Vancouver School Board and all but one seat on the Vancouver Park Board, where the right-wing Non-Partisan Association takes control.
And for what?
Voters who threw some votes to the marginalized, hard-left Coalition of Progressive Electors, or One City's sole council candidate R.J. Aquino or the Public Education Project's Jane Bouey and Gwen Giesbrecht didn't come close to electing a single candidate at any level.
But those voters succeeded, most unknowingly, in ensuring NPA gains of one more councillor and school board trustee and two more park board commissioners.
How? In our unfortunate at large system for the whole city, every candidate is competing with all others -- even from their own party.
Vancouver is one of the only major cities in Canada without wards or ridings for council -- where voters pick their own local representatives and only the mayor is chosen citywide.
So when centre-left voters split their vote, giving some to non-Vision candidates who had no chance to win, they accidentally let the NPA -- with its disciplined, united vote -- win more seats.
Left punishing Vision helped NPA
Some voters were disappointed with Vision Vancouver for reasons like consultation -- as Robertson himself acknowledged with an apology during the campaign and again in his victory speech.
But most voted obliviously for losing left candidates without realizing they were giving the NPA a leg up to more seats.
They didn't heed my warning nor that from ex-COPE councilor David Cadman, who endorsed Robertson and Vision before the election.

"I think this election is too important to risk splitting the vote among variety of new parties and have the risk of losing city council, because with it will go affordable housing, harm reduction, homelessness strategy, greenest city initiative, public transit, a whole variety of things," Cadman said. "[It's] what the city progressively needs."
Former COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth agreed, noting that: "I think the decision of who to vote for on council is confusing, and in that confusion, the vote gets split."
Small numbers, big shifts
And only a small number of votes makes a big difference in who gets elected.
For example, Vision school trustee Ken Clement got 57,826 votes but lost the last Vancouver School Board position to NPA opponent Christopher Richardson by just 255 votes.
PEP's Bouey had 41,757 votes and COPE's Diana Day had 39,068 -- nowhere near enough to win -- but had just a few hundred of those votes gone to Clement, Vision would retain its majority. It's impossible to tell exactly how each voter cast their ballots but it's obvious that some votes split to cost Clement his seat.
Which is not to deny that every individual and party has the right to run, and voters the right to choose them. But elections are about making tough choices and one of those is to determine who is most likely to be successful, in addition to their policies and character.
And in situations like a citywide election, voters face a dauntingly complex ballot with over 100 candidates from 10 parties.
So while people don't like slate voting, nor negative advertising, both work, as can be seen from the 10 per cent increase voter turnout and the results of the election.
Outside the tent
Ironically, Aquino, Bouey and Giesbrecht could all have run with Vision Vancouver and likely been elected -- certainly Aquino and Bouey were approached to do so and declined.
And all refused to endorse Vision candidates at all three levels, leading Vision to not endorse them in return.
Vision is a classic "big tent" municipal party but they preferred to be outside because of some limited differences -- and now sit on the sidelines as a result.
Is opposition to developers vastly more important than fighting homelessness, supporting public education in the face of provincial underfunding, protecting the environment and encouraging positive labour relations? That's one of the conclusions drawn from the split vote.
Meanwhile the Green Party, which split from an alliance with Vision in 2011, capitalized on Councillor Adriane Carr's profile, adding two park commissioners and a school trustee but not breaking through further on council.
But it's important to realize that -- as Carr herself has noted -- the Greens are not left and have sided with the NPA on some issues.
"We are neither left, nor right, but out front, appealing to voters across the political spectrum," Carr said in June. That works fine for some but leaves many wondering where the Greens will come down on any given issue.
COPE was more pointed in its approach, attacking its former electoral partner Vision at every opportunity -- "We can't afford four more years of Vision Vancouver" -- and running a mayoral candidate for the first time since 2002.
But COPE's Meena Wong only succeeded in making the Robertson versus LaPointe battle much closer than it would have been otherwise by picking up 16,791 votes for a distant third place.
Similarly, COPE's strategy of fielding near full slates for council, school and park board meant running against Vision -- and intentionally risking an NPA majority on all three.
Casualties and strategies
Sadly, many of the electoral casualties of disunity were people of colour bringing broader representation to politics -- councillor Tony Tang, school board trustees Ken Clement -- the only First Nations representative -- and Cherie Payne, while promising candidates like Vision's Niki Sharma for council, Sammie Jo Rumbaua and Naveen Girn for Park Board were defeated.
The results should mean a rethink of strategy for the Vancouver and District Labour Council and affiliated unions, which endorsed a mixed slate that included all Vision candidates but included One City, PEP and COPE.
Lastly, something must be said about the bizarre and powerful impact of the alphabet on Vancouver elections.
Five of the 10 elected councillors have a last name starting with the first four letters of the alphabet -- George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball, Adriane Carr, Heather Deal and newcomer Melissa de Genova. And four of nine school trustees have A-F letters starting their last names, while three of seven park commissioners start with C-E.
Regrettably and despite all the important issues facing Vancouver and the wide range of political choices for voters, the "alphabet advantage" appears to be significant.
Ballots should be arranged with either names chosen at random for position instead of alphabetically or be grouped by party to make it fairer for candidates cursed with last names that appear far lower now on the ballot.
If Vancouver's election was a "wake up" call for Vision, it's also alarming for centre-left voters, who inadvertently defeated good incumbents and new candidates and narrowly averted electoral disaster.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Special endorsement of Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs

Bill Tieleman with Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs, Erin Coward
I have endorsed all of the Vision Vancouver candidates - from Mayor Gregor Robertson to the City Council councillors and School Board Chair Patti Bacchus and the Vision candidates and Park Board candidates.  I am confident they will do a fine job.

But I want to make a special endorsement of Vision Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs - because of the very nasty, defamatory and unfair attack he has been under from the Non-Partisan Association and mayoralty candidate Kirk LaPointe.

Politics is a tough game and I play and accept hardball.  Attack ads, negative campaigning and other challenges to your opponents are to be expected.

But accusing a sitting Councillor and the Mayor of "corruption" is below the belt.  And patently untrue.

Robertson and Meggs have filed a defamation lawsuit that has been discussed here previously in some detail and I won't rehash that.

What I will say is that Geoff Meggs does not deserve this attack and the negative publicity it has created.

I have known Geoff for over 30 years through our mutual work in the labour movement, progressive politics and important causes.  He is a person of integrity.

At Vancouver City Hall he has been a tireless worker for many issues, including improving public transit, the plight of low-income workers, the disadvantaged, homeless and those who often do not have a voice.   As BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair put it recently: "We need to have strong, clear voices that support working and middle class people on Vancouver city council.  Geoff Meggs is that guy."  

Geoff is also one of the most knowledgeable, thoughtful and well-prepared politicians I've met at any level - he takes his job and responsibilities as an elected representative extremely seriously.

Regardless of your political persuasion, I encourage all Vancouver voters to keep Geoff Meggs on City Council - and to send a message that there must be limits to the attacks on public officials.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why I support Barinder Rasode for Mayor in Surrey

Bill Tieleman talks to Barinder Rasode in Surrey earlier this year
Last month I endorsed my friend Barinder Rasode for Mayor of Surrey - and with the election upon us, I'm taking the opportunity to say so again - but here:

“I have known Barinder Rasode for many years - and about her commitment to help all Surrey residents with challenging issues of crime, public transit and transportation, managing city expenditures wisely and making decisions openly.

So I am very pleased to endorse Barinder as the best choice for mayor of Surrey - to improve safety, transit and accountability to City Hall.”

Barinder has a background in the labour movement - I first met her when she worked for the Canadian Labour Congress - and takes a progressive approach to politics, something recognized when former Surrey Mayor Bob Bose endorsed her.

But Barinder is a "big tent" coalition person and has reached across some traditional divides to work on issues of common cause with people of different political persuasions.  That can be particularly useful in city politics.

I am also impressed with the team of candidates Barinder has brought together in her One Surrey campaign - I hope they do well on Saturday November 15.


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Non-Partisan Association & Kirk LaPointe playing with defamation case fire that may burn them badly

Defamation lawyer Bryan Baynham is representing Vision Vancouver in lawsuit
Bill Tieleman's The Tyee column 

Tuesday November 11, 2014

By Bill Tieleman 

“Your reputation is everything. “If somebody libels you and defames you … if you have the ability to do it, you have to take them on.”

        - former Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams on his defamation lawsuit against the St. John's Telegram, launched last month 

Just how far can a politician go in attacking the integrity, character and morality of their opponents before it becomes a legal and not a political matter?

Vancouver may soon find out, because the Non-Partisan Association and mayoralty candidate Kirk LaPointe have not just crossed that line but sprinted over it in a reckless way they may deeply regret.

The recent filing of a defamation lawsuit by Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Geoff Meggs against the NPA and LaPointe has been described by some as simply "politics" and par for the course in an election.

