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Why democracy doesn't always require a majority

With the recent referendum in BC on electoral reform, which resulted in not only a defeat at the polls but also an abysmal voter turnout at 42.6% of eligible votes, there have been some renewed calls for policy decisions to be reviewed by a random assortment of voters through something like a Citizens' Assembly. A citizen's assembly would be an alternative, or a complement, to a public vote on a matter of public policy such as electoral reform; rather than putting the matter directly to the public, a random group of citizens would be selected and convened to give their opinion.

Further, over the course of the referendum, other important questions were raised about the process itself: what's a sufficient voter turnout to inform a policy decision? Shouldn't the ballot include the specific details of the voting system being proposed?

All of these questions serve as an important reminder of why democracy entails much more than showing up at a poll booth to submit a vote. A…
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Where do the candidates stand on CAC's?

After the release of our research paper Who's Counting the Dollars?concerning Community Amenity Contributions, we have asked candidates in this year's municipal election for their thoughts on our recommendations.
We will post responses here as they are received.

OneCity Vancouver, Christine Boyle
One of the big ideas that OneCity Vancouver is bringing to this election is our Windfall Power Land Value Capture proposal (sometimes called a land value tax, or land lift tax). You can read more about it in this Vancouver Sun Op-Ed, and more will be released with our platform soon. 

A land value capture wouldn't entirely replace the CAC system, but it would dramatically scale it back by creating a more transparent system for measuring the impact that upzoning or nearby public infrastructure investments have on land value, and then capturing a portion of that 'lift' in value to spend on community priorities (like affordable housing and more robust public transit). In addition…

Who gets to decide when it comes to Community Amenity Contributions?

This week we're approaching candidates in the upcoming Vancouver municipal election to get their feedback on the city's approach to Community Amenity Contributions (CACs). The Evoke team undertook a case study and research project in this area, and believes these could be better approached. Candidate responses will be posted on this site, meanwhile, here's some background on our perspective. 
The City of Vancouver has a Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) policy, officially established in 2004 with their Financing Growth strategy, where all new development and rezoning applications contribute, financially or in-kind, to community amenities. The CACs are extracted from new development and spent upon Council approval in a number of valuable areas such as: affordable housing, child care, amenities, green spaces, community infrastructure and other public goods.
Our research focuses on a key dimension related to CACs; although they are derived from value created within a neighb…

Do the Ends justify the Means?

The City of Vancouver, in British Columbia Canada, recently sought council approval for the Making Room Housing Programin June 2018, with a Public Hearing set for September the same year. The program is intended as a new city wide approach to housing and zoning which will purportedly allow for a wider range of housing choices in Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.

Citing a need for more housing choice, the staff report clarifies that the Making Room Housing program will include consultation through 2018/19 to determine the type of housing that will make sense for different neighbourhoods, but also requests an immediate ‘quick start’ action to allow duplexes in all areas currently zoned for single families.

Which begs the question: does a good policy justify a ‘quick start’ approach to implementation? Do the ends justify the means?

Vancouver is in a time of a housing crisis with citizens and stakeholders from different backgrounds having expressed a desire for bold actions. Many would argue that …

Why independence matters for a democracy...and what the heck is an ombudsperson?!?

Remember this definition of accountability, from a previous post:

"the relationship between the local population and their representatives, and the mechanisms through which citizens can ensure that decision-makers are answerable for decisions made."
 - from theInstitute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

In British Columbia (Canada) there are over 2800 local and public authorities, not including actual government offices or departments. Sufficed to say, that's a lot of decision makers. How are citizens supposed to make sure decision-makers are answerable?

This is the intended role of the ombudsperson (previously ombudsman). This office is an independent agent that has the power to investigate and examine the activities of public officials and bodies. An ombudsperson is intended to represent the interests of the public, those served by public bodies, and make determinations about whether their actions are aligned with policy and legislation, to examine possible violati…

Does an efficient public service destroy community accountability?

New Public Management is an approach to running public service organizations (government services), and civil service generally, focused on service delivery that is efficient, business-like, and that incorporates market based principles. It includes management techniques and practices drawn from the private sector, allowing public servants to contract out services through competitive contracting, and focused on the professionalized delivery of public services.

The problem is...this approach may result in a loss to democratic accountability.

In a previous post we outlined two key dimensions to accountability; 1) understanding and monitoring decisions that are made, and 2) access to trustworthy information. Public administration, and the notion of public service, was traditionally focused on accountability to constituents via centralized control, and reporting to, defined government ministries and departments. This model is far from perfect; centralized bureaucracies are problematic in …

Accountability: getting information about public things...to the public

When it comes to democracy one term that gets floated around often is the notion of accountability. But what does accountability actually mean? What does it look like?

Further, in the context of government bodies, elected representatives, and the myriad different organizations that provide civil services in our communities, how does accountability happen? And what's required for a community institution to be able to say it is accountable?

The answer is different, for different institutions. For example, we often focus on the accountability of elected officials and government representatives. But what about Crown corporations, or state companies? In Canada, Crown corporations are publicly held entities that provide a public service, but that are not directly managed or overseen by any elected official. The first federal Crown Corporation was the Canadian National Railway, established in 1922, and there are now a diverse array of publicly owned autonomous public entities in diverse s…