Electoral Reform? Try a reformed electorate

This is a guest post by Dave Lundy, a truck driver who resides in Sapperton. He is active within the political community of Burnaby, New Westminster and Coquitlam. His passion is politics. An outspoken, opinionated contributor in various forums on Tenth to the Fraser, Dave has had numerous letters to the editor published in local newspapers. He is married to his wonderful wife Sheila and they are the proud parents of Saba the Cat. He also has 2 step children, Christine who resides in the Yukon, and Tom who is serving in the Canadian military.

We have just finished with another Federal election. The results are in and we have a Conservative majority government. This also means that, at least on the federal political scene, there is 4 years before the next federal election.

Politics can be a passionate pursuit. Though I may not see eye to eye politically with people with political views differing from my own, I respect the fact that people like David Brett and John Ashdown offer their views of politics and opinions as passionately as I do. If everyone thought the exact same way, we’d die of boredom. I think that it can be said that most of us want whats best for everyone, regardless of political stripe. The fact that we are involved politically as passionately as we are, shows that. Though people have differing political views, at least we take the time to be active, to debate, to be vocal, to stand up and be heard.

The latest flavour of the month is the voter turnout. I don’t believe changing the electoral system will address the issue of voter apathy. Sorry sorry Rebecca Helps (btw, wasn’t it nice to have Rebecca text her media to New Westminster Coquitlam from Elizabeth May’s victory party in Saanich. I don’t think she spent that much time in the riding she was actually running in at all. Now there’s someone who takes the citizens in New Westminster Coquitlam completely and totally for granted. I hope that in 4 years time, everyone remembers her for that)

And believe it or not… sorry Fin. Yes Fin Donnelly and in fact the NDP federally are on record as supporting electoral reform. That is one area where I distinctly differ from the party to which I support.

Whether its electoral reform, electronic balloting, or what have you, none of those things address the core reason why we have 55 to 60% voter turnout for elections. To me, it has everything to do with the way elections are portrayed by the media in Canada. Where ever you choose to get your information from, you see the area of politics constantly under attack. The media does a great job of smearing those people like Fin, Peter, Diana, Paul, Dawn, etc as being nothing more than “on the gravy train”. Yet these people cast aside their chosen professions to serve the people of Canada. For the next 4 years, our elected officials will be working in and out of the constituency offices on behalf of their constituents, as well as the citizens of Canada. Regardless of your political stripe, anyone willing to do that, should be respected. You have the Canadian Taxpayers Federation time and again slamming parliament and politics in general Then there was Stephen Harper and the Conservatives telling voters “this election you have a choice between a Conservative Majority and a coalition of the socialists and separtists.”

You have the leader of the Opposition saying, “its a 2 party battle, Liberal and Conservative.” Nothing but doom and gloom from both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

But I digress. Everywhere you look, the entire political process is being put down, slammed, mocked,etc. People are constantly being told, “you have no say in elections” and other ignorant misleading statements. When I was in Grade 4, there was a federal election on. In my class specifically, I remember one of the candidates coming to talk to us about it. He was a young guy named Svend Robinson, running in Tommy Douglas’ riding of Burnaby Edmonds. We had a mock election, in the class. To be brief, I learned about the electoral process itself in Grade 4. That would have been when I was 8 or 9 years old. Today, we talk about politics and elections like they are a dirty word, or a chore, or something to be ignored, something distasteful. Its been a systemic thing that’s taken place over the last 30 plus years.

But its not just the politics that have been under attack. It’s, in my opinion, service to the community in general, that has been vilified to a dangerous extent. In Canada, we talk about a caring compassionate society that we live in. And don’t get me wrong there are lots of people who either work or volunteer to help make people’s lives better. But one only needs to look at the attacks in the local papers of the Last Door by citizens in and around Brow of the Hill, to see that our society is not about “we”, its about “me.”

“What is in it for me, to get out and vote?”
“Why should I care about the homelessness problems plaguing our region?” “Why should I care who gets elected?”

A prime example of the “me” generation and mentality, is in our local grocery stores. Self Serve checkouts. (ok this is a topic that could go on its own so I’ll try and keep it brief to my point.) No one gets a discount off of the price of their groceries for using these machines over a cashier. Yet people will gladly go to one of these things and in effect do someone’s job for them, for free. Surprisingly enough, I’ve told a few people this, and they shrug at me. But when I turn around and say, “how about I come to your workplace and do your job …. for free, how are you going to be able to provide for your family then if you’ve been replaced by a machine, with no benefit to you at all, other than unemployment.” And the answer is always the same, “That will never happen. Why do you care?”

