19 November 2008

And the lobbying begins...

E-day +4 and already the e-mails and phone calls have started. I don't actually assume my role as a Park Commissioner until the 1st of December, but the lobbying has begun. Some of it has been cheerful and polite, some down right strange. The Pool at Mount Pleasant tops the list of inquiries/advice followed by dogs and the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park. A defeated candidate for Parks is even telling me how I should vote when it comes to choosing a Chair for the Park Board.

I enjoy receiving the e-mails and phone calls and hope they keep coming. I want to be known as the 'go-to' guy on the Board. I want people to feel that they can approach elected leaders with ideas and inquiries. I just hope people understand that I can't always reply immediately and cannot make all their wishes come true. It is going to be a busy 3 years. I'm looking forward to it.

16 November 2008

Better Parks are coming to Vancouver

Thank you Vancouver for electing me to the Board of Parks and Recreation. An awesome responsibility that I accept with humility and gratitude. Vancouver's natural beauty is worth protecting. Neighbourhood services are worth preserving. And you agreed.

Last night was exciting for many reasons. We saw the advent of a new way of thinking in city government. Gregor Robertson has made promises of real change in the way business is done. I am excited to be part of this process--to be part of the solution. We have a lot of work to do. It is now time to roll up our sleeves and dig in!

Thank you to my wonderful friends and my amazing Dragon Boat teammates from Gung Haggis Fat Choy for believing in my dream of better parks and working toward that goal. I also want to thank the many people who offered encouragement and sage advice along the way--please keep in touch!

Last night showed what can be accomplished when progressive voices work in unison to create positive change. Let's keep this momentum going.

15 November 2008

Why haven't the NPA talked about last year's civic strike? Even while it was happening they ignored it!

by Todd Wong Gung Haggis Fat Choy

"The NPA will not talk about the strike. They refuse to talk about the issues we believe are important to Vancouverites," said Andrea Reimer at last night's general meeting for Vancouver Library Workers CUPE 391.

Andrea Reimer - Vision Vancouver council candidate, Loretta Woodcock - COPE incumbent parks commissioner, and Stuart Mackinnon - Green Party parks board candidate, all were special guests addressing civic issues for the Nov. 15th Vancouver civic election.

"The civic strike affected our parks, our community centres, our libraries. It is an important issue. But the NPA have not been addressing it." said Stuart Mackinnon. "It is important for our civic workers to be treated fairly."

"The NPA has a total disrespect for unionized workers," said Woodcock. "I see that as a parks commissioner."

"The City just made many managerial staff exempt staff, by re-classifiying them at a cost of about $10,000 increased salary for doing basically the same job," said Woodcock "They are doing this to strike-proof the city. They state that unionized workers are getting a 4% increase, and exclude that managers are also getting the same 4% increase."

The special guest speakers were clearly the highlight of the meeting. Woodcock also discussed how NPA parks chair had put a motion forward to initiate a morale survey, but withdrew it once Woodcock had identified key issues to address. These same issues had shown up on an in-house library culture survey, that showed that the morale at the Vancouver Library was poor before last year's strike action. Everybody agrees the situations are worse post-strike.

I did ask them what they thought about Sam Sullivan's comments to Don Cayo's interview in the Vancouver Sun. Sullivan says 'I did everything I wanted do' Sullivan admitted that one of his regrets during his 14 years of city hall including 3 years as mayor, was that the strike went on too long. Sullivan said:

'The strike is a considerable regret. I don't like to implicate anybody. These are all my own weaknesses, my own shortcomings. But I chose to not have any role in it -- to leave a lot of room for our staff. ...

Everybody knew what the deal was -- 17.5 per cent. We knew it the weekend the strike started. Everybody knew it.

So I suggested, "Why don't we just offer that?"

It was, "Mayor, you don't understand negotiations. You have to offer less. Then they ask for more. Then you offer more. And eventually you get to the right number."'
If this was truly the case, why didn't Mayor Sullivan step in to ensure that a strike never happened. All the other municipalities saw the bargaining positions happening, and they were quickly able to avert forcing strike action. Our CUPE 391 bargaining committee said they had never seen labour negotiations like the ones the city put them through in years of bargaining. The GVRD labour relations bureau kept rejecting CUPE 391 proposals since January when the contract ran out, and never put forward a contract counter-offer until July when it was too late.

Mayor Sullivan instead decided to table a "final offer" to Vancouver civic workers and then force them to vote on it which Vision Vancouver councilor Raymond Louie said "is dangerous bullying, and is more likely to provoke a strike than to end it. It was actually Louie who proposed mediatio only two weeks into the strike, in an effort to bring it to a quick close. Unfortunately the NPA rejected the mediation process.... and the strike dragged on and on.

The GVRD Labour Relations Bureau also had it set that they would not deal with the smaller CUPE 391 library workers, until it had finished negotiating with the larger CUPE 15 inside workers and CUPE 1004 outside workers. So library workers were out of luck regardless. This doesn't sound like a fair negotiating strategy that would ensure good labour relations for a city that has just been chosen as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers for 2009 by Mediacorp Canada Ltd.

It's actually an embarrassment.

Peter Ladner was not helpful in resolving the strike issues and actually helped to make them worse when he submitted "a vitriolic column in the Vancouver Sun that regurgitates the City’s discredited propaganda and continues the myth of a City council protecting residents from their city workers."

07 November 2008

Parks help narrow health gap between rich, poor: study

Friday, November 7, 2008 CBC News

Green spaces encourage people to be physically active and reduce stress. Green spaces like parks and forests help narrow health gaps between the rich and poor living in cities, say researchers who are urging urban planners to invest in greenery.