But there is a difference between criticizing the policies, approach and competence of your opponents and saying that they are "corrupt" - as the NPA has flagrantly alleged and stated as fact.

The details have been well reported elsewhere but revolve around contributions to Vision Vancouver by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1004 and Vision's ongoing opposition to the contracting out of public services - hardly a surprise on either count, since CUPE has long been a donor and Vision has long rejected contracting out.

But what hasn't been examined closely are the defamation lawsuit details - or the fact that the lawyer retained by Robertson and Meggs is one of the most respected and successful defamation lawyers in Canada - Bryan Baynham.

He's not just any lawyer - last year he was named Best Lawyers® in Canada 2013 Vancouver "Lawyer of the Year" in the area of Defamation and Media Law.

And I know he's a lawyer to be feared - because he was the lawyer who forced me and 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper to apologize to one of his clients over a column I wrote - the only such apology I've ever made involuntarily in writing for newspaper for nearly 40 years.

Baynham has also cross-examined me in BC Supreme Court when he was defending a lawyer being sued by several owners of my condominium and I was a witness.  It is not a fate to be tempted lightly, believe me, because Baynham is an intimidating, take no prisoners legal counsel.

Baynham is also currently representing journalist Laura Robinson, who is suing and being sued by former Vancouver 2010 Olympics boss John Furlong and has a long history of involvement in significant defamation cases.  Baynham's bulldog defence of Robinson and demands that the case proceed to court immediately have put Furlong in a difficult situation.

So I was rather stunned to see LaPointe - a former managing editor of the Vancouver Sun well aware of defamation issues - and the NPA not only continue to defend their statements and run TV and radio ads the lawsuit says are defamatory and refuse to back off but to then double down with a news release Saturday reiterating their contempt for the lawsuit's demand of retraction and apology.

That's what you call asking for punitive and significant damages should you go to court and lose.

And while some commentators have said that's unlikely, but when you accuse a politician of "corruption" and "breach of fiduciary duty" what choice do they have?  

As President of my communications and strategy consulting firm West Star Communications, I always tell my clients that allowing a defamatory statement to go unchallenged means it will stick around forever, being repeated indefinitely.  

And as a business owner for 16 years, I have had lawyers send defamation demand letters when my character was publicly attacked in an untrue and damaging way.

I also know both Meggs and Robertson well personally - and know that the allegations are painful for both, given their years of public service.

Charlie Smith, Editor of the Georgia Straight rightly concluded early on that if Meggs lost the November 15 election, his argument that the defamation - if proven  - cost him his council seat would make aggravated damages far more likely.

Smith points out that: "...under Canadian defamation law, the burden of proof always rests with the defendants.  You can't just say anything without being able to back it up."  

Indeed.  And especially not when you are facing one of the top defamation lawyers in Canada.

And what if Vision Vancouver - regardless of the election results - sees the defamation case as a way to severely financially punish the NPA, as well as politically damaging it in advance of the next election?

Certainly Baynham's response letter November 8 to the NPA's lawyer Geoffrey Cowper was indicative that this case will not be going away:

"While I accept that WIC Radio [NOTE: precedent setting defamation case] is the governing authority on the defence of fair comment the defence does not apply to the series of vicious personal attacks on my clients' integrity as detailed in the Notice of Civil Claim. 

Each defamatory statement was a statement of fact, not an "honest opinion" which would allow your clients to rely on the defence of fair comment.

Spurious allegations of intentional wrongdoing by an elected official are among the most serious defamations that can be made and tend to debase the whole electoral process and discourage good candidates from running for office.

The fact that they were made in the course of an election campaign, with a view to enhancing the electoral fortunes of Mr. LaPointe and his NPA candidates, is clear evidence of express malice which would defeat the defence of fair comment in any event. 

Rest assured, the Notice of Civil Claim was not filed "to manipulate public opinion" or to "bully" or "intimidate” your client as he has publicly asserted.

My clients commenced the claim to stop the "personal attacks" and "the gutter politics" employed by your clients.

Absent a full retraction and apology they will see that case through to judgment in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to establish a legal precedent that confirms once and for all that there are real consequences when a candidate falsely alleges corruption, vote buying and criminal conduct.  

It is ironic that had Mr. LaPointe stuck to the campaign pledge he made back in July he would not find himself in this predicament. That pledge was titled:

On running a clean campaign and avoiding personal attacks: 

It read in part:

So today I make this other steer clear of personal attacks, the gutter politics that people are fed up with. If they breach that boundary, I will resign as a candidate

I renew the demand to retract and apologize as set out in my letter of November 6, 2014
Please confirm that you have instructions to accept service on behalf of Mr. Lapointe to avoid the necessity of serving him personally.
In any event, please ensure that I have your response within the time limit set out in the Supreme Court Civil Rules."

Will this case become a new precedent for what can and cannot be said about politicians?

And will LaPointe and the NPA regret getting into the very "gutter politics" they claimed people are fed up with?

One former politician in the United States had something to say about that: 

"The public is increasingly disgusted with a steady diet of defamation, and prepared to reward those who refrain from it.”

- Mitch Daniels, former Indiana governor.

NOTE TO READERS:  This column was written for The Tyee only - 24 Hours Vancouver did not publish on November 11.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Vancouver Election Is a Tale of Two Cities: Vision versus NPA

Why you need vision in Vancouver vote

Mayor Gregor Robertson
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday November 4, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams."
- Herb Caen, San Francisco columnist, 1916-1997
Let's call Vancouver's upcoming municipal election a tale of two cities: Vision's view versus the Non-Partisan Association plan.
NPA candidate Kirk LaPointe
Mayor Gregor Robertson's version is a Vision Vancouver city council that fights homelessness, works for better housing affordability and public transit, promotes green technology and the environment, and battles provincial school underfunding and corporate influence attempts, while still delivering excellent basic services.
Hence the ruling party's slogan: "Go forward with Vision."
NPA mayoralty candidate Kirk LaPointe's approach follows the NPA slogan: "A great city, badly run."
The NPA complains about Vision not yet ending homelessness, but says be "realistic" and votes against the city's homelessness action plan.
The NPA says it supports some environmental issues, but doesn't take a clear position on the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline through Vancouver.
The NPA wants an "affordable" Broadway subway, but says details are forthcoming.
The NPA agrees with Chevron's "Fuel Your School" marketing program to give company money for education classroom projects, but doesn't criticize B.C. government underfunding.
Naturally, it's the opposition party's duty to criticize and be vague on their own plans -- the NPA's un-budgeted platform only came out last week, while the governing party has a six-year record to be judged on -- sometimes harshly -- along with its own promises for the future.
But on key issues the party differences are stark, and that makes for an important election.
Surprise, I support Vision
Regular readers know I support Vision, so it's no surprise that I believe Robertson and his council, school and park board team is the best choice.
With that, feel free to disregard my views, but I think the NPA has run a very strange and disjointed campaign.
From choosing ex-journalist and non-Vancouver resident LaPointe in a secret process, to the near-complete exclusion of incumbent NPA councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball, let alone other contenders, the party is taking a risky approach.
LaPointe even jousted with his former Vancouver Sun reporter Frances Bula at a news conference, calling one of her queries an "empty question" and then walking away without answering, all caught on video.
Odd behaviour for a candidate with a media background in mid-campaign mode.
So far, polling shows the strategy isn't working.
A Justason Market Intelligence poll last month put Robertson at 46 per cent, LaPointe at 32 per cent, Coalition of Progressive Voters' Meena Wong at 16 per cent and others at six per cent.
Hard truth
The hard truth is that Wong can't win, but COPE could take enough votes from Robertson to elect LaPointe.
Green party councillor Adriane Carr and her two council candidates also can't win a majority, but could help elect NPA councillors over Vision, as could COPE, which hasn't elected a councillor since 2008, by splitting the vote.
Now, I've advised against strategic voting before. But that only applies to ward systems, where I argue there's no way to effectively split your vote.
In a multi-member election with no wards, as we have in Vancouver, every candidate is effectively fighting all others, including colleagues from their own party.
The Greens get little scrutiny, but Carr often sides with the NPA at council and surprisingly opposes Vision's plan for a Broadway subway.
Meanwhile, the Green party declines to endorse the environmentally minded Robertson for mayor despite not having its own candidate.
The once mighty COPE has fallen a long way -- just 216 members nominated their candidates, mostly complete unknowns.
The Vancouver and District Labour Council, a former ally of COPE, endorsed Robertson, all Vision candidates and just two COPE candidates in the three levels of city government.
There are a number of new party and independent candidates, all of whom face an uphill battle to win in a city-wide election where funding and name recognition are critical -- as well as having a last name that starts with an A, B or C on the archaic alphabetically listed and lengthy ballot.
But polls are not terribly reliable, and it's ballots on election day that count. So judge for yourself -- and whatever your choice, get out to vote Nov. 15!