I care because I can see where grocery stores (in this example) are forcing people to use these contraptions by short staffing the stores on purpose, and laying off staff. All the while pocketing the savings in labour costs built into the price of the goods being bought. If you think that goods will be cheaper at Safeway and Save On should they get rid of their cashiers and replace them all with self-serve, you’re on another planet. Their margins will increase significantly. But as I said, I digress.

That cashier is a productive member of society. That self serve checkout is a machine. It doesn’t give back to the community. It doesn’t vote. It doesn’t have kids in school and extra curricular activities, its a freaking machine. That cashier spends money in businesses, the machines eat money, but other than the occasional lube job and repair, don’t contribute one dime to New Westminster. Yet we are being conditioned to merely accept these things, as ways to “speed up the process.” While with me, I give people crap for using them. If people are willing to accept things like self serve checkouts, and not see the bigger picture, its just another sign of how short sighted a society we live in. I would bet if enough people demanded prompt friendly HUMAN service at the Safeways and Save Ons and not enough people used the self serve checkouts to make them worth while, that they would go away and that the store would staff its store properly. But people aren’t willing to stand up for that. Its about what people are willing to accept.

They want the quick, easy, convenient way. And that same mentality is creeping into our voting system and politics. People don’t want to get involved in the process. They don’t look at voting as a privilege or a right that over the past 144 years many Canadian men and women have fought and died for to preserve and protect (actually longer than that if you back to the war of 1812.) We are conditioned by the media and even our own government to take things for granted. That way, when your medicare premiums double, and wait times triple, when HST is shoved down your throat, when wages are frozen and enshrined rights are taken away, people just sit back and say, “oh well, what can we do?” And then they talk about changing the electoral system.

Its not the electoral system that’s broken, its the electorate and the engagement of the electorate that needs to be fixed.

Tenth to the Fraser endorses Peter Julian & Fin Donnelly this election

NDP lawn signs have taken over the West End. Photo: Will Tomkinson.
NDP lawn signs have taken over the West End. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Peter Julian loves his job. But the incumbent Member of Parliament for Burnaby-New Westminster can’t help but wish Canada wasn’t so dang big. Twenty hours a week in airplanes and airports flying between Ottawa and New Westminster is the one part of the job he’d change.

“I don’t live in Ottawa. I live here. I wish the country was a little smaller,” Peter confided when he joined Will and I for a glass of beer at Drink a few days ago for a pre-election chat.

Will and I don’t always vote for the NDP, but this election there was no question who we would support. Peter’s an able representative for New Westminster and has a reputation as one of the hardest-working MPs in Ottawa.

On the other side of the electoral boundary, our friend and fellow editorial board member Jen Arbo, who usually votes Green, is also voting Orange this election (she explains why Fin Donnelly wins her vote on her personal blog, the Arbolog).

Given the recent shenanigans in Ottawa, I was disappointed to see The Globe & Mail, the Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers all endorse Steven Harper’s Conservatives. In New Westminster, the Tenth to the Fraser editorial board endorses the NDP.

And we are by no means alone. This once ho-hum election has taken a surprising turn towards the end, with pollsters across the country reporting an NDP surge that has caught everyone, including the NDP, by surprise. On Monday when the polls close, we could see another Harper minority, but it’s also possible it could be a Harper majority (thanks to vote-splitting on the progressive side) or even an NDP-led coalition government.

The Georgia Straight has also endorsed Peter Julian and Fin Donnelly in New Westminster. Here’s their rationale:

Peter Julian:

This is a no-brainer. He’s a very capable politician with a firm grasp on complicated issues, including health care and international trade. Julian is also bilingual, which raises the possibility of him becoming a future leader of the party should Layton decide at some point to step down.

First elected in 2004, he wins with larger pluralities in each successive election. This time should be no different. If the NDP pulls off the upset of the century and wins the most seats, Julian will go straight into cabinet.

Fin Donnelly:

The former Coquitlam councillor won a stunning landslide in a 2009 by-election by appealing to traditional New Democrats in New Westminster as well as the sizeable number of environmentally minded voters in the Tri-Cities. As the NDP fisheries critic, he has been a relentless opponent of open-net fish farms. He also introduced a private member’s bill to ban oil supertankers off the north coast.

For many years, Donnelly has maintained strong ties with B.C.’s aboriginal community. He helped win trust by swimming the length of the Fraser River twice to raise awareness about the importance of protecting fish habitat.