In Saturday's issue of the Lancet, Richard Mitchell of the University of Glasgow and his colleagues looked at mortality records, income data and the amount of green areas for more than 366,000 people in England who were below retirement age in 2001 to 2005.

In general, studies show that people living in poorer areas tend to be more unhealthy and die earlier because of differences in diet, lifestyle and access to medical care. Living near open, undeveloped land such as parks, forests, playing fields and river corridors seemed to help reduce this gap, according to the latest study.

The difference in the rate of deaths between the richest and poorest was roughly halved for those living with the most greenery around them, compared with those with the fewest green spaces, the researchers found.

"The size of the difference in the health gap is surprising and represented a much bigger effect than I had been expecting," said Mitchell. "So the key message is green spaces are another tool for governments to combat this health gap between rich and poor."

Green space `more than pretty'

The difference more than doubled for deaths from circulatory disease such as heart disease and stroke, but there was no effect on suicides, the researchers said. Green spaces may encourage people to be more physically active, and previous studies have suggested that parks and open space help people reduce blood pressure and stress levels, and perhaps even heal more quickly after surgery.

"The implications of this study are clear: environments that promote good health might be crucial in the fight to reduce health inequalities," the study's authors concluded. In a commentary accompanying the study, Terry Hartig of the Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University in Sweden agreed: "This study offers valuable evidence that green space does more than pretty up the neighbourhood. It appears to have real effects on health inequality, of a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously."

The final report of the World Health Organization's Commission on the Social Determinants of Health also called for wide-ranging improvements in daily living conditions. Restoring environmental supports to mitigate health inequities could help achieve these goals, Hartig said.

06 November 2008

Which Parks Board candidate will you choose?

COPE? Vision Vancouver? Green Party? NPA? Independent?
How about one of each, then your next favorite!
by Todd Wong, Gung Haggis Fat Choy

Stuart Mackinnon, Green Party candidate and paddler on the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team, answers a question about accessibility to parks, and speaks to the audience. - photo Todd Wong 2008 Nov2

The candidates for Vancouver Parks Board have been making the rounds visiting Community Centres, and other all-candidates debates. On Monday night, they were at Killarney Community Centre. On Tuesday night, they were at Kerrisdale Community Centre.

The evening opened with each candidate having a few short minutes to introduce themselves. Aaron Jasper and Raj Hundal represented the Vision Vancouver Party. Incumbent Loretta Woodcock and former parks commissioner Anita Romaniuk represented COPE. NPA were represented by Laura McDiarmid, Marty Zlotnik, Sharon Urton, Christopher Richardson, Ian Robertson, Melissa De Genova.

Stuart Mackinnon is the only Green Party candidate in the 2008 Vancouver civic election. Ivan Doumenc of the Work Less Party, as well as independents Jamie Lee Hamilton, Thomas Lockhart and Richard Mayencourt.

It was a busy night, I arrived just before 8pm, on a night when many people were more interested in the U.S. Presidential election results.

There were about 50 to 60 people attending, and I could count 6 active dragon boaters in the room + 3 of the candidates that I had tried to recruit for our team.

With 15 candidates attending, the moderator did a good job of spreading out the answers from the candidates as she tried ensure that that everybody got a chance to address the issues.

If you wanted to ask a question, you had to write it down and hand it to a handler - where it was inspected for suitability.

My question was:
Our community centres are under-utilized and under-recognized for the important role that they play in making culture and diversity accessible to our citizens. What will you and your party do to better represent the cultural needs and representation of Vancouver's diversity?

It was the most popular question of the evening for the candidates as many of them wanted to answer it. Raj Hundal gave an example of how the Roundhouse had recently celebrated the Diwali Festival, and how important it is for ethnic communities to become involved with the community centres.

Two of the more emotional highlights of the evening were 1) a question about the Hollow Tree, and 2) a question about limiting transportation use in Stanley Park.

Stuart Mackinnon gave a very good example of how many factors all play roles in transportation issues. He cited that one of the tour operators has given tours to the special needs teens that he teaches at Killarney Secondary School, as a way to "give back to the community." There are many factors, and Mackinnon emphasized that stake holders must be included in the process.

My question that did not get asked was deemed "beyond jurisdiction" and a "labour issue." I had wanted to ask that "given the long civic strike last year, how would each of the candidates and their party work to avoid or address the loss of important services such as community centres, pools, ice rinks and libraries to our citizens.

It's unfortunate that the question could not be asked, because it was terribly painful to see our parks grow steadily neglected and the trees dry out because of the protracted civic strikes caused by the inability of the GVRD labour relations bureau to negotiate fairly and reasonably, as they consistently walked away from talks with each of the three civic unions. It was a shame that only a few weeks after schools let out for summer that the swimming pools were closed, and that all the summer community programs were closed, leaving children and their parents to find alternatives if possible.

I had followed the library strike carefully, since I was a Vancouver library employee forced onto the picket line, because the GVRD labour relations bureau wasn't going to deal with our small CUPE 391 local, until it had completed its priority with the two larger CUPE 15 and CUPE 1004 (city inside and outside workers) first.

The protracted civic strike was a lose-lose-lose scenario. The citizens lost. The workers lost, and the NPA dominated city council and mayor looked like bullies. All the municipalities surrounding Vancouver were able to settle with their workers leaving Vancouver the only city forced into an unnecessary strike. For this coming election, it will be important to elect progressive parks board commissioners and city councilors who will look for solutions instead of confrontation.

Two weeks into the strike last year, it was Vision councilor Raymond Louie who called for mediation - which was rejected by NPA councilors. Three months later, the strikes are solved by mediation - almost 90 days later. For these reasons, I am supporting the COPE / Vision / Green candidates for the Vancouver civic election + the fact that I think they are accomplished individuals, and wonderful people.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy