The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Wednesday, July 30, 2003


Reforming Vancouver Elections

Yup, wards are coming to Vancouver. We now get to join the big cities’ club. Yay.

Last night's party-line vote means that for the first time in Vancouver history, voters will elect their city council on some sort of a ward system in the 2005 municipal election.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the formerly dominant Non-Partisan Association (NPA) voted against the motion to introduce wards (districts) to council election. Councillor Sam Sullivan cries that bringing wards to Vancouver is “an abomination”. Well, it certainly is abominable for Sullivan’s electoral prospects.

The NPA has long benefitted from Vancouver's electoral system where the city's ten councillors are elected at large by voters across the entire system. Voter turnout has always been higher in areas where the NPA gets its support—the West Side, Little Mountain, and South Vancouver. On the East Side and the downtown peninsula, home to the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors’ (COPE) base, turnout is generally lower. This has been reflected in NPA majorities on council for most of the last 65 years, of ten with very few members of council being from either Downtown or East Vancouver.

For the last 35 years, COPE’s argument has been that a ward system will ensure that every part of the city has a representative on council (and of course the unstated argument that a ward system will tend to put COPE on a more even footing with the establishment politicos in the NPA.) Since it was founded, COPE has always pledged to bring wards to Vancouver. This is trhe first time that COPE has gained a majority on council outside a coalition, and the party’s councillors argue that Vancouver voters voted for wards when they voted for COPE.

In the 1980’s, Vancouver council dominated by Mike Harcourt’s Civic Independents (a mish-mash of COPE, the Civic New Democrats and the remnains of the middle-of-the-road TEAM party) twice put the ward question to Vancouver voters. Both time, Vancouver voters gave the proposals greater than 50% support, but less than the 60% required by the province. The provincial government of the time was dominated by the old Social Credit party, which were allies of... the NPA. The current Liberal government has promised to be hands-off with cities contemplating electoral reform, and earlier this year said that a referendum is not necessary for Vancouver (or any other city in BC) to adopt a ward system—all that’s needed is a vote of council.

What of the COPE-dominated council’s inconsistent stance on referenda? Last year, they had no problem holding a non-binding, legally useless, referendum on the city’s participation in the 2010 Olympic Games. That’s politics at work. The Olympic referendum was the only position on the games that every faction in COPE—Olympic supporters (most connected with the former NDP government that started the bid process), skeptics, and opponents (drawn from the social-activist crowd)—could agree on. That’s not the case for wards, where it is some sort of article of faith among COPEsters that having representation from all across the city is a Good Thing, but where citywide support for such a move is not so strong. Yeah, it’s a cynical view, but politicians are rarely pilloried for making those sorts of moves. If COPE councillors get tossed from office in 2005, it likely won’t be over the introduction of wards, but how well they’ve run the city and dealt with issues like drug addiciton, crime, municipal services, development, transportation, and the myriad other issues that City Hall faces.

Of course, the details of how such a system will work haven't been hashed out—will it be a system where every councillor is elected from a ward, or will it be a mix of five at-large councillors and five councillors elected from wards? If this does go through, how will the ward boundaries be drawn? For a ten-ward system, it’s pretty simple: there are ten provincial electoral districts in the City of Vancouver at least through 2009, so you can simply borrow those boundaries. If it's five wards, the city could use those in the upcoming federal representation order. On the other hand, the city might want to build its own wards. If that’s the case, then there has to be some sort of independent commission to draw the boundaries lest there be the worry of gerrymandering by the party in power.

Those are questions that will be answered sometime in the fall, when city staff reports back to council on how to implement a new electoral system. If there is going to be a commission on reforming voting in Vancouver, I do have a few candidates. Candidate Numero Uno is former NPA councillor Jon Baker, who is by trade a lawyer specializing in municipal issues. No longer an NPAer, and removed from municipal politics since a run for mayor as an independent in 1996, he has great knowledge of the city and local governance. Christine Wiebe, a former senior officer in the provincial elections agency, has recently completed her stint as secretary to the federal electoral boundaries commission in BC. There’s SFU poli-sci professor Kennedy Stewart, a rare bird in political science in that he actually specializes in local government. THere are plenty of others that I likely can’t think of in my early morning, rush-rush and dash this thing off and post it kind of state.

Should be interesting. Stay tuned.

"A form of Looting"

You may have seen a headline like this one yesterday:

US Nobel Laureate Slams Bush Gov't as "Worst" in American History

German weekly Der Speigel recently interviewed 2001 economics laureate George Akerlof, where he tore a strip off the Bushies. Akerlof’s criticisms aren’t limited to economics; he has also slammed them for waging what was effectively (never mind the coalition of the conventient) a unilateral war againt Iraq. Of course, you mgiht say, wha tthe hell is an econmist doing playing foreign policy analyst? Well, this year, everyone from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to lifestlyes writers turned into instant international affairs hands, doncha know.

Conservatives might take Akerlof’s accusations as a compliment through the logic of “well if that guy says up, I’'ll say down.” Akerlof has rarely agreed with their economic prescriptions.

Elsewhere, Globe And Mail economics columnist writes much the same in today's paper.
Just imagine Finance Minister John Manley announcing that Ottawa had suddenly decided to run a deficit of $70-billion this year and follow it with four more years of $50-billion shortfalls.

The very thought is almost incomprehensible to Canadians. It has been years since any federal politician advocated even small deficits, let alone whoppers.
Well, yeah, you might say, but what about the war in Iraq? Whether you supported or opposed the war, it’s still a bill that's got to be paid. That is true, but the bill for the war is around US$100-billion, and other increased military spending only adds about another $25-billion annually, which does’nt come close to accounting for the projected deficit down south of US$455-billion. Scotch that argument.

Little goes on to note the United States govcernment’s practice of lumping in their public pension accounts with the overall government budget, and the practive of freely allocating excess Social Security revenue (relative to the year’s payouts) to the federal budget to cover revenue shortfalls on that side. All told, itr's an unappetizing picture, and one that makes the stories of mismamged federal porgrams in Canada seem almost tolerable when we at least come something close to having balanced budgets at the federal level, notwithstanding a couple of misbehaving provinces... (Ernie Eves and Gordon Campbell, please stand up!)

Friday, July 25, 2003



... has apparently been down for some time. For now, I've removed the code snippets for the old commenting system from the blog. This should make the page load more quickly; I will sign up with a new service in the next day or so. If you've got any suggestions on which comment system to use, please send 'em in. Thanks.

Thursday, July 24, 2003


Rafe Returns

Former Social Credit cabinet minister Rafe Mair is returning to Vancouver radio. Mair, dumped by broadcasting institution CKNW after some sort of tiff with his female producer, will debut his new show on CKBD AM 600 on September 2nd. Mair’s show on CKNW was consistently the most listened to radio program in the province, averaging around 75,000 listeners at any one time, and around 100,000 listeners tuning in for some portion of the show.

When informed about Mair’s return, BC Premier Gordon Campbell promptly advised his physician that he’d have to go back on anti-ulcer drugs sometime in August.
(Disclaimer: I have no clue whether or not that last item is true. I know that if I were in the Preem’s position, I surely as hell would.)

Whaddaya know—it seems that the CKNW news web site, normally one of the more comprehensive sources of local news in Vancouver (one would hope, given the size of their news-gathering operation), has failed to mention that Mair’s found a new home on the dial. If they’re trying to feign ignorance, they’re not doing a terribly good job of it.

FURTHER MUTTERING: ’NW GM Lou Del Gobbo and PD Tom Plasteras have an interesting dilemma with what to do with the 8:30 AM-11:00 AM timeslot. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Mair will drag a good portion of his audience with him over to AM 600. Do they want to keep those listenrs who were there fore the debate, plus CKNW's news coverage or take an entirely different tack?