For his part, Peter Julian thinks that voters, particularly young voters, have had enough of negative campaigning and Steven Harper’s legendary message control. According to Peter, the NDP in New Westminster are seeing unusually high numbers of volunteers in their 20s and 30s getting involved in the campaign. In addition, the advance poll turnout is much higher than in previous years, which may indicate a trend towards higher voter turnout overall.

“There is something phenomenally profound about what has happened over the last few weeks across the country. We’re getting reports that people are saying that people are stepping up to vote for an NDP government, and they like Jack, they like that the campaign is positive and that it is substantive issues we are talking about,” Peter said. “I think there’s a pretty profound transformation happening now as we speak.”

At the same time, polls can be misleading and can lead people to change their vote based on what other people are doing, rather than vote for the candidate they most support. Renee Stephen tweeted that it would be more useful for Elections Canada to ban polls instead of election-day tweets revealing early results. I asked Peter about this too.

“My father’s written a book on this, on polls. I think polls have their place but I think it bothers me to the extent the the mainstream media covers polls instead of the real issues,” Peter told me. “We get a lot of information on polls but we don’t get a lot of information on homelessness and poverty and record levels of student debt. These are the kind of issues that actually have a profound impact on people’s lives.

“The polls are a superficial and cheap way of saying you’re covering politics without really covering the impacts of what politics does.

In Peter’s view, the government’s role is to create a level playing field for all citizens, particularly caring for the weakest among us.

“You must put the resources to the essentials and take care of them first. Over the last 15 years there’s been a noticeable decline in our quality of life and standard of living because our priorities aren’t right.

“We’ve seen a diminishing of the government and at the same time we’ve seen a number of our resources allocated to what I would call pet projects like corporate tax cuts, expensive fighter jets and the G20 summit. ”

The Liberals and the Conservatives typically try to frame the discussion as a two-way race with them as the parties most likely to win. As I mentioned in the beginning, the NDP’s showing more support in the polls currently than the Liberals, but even if they weren’t, a vote for a third party shouldn’t be assumed to be a wasted vote.

Having an NDP MP hasn’t penalized New West in terms of federal funding dollars (we received federal dollars to help build the new youth centre and the riverfront Pier Park, to name two examples), nor has it prevented Peter Julian from passing new legislation. Private Member’s Bills introduced by Peter include tougher drunk driving laws that would lower the blood alcohol limit required to establish impaired driving and eliminating the toxic substances (PBDEs) found in fire retardants, a Bill that is strongly endorsed by firefighters and supported by more than 130 Canadian municipalities including the City of Burnaby and the City of New Westminster.

And so, regardless of how this election turns out: Conservative majority or minority, Liberal or NDP-led coalition, or even a Green Party sweep, Will and I are endorsing Peter Julian as our New Westminster representative, and we agree with Jen’s endorsement of Fin Donnelly in New Westminster-Coquitlam.

Peter has a track record of tirelessly working for New Westminster and continues to bring an optimism and energy to his work in Ottawa that we admire and respect. He’s a damn good MP and we are lucky to have him. He easily outshines the other candidates in his riding.

In New West-Coquitlam, Conservative Diana Dilworth is a respectable candidate. She’s a smart woman and has a lot to offer public life. But although she believes she can work for change from within the Conservative party if elected, we respectfully disagree. The Conservatives under Steven Harper are so tightly controlled that we believe it is unlikely that Diana would be able to advance the causes she believes in.

Like Jen, we believe that Fin Donnelly has shown himself to be a solid advocate for environmental and community issues. We’d like to see him have more time in Ottawa to show us what he can do.

All that said, while we wanted to share who we were voting for and why, we’d like to hear your opinion. Whether you agree or disagree with our choice of Peter Julian and Fin Donnelly for New Westminster, please share your election picks in the comments. And no matter who you vote for, you’re welcome to join us in watching the election results roll in at the Vote Party, May 2 from 5:30pm onward at the Heritage Grill. Hope to see you there!

Meet New Westminster federal election candidates April 20 at La Rustica

Confrontational politics leaves a bitter taste. I can’t fault people for wanting to tune out the rhetoric and take their vote out of play out of distaste for all the ideological chest-thumping from both right and left. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Rather than set up a typical all-candidates meeting full of speechifying and, well, politicking, Tenth to the Fraser, N.E.X.T. New West (a networking & social club for young professionals in the city) and New Westminster Environmental Partners have teamed up to organize a special non-partisan Green Drinks – Election Edition meet & greet with candidates. The event will be held on Wednesday, April 20 from 6-9pm at La Rustica, 228 6th Street. All residents are welcome to join us.

