JUST POSTED Here is the Link: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/Opinion+Citizens+assembly+Neither+fair+effective/10008796/story.html
Rachel Magnusson of the Citizens Assembly recently wrote an Opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun website. You can find it here: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/Opinion+Creating+better+community+plan/9997705/story.html
Zool Suleman of OCOP has penned a response, which is below. The Vancouver Sun has advised that the response piece by OCOP will be posted on the Vancouver Sun website today. Keep your eyes open.
Opinion: Citizens Assembly – neither fair nor effective
In her Opinion “Creating a better community plan”, author Rachel Mangnusson extols the virtues of a Citizens Assembly (CA) which is in the process of recruiting participation by residents of Vancouver’s East Vancouver neighbourhood known as Grandview-Woodland (GW), anchored by Commercial Drive. Authorized by Vancouver City Council, this Assembly is in response to a community urban plan process that raised howls of protest last year when after months of supposed listening residents heard that multiple towers were to be raised in their neighbourhood, some as high as 32 stories.
With the Citizens Assembly, Vancouver City Council is once again embarked on a road which is heavy on process and light on listening. The author and her fellow consultants, who are being paid $150,000 or more out of a total civic allotment of $275,000, are very enamoured by their own credentials. Potent terms such as “democracy”, “insight”, and “community” are rhetorically utilized to instil trust in the process. Trust, of course, is the main issue. Trust between the City’s planning department and the citizens of Grandview-Woodland is sorely lacking.
Our Community Our Plan (OCOP) a citizens group based in the neighbourhood, has tried repeatedly to advise the author, members of the planning department and City Council itself of the pitfalls in this process, but to no avail, so in this space let us try again.
Assembly participation is limited to English speakers only. This is shocking given that GW is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Vancouver where according to Statistics Canada thousands of households note Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog as the languages spoken in their households. 20,000 letters seeking participation from English speakers only, disenfranchises many. It is not a virtue to extol, it is a fact to be ashamed of.
Citizens who are low income/poor and those with jobs that do not permit taking the required 10 Saturdays off, need not apply. This limits the voices of students, new immigrants, seniors, the underemployed and many others.
The CA has established a process where forty-eight voices will self-select their desire to participate. A computer program in Toronto, the home base of the consultants, and some helping “expert” hands will try to massage issues of representation and who gets to speak for thousands. Not very democratic, I would suggest. OCOP has suggested that all citizens of the neighbourhood be given a chance to participate. Participation instils belonging, ensures transparency and creates legitimacy in the answers which result. Selection and expert voices that shape the opinions of the forty-eight voices will breed further distrust.
The final report of the CA is not binding on City Council and its findings are subject to already broadly articulated planning principles. The same principles which have resulted in huge towers amassed at transportation nodes where developers trade density for civic amenities. It is a complex set of trade-offs where livable neighbourhoods such as Grandview-Woodlands are sold off to the highest bidder. More light needs to be shone on these civic transactions, not less.
OCOP is built around five key principles. An open process. A process which accommodates diversity of languages and cultures. A process which is accessible to people of all economic classes and abilities. A process which is transparent and one which is accountable. The CA in our view, meets none of these criteria. Open, diverse, accessible, transparent and accountable.
Plain talk for a plain process, not the verbal dance of veils that the CA proposes.
Zool Suleman is an immigration lawyer and OCOP member. He has been a Chair, Co-Chair and Member of the City of Vancouver “Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration”