NPA fundraiser cancelled, Anton unveils tax platform and vows to end "pet projects" at City Hall
Bike lanes will be spared but other 'pet projects' will get the axe, Vancouver mayoral candidate, Suzanne Anton, tells the press.
2011 Vancouver Municipal Election: During a rare burst of September sunshine outside Vancouver’s highbrow Mink Chocolate Café this morning, 2011 mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton unveiled another peek at her Non-Partisan Alliance (NPA) party’s proposed City Hall mandate. Anton, surrounded by fellow NPA candidates, announced that as part of her “common sense platform,” her administration would return tax dollars to Vancouverites, cap city spending, reasess the small business tax regime and put an end to Vision Vancouver’s "pet projects."
“In 2008, Gregor Robertson inherited a 15 million dollar surplus from the NPA. Current estimates at the second quarter of 2011 project the Vancouver surpluses will exceed seven and a half million dollars. These dollars should go back to you.”
The money would be reimbursed by limiting property tax increases, she said, adding that the NPA would keep housing taxes at “inflation or better” and end the “the bottomless ATM of taxpayers” currently sitting in the council lobby.
Vision staffers were quick to respond to today's announcement, challenging Anton’s record on city surpluses.
“She's flip flopping on her position,” Vision Councillor Raymond Louie said in an interview with the Vancouver Observer. “In 2007, when I made the motion to return 12 million worth of strike savings that came as a result of the NPA, Anton voted against it. She has some explaining to do why now and not then.”
In 2007, a multi-month citywide services strike resulted in a huge sum of unpaid wages and service costs.
Louie also added that the 7.5 million-budget surplus Anton mentioned was a mid-year speculation and that any extra dollars the council takes in this year will be put into a fund to cover unexpected expenses. And he defended City Hall’s current Vancouver Services Review strategy, which he says has already eliminated hundreds of thousands of dollars of redundancies and is now targeting spending inefficiencies the NPA has made as part of their platform.
Anton, a former crown prosecutor and two-term council veteran, is the sole challenger to incumbent Gregor Robertson whose party all but eliminated the NPA from Vancouver’s political memory in 2008. The once leading party has struggled ever since, and yesterday cancelled their $225-per plate Sept 27th fundraiser for undisclosed reasons.
The relationship between the sole NPA rep and the Vision dominated council has grown increasingly sour as the campaign has gotten underway. It started earlier this month with a series of NPA sponsored attack ads and rhetoric challenging the mayor's environmental record, blaming him for the hockey riots in Vancouver and accusing his government of being secretive and awash with frivolous spending.
“We will eliminate wasteful green washing programs that do nothing for the environment and make no common sense,” she said. Specific initiatives like Visions’ water meter program, the Greenest City plan, chicken coops and city wheat fields would also be on the NPA chopping block.
“That’s the kind of goofy frivolous spending that drives people crazy,” Anton said.
Bike lanes and Streetcar
The NPA has been struggling to rebrand its campaign from earlier media follies. Former NPA councilor Peter Ladner recently lambasted his former party saying that the NPA’s current attack on progressive environmental initiatives, green-wash or not, is a careless political move in Vancouver’s young and green minded electorate. On the heels of Ladner's surprise criticism, Anton was pushed by interviewers to publicly endorse the bike lanes and commit that she wouldn’t scrap Vancouver’s controversial downtown cycle thoroughfares.
“I don’t want to tear out a $3,000,000 piece of infrastructure if I don’t have to. I plan to fix the things that are wrong with them.”
She said that the Dunsmuir and Hornby bike routes had increased antagonism between vehicles and bicycles and that their implementation wasn’t well researched leaving out many considerations, including those of business.
That the lanes will not be in jeopardy announcement is good news to Erin O’Melinn of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition.
“I haven’t seen any statistics or heard any significant stories that show increased antagonism between cars and cyclist. In fact it has been quite the opposite. I have heard from drivers that they feel more comfortable because they don’t have to navigate around cyclists. We have seen a 40% increase from summer 2010 to summer 2011 on the Dunsmuir lane,” O’Mellin said.
While many of Visions’s environmental moves have been popular with the public, NPA members are not convinced that they are the answer to reducing Vancouver’s carbon footprint and that more needs to be done.
“The main goal here is to reduce GHG’s (green house gasses). The best way to do that is to reduce dependency on cars, providing public transit, services and shopping within walking distance,” said NPA candidate for council Mike Klassen.
“There have been things that look good and make people feel good in terms of supposed energy reductions but they are not really reducing our carbon foot print.”
What Klassen and the NPA point to specifically is their streetcar proposal, one that Anton says will do more for the environment than all of Vision's projects combined.
“Every kind of transport like that takes cars off the road. And the thing about streets cars is people love riding them. So when the street car is built it will be full of riders.”
The NPA has maintained the streetcar as a central part of their campaign, despite several top city administrators, including City Manager Penny Ballem, lambasting the plan calling it unfeasible with current budgetary expenditures.
The NPA says the costs, between 100-200 million dollars, will be recovered as part of a private public partnership, a path the Vision council says it won’t go down.
"About 90% of his [Robertson] caucus are New Democrats and NDP’ers by and large are opposed for their own reasons to private/public partnerships,” Klassen said.
"If you’re not willing to open your mind about these kinds of things, it limits your options," Klassen added.
“This has been on the books for the very long time,” Vision Councilor Louie told the Vancouver Observer. "He fails to understand, maybe because of experience, transit is run by Translink. It goes beyond the 100 million capital expenditure up front. There are operating budgets that go well beyond. They want to saddle taxpayers with ongoing costs.”