There will be no formal debate or confrontational politics at the event, just a chance to bend the candidates’ ears on the questions that matter to you, plus an opportunity to meet & mingle with some friendly local folks.

Green Drinks is a monthly networking event for sustainability minded citizens to socialize and discuss issues from green buildings, sustainable energy, organic gardening, and everything in between.  Originally started in the UK in 1989 the New Westminster chapter of Green Drinks has been occurring monthly for over three years.

So far four of the eight candidates have confirmed they will attend the April 20 ‘Election Edition’ of Green Drinks, including Conservative candidate Paul Forseth, NDP candidates Fin Donnelly and Peter Julian and Green candidate Carrie McLaren. We hope to hear soon from the remaining candidates whether they are able to join in the fun. Update: Conservative Diana Dilworth and Green Rebecca Helps have also confirmed they will attend.

We want to see voters of all political stripes come to the event – even if you who don’t yet know how (or if) you’ll vote.

Hope to see you there!


MP Fin Donnelly on UBE: piecemeal transportation planning unfair

This is a guest post from New Westminster-Coquitlam & Port Moody MP Fin Donnelly about the controversial United Boulevard Extension project.

Over the past month I have received numerous calls from constituents regarding the proposed United Boulevard Extension (UBE) road project, connecting Coquitlam and New Westminster.

Those from Maillardville argue that this ‘long overdue’ project will allow traffic to flow more freely out of the Brunette corridor in Coquitlam; while Sapperton residents have major concerns that the project will result in increased traffic flowing into New Westminster and the expropriation of residential and industrial land.

Transportation projects like these define communities, they become the ‘face’ of cities; but in the design stage, can be contentious because of the very nature of their impact on neighbourhoods. They also put interests at odds; pitting car driver against transit rider, industrial landowner against homeowner and neighborhood against neighborhood, and in the case of the UBE, Council against Council.

While the process used to shape these projects can be hostile, thankfully people often share the same goal of developing a liveable, sustainable community. However, regardless of where we live or our transportation mode of choice, this goal can be overshadowed when plans are implemented piece-meal.

With the UBE, the Conservative government and Translink have taken a ‘now or never’ approach threatening to pull $65 million in federal funding off the table if the project plan is not approved by December 31st 2010.

By trying to ram this through, New Westminster residents feel they are being denied meaningful consultation without assurance that other important pieces to the overall transportation corridor, like Front Street, which would steer trucks away from residential neighbourhoods, are in place. Neither have they received commitments that these concerns will be resolved before the December 31st deadline.

None of the UBE options proposed by Translink adequately serve the needs of the Sapperton residents. For this reason, New Westminster city council sent Translink back to the drawing board earlier this week.

Projects and processes such as these drive home the point that a meaningful regional transportation plan with real community engagement, adequate timelines and all relevant information, is needed.

It is unfair to expect that we can build a sustainable transportation network piecemeal.

I believe Canada needs a bold, new national transit strategy, one that adopts a far-sighted approach to urban transportation, recognizing the coming shift to a post carbon future. The trick is accommodating current transportation projects, such as the UBE, with this goal in mind.

This strategy would give top priority and funding to projects like the Evergreen Line. If we don’t have convenient, safe, clean, reliable public transit, then commuters will continue to opt for car-oriented road solutions that, at best, temporarily relieve, but eventually worsen congestion.

We must remember that decisions made today around infrastructure spending and priorities will be felt well into the future; so let’s plan, consult and spend wisely.

Fin Donnelly
Member of Parliament
New Westminster-Coquitlam & Port Moody

Taking the ‘Zero Waste Challenge’

This is a guest post by Coquitlam City Councillor Fin Donnelly, a member of the Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee, Executive Director of the Rivershed Society of British Columbia and a candidate for NDP Member of Parliament in New Westminster-Coquitlam-Port Moody.

Photo: Proggie
Though garbage is far from glamorous - it's one of the most important issues we can be talking about right now. Photo: Proggie

“If we know TODAY that it’s possible to divert up to 82% of Metro Vancouver’s solid waste then shouldn’t we be aiming for that NOW, and then to 90% and eventually 100% diversion?”

That was the question I put forward at a recent Metro Vancouver Waste Forum where the debate significantly focused on whether to burn or bury our garbage.

With nearly 3.5 million metric tonnes of garbage being produced in Metro Vancouver every year, waste management is one of the largest environmental concerns facing the Lower Mainland and a political hot potato that many politicians would rather transfer to a neighbouring municipality (or nation) than face head on.

Currently, Metro Vancouver recycles just over half of the waste created in the region each year. This means about 1.8 million tonnes is recycled and about 1.6 million tonnes is sent to landfills in Vancouver and Cache Creek or burnt in the Burnaby incinerator.

In 2006, as a (then) Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro Vancouver) Director, I put forward a ‘Zero Waste’ motion, which passed unanimously and developed into the Zero Waste Challenge; which now aims to divert 70% of the regions waste by 2015 (currently we recycle 52% of our waste).

Metro Vancouver staff has identified 18% of material, currently in the waste stream (e.g. paper, paperboard, cardboard, food & other organic waste, and wood), that could be fairly easily diverted (recycling this material would get us to 70%). Metro staff has identified a further 12% of recyclable material in the waste stream that could be diverted, although they claim a significant investment in tax dollars would be needed to change the system and people’s habitat to divert this amount of material. However, if we were able to remove this material from the waste stream, we’d move to 82% and be among the world leaders in waste diversion and recycling.

Though garbage is far from glamorous – it’s one of the most important issues we can be talking about right now. We have a choice to make with our waste: Invest in increased recycling and green jobs, or continue with the more traditional methods of burn and bury.

I say, instead of introducing 3-6 waste-to-energy incinerators in the Lower Mainland, let’s create 3-6 recycling centers or Eco-Parks. This would create many local, green jobs, reduce impacts to our climate and air quality, and put us on the path of becoming world leaders in waste diversion – which is pretty exciting – at least as far as garbage goes!

As a final thought, I leave you with my initial question: if we know TODAY that it’s possible to divert up to 82% of Metro Vancouver’s solid waste – shouldn’t we be aiming for that NOW and then to 90% and eventually 100% diversion?

Visit www.metrovancouver.ca and let Metro Vancouver know where you stand on this issue.

Coquitlam City Counsellor Named as NDP Candidate for New West-Coquitlam.

Fin Donnelly, NDP
Fin Donnelly, NDP

Coquitlam city councillor Fin Donnelly has been named the NDP candidate for the riding of New Westminster-Coquitlam, beating out New West councillor Lorrie Williams and fellow Coquitlam councillor Barry Lynch at a riding association meeting at Glenbrooke Middle School.  Donnelly, a Hyacks swim club record holder, and longtime environmentalist was supported by NDP party leader Jack Layton, who visited the riding to show support for the new candidate in the upcoming by-election (to be called before November, 2009).

Donnelly, a Coquitlam native, has ties to New Westminster through his time as a Hyack, his work with environmental groups for stewardship of the Fraser River and other rivers and streams and by proximity while growing up. As the needs of Coquitlam and New Westminster can sometimes appear mutually exclusive, it remains to be seen how Donnelly will connect with New West voters. Royal City constituents in this mixed riding trend towards the NDP but he may need a good showing of New West voters to counter the strong presence of Conservatives in Coquitlam.

Celebrating his candidacy, party faithful, and political watchers met up at the Brooklyn Tap and Grill on Columbia street to meet Fin and Jack. The evening was well attended, filling the interior of the establishment and it featured many of the constituents, party members, organizers and politicians you would expect at an event like this. From New West council, Jamie McEvoy and Johnathan Cote fielded questions from constituents and managed to sneak in a game of pool. Dawn Black attended, as did NDP MP Peter Julian. Donnelly and Layton arrived later in the evening to loud applause. Layton noted in his speech that in the New West-Coquitlam riding, where elections tend to go back and forth, it was important to have “a candidate like Fin”. No word yet on whether “in like Fin” will be a campaign slogan.

This party, at least, has its kit together for the next election. While the Liberal Pary and the Green Party have yet to announce any potential candidates, it is known that they are looking to put names forward. On the Conservative side, former candidate for New West council Lorraine Brett is seeking the nomination as well as Port Moody councillor Diana Dilworth. It was recently announced that former MP Paul Forseth would not be seeking the nomination for the Conservative party, even though he had intended to run.

Personally, I had fun dashing around meeting everyone, eating free hotwings. I am new to this crowd so there was a lot of explaining to do. How many times did I have to spell tenthtothefraser.ca? Conservatives are next. I hope they have free beer.

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