Thursday, 27 February 2014


A Vancouver City Councilor’s pronouncements on the law of zoning and public hearings gave me an idea for a game. We would produce fridge magnets with legal phrases like quasi judicial, torts, volente non fit injuria, public policy, policy making, public hearing, fettering discretion. The players would toss them at a fridge and whoever produces the most incomprehensible doctrines of law would win.

Councillor Reimer, interviewed  in the Vancouver Courier,  lectures that “when Council sits as a Council it’s a policy making body but in a public hearing its not.”
In fact, when Council sits in any properly constituted formal meeting whether at a zoning hearing or at a meeting to declare National Potato Chip Week, it is sitting as a Council. Period. Council performs many different functions. It acts in various capacities, often simultaneously. These have been characterized by the courts as legislative, administrative or quasi judicial. Decisions made in any capacity are referred to as “statutory powers of decision.”

Reimer and her VISION colleagues already know how they are going to vote. Have they ever split on any vote? Her lecture on the law is for the sole purpose of persuading those whose neighborhoods she will destroy,  that she and her colleagues have no choice. They are driven inexorably to wreck the neighborhood by a higher law.

Reimer would have you believe that if the City has a policy respecting rezoning, a Court would take a dim view of any councillor who votes  for the public and against the policy. How can that be? Because, she says, that Council must act quasi judicially.

But quasi judicially means fairly and impartially. So, according to her, to act fairly and impartially she can only vote one way.

The law may be an ass, but it is not that big an ass.

Suppose Council passed a resolution stating that it shall be a policy to always increase the density of the city in every zoning application for properties near arterials or transit. Assume the policy was adapted without any public hearing. Assume it was not enacted as a bylaw.

At the zoning hearing there are the usual, enraged protesters. Some speakers support the rezoning for various reasons. Others oppose it. “In Oakridge,” they shout, “a Maginot Line of towers will block our light, air and views”

After the hearing the vote is called.

Reimer wouldn’t want the voters to misinterpret her support for the developers as being – er, um support for the developers. What’s a gal to do?

Blame the law. The Reimer doctrine as set out in the Courier is as follows:

“We’re making a decision on land use that is based on existing policy. In fact it would likely to be tested poorly in the courts if we tried to make policy as we go in a public hearing,” she said. “The challenge is if you’re a member of the public, you come in and see the same 11 people that you see making policy and you assume we can do everything in a public hearing that we can do in a council meeting, which is not the case.”

She has the law backwards and upside down.

The Council must not unlawfully fetter its discretion.

In the case of

Hospital Employees’ Union, Local 180 v. Peace Arch District Hospital (1989), 35 B.C.L.R. (2d) 64 at 30-31 (C.A.) it was held:

“A body entrusted with a discretion must not disable itself from exercising its discretion in individual cases by adopting a fixed rule of policy. In modern administrative law this issue arises most often when an administrative agency of its own volition seeks to structure its discretion by formulating and following policy statements, guidelines, and the like…

An authority can fail to give its mind to a case, and thus fail to exercise its discretion lawfully, by blindly following a policy laid down in advance. It is a fundamental rule for the exercise of discretionary power that discretion must be brought to bear on every case: each one must be considered on its own merits and decided as the public interest requires at the time

The law as set out by the Court of Appeal in Save Richmond Farmland Society v. Richmond (Township) (B.C.C.A.)(Affd. SCC)

"There must be a degree of open-mindedness; there must be a capacity to be influenced by persuasion. But provided that the alderman is not acting improperly in the sense of having been procured to vote in a certain way, (of which there is no suggestion whatsoever in this case,) and providing that he retains the capacity to be influenced by a yet unheard and perhaps unexpected argument, he or she will not be disqualified from participation in this particular process of zoning bylaw consideration by attitudinal views of the kind that are inherent in the political nature of our form of municipal government, and which may well have been exposed by the cut and thrust of that political process."

After a zoning hearing council makes a legislative decision to rezone. It must also act quasi judicially and conduct the hearing fairly and impartially. The council has the broadest discretion in making its decision. It must not completely fetter its discretion by following a pre-existing policy that has not been adapted as law.

Reimer has every right to vote any way she wants following the public hearing. That's politics.  

The voters have every right to throw her out of office at the next election. So's that.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


The term, Vancouverism, has acquired a new meaning, namely- the art of being disingenuous, deceptive and manipulative at the municipal level.

Mayor Sam Sullivan made an enormous contribution to the deceptive arts with his copyrighted phrase “Eco-density,” an expression that replaced the clumsy “block busting by incompatible developments.” This is spun as Smart Growth in the United States.

Eco-Density was so unpopular that Sullivan failed to get his party’s nomination for a second term. The voters replaced him with Mayor Robertson and his VISION party who, once elected, adopted Eco-Density in its entirety. To avoid the potentially sensitive point that he had deceived the voters, his party, VISION renamed Eco density. It became the Greenest City Initiative.

There is more than one PhD thesis to be developed on Vancouverism as the Art of Spin. What do you do if you have a policy to eliminate homelessness if after several years homelessness seems to increase?

You suggest that those afflicted by homelessness are mentally ill and demand that higher levels of government address the problem of mental illness. Changing the name solves the problem and shifts the costs to another pocket.

How do you solve the problems associated with life in the most overpriced city in the world? You subsidize developers by giving them increased density (see Eco-density or Greenest City), exempt them from usual development charges, and allow them to build rental housing at high market rates that few people can afford? You call the product “Affordable Housing” of course. As a bonus, you insist that you have reduced everyone’s carbon footprint.

How do you spin a land use system that confers enormous discretionary powers on bureaucrats with “guidelines” that can be changed outside of the required public hearing process on an ad-hoc basis without planning?

Call it a Plan, as in West End Plan.

What do you call a scheme to allow large property owners and speculators to reduce payment of taxes on vacant land? Community Gardens of course.

What do you call citywide protests against all of the above?

Community Participation is as good as anything!

How do you describe the protesters?  They are the Disengaged

What do you do about disengaged people? Let them eat cake in restaurants with special,  long community tables.

And, speaking of the Devil:

climate action, food security, energy efficiency: proud of work + City have done