There was talk that CKNW wanted to pursue a different demographic (read: one whose median age is under 55) than Mair's. Chasing a differnt demo is a good idea in theory—but can you get a big slice of the 25-49 set (aside from political junkies) to listen to talk radio? Maybe—if you can get a host that'll speak to them. Luckily for the Top Dog, there's one unemployed radio guy with some recent talk experience with a little bit of a local profile: former Newsworld talk show host Steve Burgess. Seriously. The guy is a radio announcer by trade, and can engagingly prattle on about everything from hard news, to politics, to popular culture, to the most recent Michael Moriarty sightings-come-court appearances. He's of a differnt eneration than Mair, so he should (in theory) be a better fit with those younger-but-not-too-young listeners that the advertisers (and ’NW) want.

Besides, Burgess would work relatively cheap. So, to Messrs. Del Gobbo and Plasteras, there’s your solution to what to do with the morning timeslot. Inexpert advice from a guy who hasn’t been on any sort of air except as a guest since 1995 or so, absolutely gratis.

UPDATE: ’NW has gone with current 11:00-2:00 host and BC CTV News anchorman Bill Good as the replacement. Softball Bill against Rafe in a ratings war? My money's on Rafe. Perhaps ’NW management can continue their quest for blandness inbroadcasting by getting onetime Global anchor Jennifer Mather (now known best as wife of Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke) to take over the midday slot to give listeners hours and hours of ever so trite banter of the fiscally conservative/socially liberal-but-not-too-liberal variety—talk radio’s answer to Pablum, but with less nutritional value.


Apparently that's how many card-carrying Liberals there are in the country. To put it another way, it's about twice the membership of all other federal political parties put together.

Read ’em and weep?

And to think that I haven’t even bothered to ruminate on John Manley’s dropping out of the Liberal leadership race, no doubt a last-ditch attempt top reserve himself a seat at Liberal Annointed One Paul Martin’s Cabinet table. If Martin has a bit of sense in him, he’ll save a seat for Beaker, who has shown himself to have some skill at dealing with the current American administration, even as he’s shown that he is not quite up to this leadership race thang.

News From Terminal City

Terminal City Weekly, the Vancouver magazine to which I contribute a weekly media review column, has revamped its website. In other words, it now has actual content, and current stuff at that! Now, I'll have to actually write a bio and find something that might pass for a picture of me. I was tempted to use the National Post's unflattering pencil drawing of former columnist and George Dubya Bush fartcatcher David Frum, but that might be pushing the bounds of good taste.

What Makes Conservatives Tick?

I suppose that I’ve always been a tad curious about that question myself, especially considering the political beliefs I once held. When I was 15, I was a Little Mister Gimme the Flat Tax—Burn the Social Safety Net—Ban the Unions—Pave the Environment—Bring Back The Noose and Put it on Pay-Per-View. Sort of like this little shit but without the creepy religious dogma. I guess you could say that I’ve shifted towards sensibility since then.

So it caught my eye to read that a bunch of psych-types at Berkeley have done some sort of meta-analysis using fifty years of research into the motives of conservatives. Being that I know almost nothing about psychology, I’m not quite sure how to make the best use of this research, or how valid it is. These are the social “sciences,” after all, where almost all published research ranges from biased as hell to merely slanted. Still, it got published in a respectable (as much as any psychology rag can be called respectable) journal, so there must be some sort of rigourousness to it all.

At least the talk of dogmatism, fear and aggression, tolerance of (preference for?) inequality, and inability to handle ambiguity seems to be justifiable, although the True Believers will quibble. From UCB’s press release, I quote:

BERKELEY – Politically conservative agendas may range from supporting the Vietnam War to upholding traditional moral and religious values to opposing welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations?

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:
  • Fear and aggression
  • Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Need for cognitive closure
  • Terror management

“From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents, either independently or in combination,” the researchers wrote in an article, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” recently published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin.

Read on.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003


We're committed to adopting standard industry practices... no, really, we are

Might as well be what the story from ICBC is what with their lightning-quick decision to scrap plans to charge drivers over 65 extra for optional car insurance.

Jeez, the public insurer said that it was committed to acting like a private insurer and basing its insurance rates on actuarial data, wasn't it? Well, that's the joy of a being a Crown corporation -- business considerations can be set aside when not politically conventient. Pissing off seniors is never politically convenient. After all, not only do they have the vote, but they actually make use of it!

