Wednesday, 31 October 2012


The other night I attended a public meeting organized by a newly created neighbourhood group. The issue was a proposal to rezone land in Dunbar so as to allow a much higher building than the four stories presently permitted. 

There was  standing room only. 

Three Vancouver Councilors attended: Affleck, Ball and Carr. Councilor Carr had been invited to speak on how the community should communicate to City Hall. After explaining the efficacy of petitions and letters and extolling the virtues of City Hall's phone system, Carr explained that of course she was not allowed to take a position on this because she must maintain an open mind at the future public hearing.

Two years ago Councilor Reimer was invited to a meeting at the Dunbar Community Centre to explain what was going on with the expected rezoning to allow Laneway houses.  In her opening remarks she explained that there was soon going to be a public hearing on the matter, so she could not discuss it at all. It was the one topic that none dare speak its name.

She was happy, however, to share with us her ideas about back yard chickens.

I have frequently had Councilors tell me that they are not permitted to tell the voters where they stand, or to even discuss  matters, on the theory that their minds must be appropriately empty at a future public hearing.  

It is not true. The law, in the opinion of Dicken's Mr. Bumble, may be an ass, but it is not that big of an ass.

A politician must not be corruptly biased. They can not vote on a matter if they have a pecuniary interest in it. Otherwise, they can and should take positions on issues. This was clearly stated by the Court of Appeal in a concurring opinion of Madame Justice Southin in the case of Save Richmond Farmland Society v. Richmond (Township) 1989 CarswellBC 58. A Councilor took a firm position on one side of an issue before the hearing. After the hearing, an action was commenced to set aside the bylaw on the grounds that the Councilor had a closed mind.

54          It is a foolish politician who does not listen carefully to and weigh the strongly held opinions of his constituents; if nothing else it is foolish because it may cost him his seat. Mr. Mawby has been part of this debate from its inception. He has heard, I am sure, all the arguments and he has expressed his conclusion and expressed it strongly. He had the right to do so.

55          In my view, the public life of British Columbia would be the poorer if in a matter of this kind a politician must keep an inscrutable face and a silent tongue not disclosing his strongly held opinions lest he be deprived of his vote. There should be no penalty for candour. However distasteful Mr. Mawby's opinions may be to a very large segment of the electors of Richmond, he is entitled to hold them and to express them by his vote at the council table.

After a hearing and before the vote it is different. Council (with a few exceptions) may meet with its own staff but not with proponents or opponents of a re-zoning. Before the hearing, however, they can meet with whomever they like, provided of course that the meeting does not end with the delivery of a satchel full of cash.

One of the most popular councilors in Vancouver's history was Harry Rankin. He was a socialist and yet he often topped the polls in all parts of the City.  One reason was that as soon as he had a considered opinion, the whole City knew about it.  That is the way it should be. 


  1. JB: excellent point. The idea that elected officials dont understand this yet hold themselves out as knowledgeable enough to represent us does not surprise me, but it does annoy me.

    1. Rob: It is one of those things that they would just as soon not know. If they can talk to their constituents before a hearing, they will receive phone calls more often than suits them.