On the other hand, they can whack away at the 16-to-25 year old set with impunity... after all, some of 'em con't even vote, and only one in four or five of those who can, do.

Meanwhile that supposed bastion of free enterprise and letting business decide how to do business, Alberta, has decided to ban insurers from setting auto insurance rates based on age and sex. Ironic.

Sexual Studies Worth Noticing

Stonehenge is a massive fertility symbol, according to Canadian researchers who believe they have finally cracked the mystery of the ancient monument in southern England.

Take that, you darned astronomical community!

Oh yeah—there was that story about how human females may ovulate more than once per month. I’m sure you’ve already seen it. Worth noting that study leader Roger Pierson says that the rhythm method of birth control is “inefficient and unreliable” with this knowledge. Whatever will the devout Catholic do to avoi excessive reproduction? Keep it zipped at all times? Not bloody likely—my money’s that the confessional biz is going to see an upswing in volume over this one!

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


We won? We won!

Vancouver has been given the nod from the powers that be at the IOC. So now what? Beats the hell out of me right now; but I'll savour this win.

Round One.

Yoinks! Salzburg's out, and it's Vancouver versus Pyeongchang in the second ballot. Odds are that I won't be able to update when the final result comes around, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed, and my stomach nicely coated in Pepto.

Vancouver 2010: Where I Stand

Okay, it’s Olympic crunch time. Sometime around 8:00 AM PDT, International Olympic Committee boss Jacques Rogge will announce which city will host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games: Vancouver, Salzburg, or Pyeongchang.

So where do I stand on the Olympics in Vancouver?

I voted “Yes” in February’s plebiscite on the city’s participation in the games.

The vote was non-binding, but it gave a good sense of how Vancouverites felt about the bid after it had been dissected at City Hall, at the water cooler, and even in the media. Press coverage of the bid was often soft; CanWest Global and its Vancouver print and broadcast properties were backing the bid on the op-ed pages of their papers and through giving the 2010 bid committee lots of space and time to promote the bid. Even so, journos like the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer gave the bid and its potential pitfalls a public airing even if the critical coverage was often obscured by fluff. By the time the polls opened, the Vancouver bid book had been released to the public, and the provincial auditor-general had completed his review of the bid’s financial projections. Unlike many other Olympic polls and votes, this one came after the bid was thoroughly hashed out. Unlike most Olympic plebiscites, the thing passed by a 64%-36% margin.

Why did I vote “Yes?”

If you want the honest answer, it’s part greed, part boosterism. The greed is from the knowledge that if Vancouver gets the 2010 games, the city and region will be seeing a lot of spending for facilities and infrastructure from senior levels of government. Those improvements will only partially be paid by Vancouver taxpayers—most of the money will come from those in the rest of B.C. and Canada. For a city that often complains about being short-changed on spending, especially from Ottawa, it’s a boost. If anything gets Ottawa’s attention, it’s a big international event, and the feds would throw money at an Olympics in Come-by-Chance if that Newfoundland city was selected to host one. On the other hand, I’m under no illusions that any extra federal dough will silence those who claim that British Columbia gets a raw deal from the federal government. Some things are constant in Wet Coast politics...

Most of the infrastructure will be in Vancouver proper; some in will go to Whistler, and bits and pieces in the suburbs of Richmond (a broadcasting centre and a curling practice facility) and Burnaby (the speed skating oval.) The Vancouver Athletes’ Village will turn into some sort of affordable housing after the Games—that’s a bunch of slightly used housing stock built gratis.

Other funding not directly tied to the Games will also come through. The federal government will be more likely to help arrange financing of the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver rapid transit line in order to get visitors into the city quickly without overloading the two main roads from YVR to downtown. A new waterfront convention centre will also be expedited. So will other infrastructure not directly related to the games.

Am I being bribed with my own money? Yes. So sue me. That’s what much domestic and local politics is based on, and I want my backyard to get its share of the pork.

And yeah, I do like big events and the opportunities to hawk overpriced crap to visitors—especially when I know that they’ll be gone in three weeks, tops. If a local doesn’t want to be around the crowds and chaos of the Olympics, they’ve got a way out: Rent their place out to visitors, and use the proceeds to take a vacation if they can.

If the games take a financial bath, it’s true that I (and every other British Columbian) will be on the hook for losses incurred during the games’ operation. However, the Vancouver bid book’s assumptions and contingencies weren’t unreasonable, and it looks like the TV money for 2010 will already be higher than forecast by the IOC. That’s a little breathing room. The Games will never turn a straight profit when capital expenditures are factored in, but the result of that capital spending will be felt in the City, and not much of what will be built is likely to turn into a white elephant.

Finally, I considered how the city fathers would deal with the run-up to the Games. Expo 86 brought visitors and investment to Vancouver, but it was also marked by many evictions of downtown hotel residents as the hotel owners converted their places from cheap digs to rooms for the Expo visitors. Most of the people now serving on Vancouver city council are the same people who worked through the displacement of locals that came with Expo, and who have made it their business to make sure that the mass evictions don’t get repeated in 2010. With this city government in place, I’m more confident that those negative effects of a big event like the Olympics will be minimized and mitigated.

Other priorities

Much of the opposition to the Games was based on the argument that the money that will be spent on the Olympics is better spent on social services. Maybe that’s so, but in reality, there was no choice. As far as the federal and provincial governments were concerned, this money would go to the Olympics or not be spent at all. Maybe with a social-democratic government, the discussion of bread v. circuses might be relevant—or not. Vancouver’s bid was started, blessed, and bankrolled by the former BC NDP government.

Vancouver’s other needs won’t be ignored because of the circus coming to town for a few weeks in 6 1/2 years. If anything, local authorities will be able to extract more money from the governments with the real taxing and spending power. The pitch? Very simple: “Look, guys: The whole world will be watching this town for 17 days. We need to expand (fill in the blank) in the inner city so that we don’t look unpresentable!” Then watch the chequebook open, whether it’s for employment training, drug rehab, grants to restore buildings that have seen better days, you name it.

I can’t say that the Games will be the panacea that some of its boosters (like CKNW talker and CTV news anchor Bill Good) claim. To hear the more strident Games supporters’ claims, you’d think that Vancouver getting the Games would assure me a steady stream of high-paying jobs, a naked Kirsten Dunst in my private hot tub and a mountain of cocaine presented to me on a silver platter. It won’t be that great. What it will give Vancouver is leverage that it can use to build a better city.

continued next post; Blogger is being picky about big posts again... use the permalink for this post if you're linking to this article.

Odd arguments

In the years-long debate around the Games, some of the supporters have taken unorthodox views. Much of the political right and centre-right in B.C. has adopted the Games as their own, and seem unconcerned about government throwing money at an enterprise that’s inherently unprofitable.

Think of how it’ll boost Vancouver’s profile, they say. That warm fuzzy world class feeling. The potential economic spin-offs (rarely quantified.) How the economic boost will fund all that wussy social spending that the lefty naysayers are always whining about.

Wow—this from the same conservative chatterers (CKNW business hacks Michael Levy and Michael Campbell, the Province editorial board, et. al.) that admonish those danged lefties for talking about the intangible benefits of their pet projects, and always call for a harsh look at the bottom line. Well, here’s some quantification for you. No matter what someone like Levy says, the boost in the economy won’t even partially fund the increases in social spending over the next 10 years. The BC government’s best-case forecast is for an incremental increase of $3.5-billion in GDP and $426-million in provincial tax revenue. When you figure that provincial health spending will likely be over $20-billion annually in 2010 (up from $11.4-billion), you realize that the argument that the Games will pay for all sorts of new social spending is as fallacious as Gordon Campbell’s claim that dramatic personal income tax cuts pay for themselves.

Some on the right have seen through the smokescreen. Vancouver Sun navel-gazer Pete McMartin, for whom I rarely have kind words, has been one who has said that the Games are corporate welfare writ large. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is another. Most of the “free-enterprise” commentators and business shills haven’t been so critical—are some of the biz lobbyists looking at the games as a source of nice fat government contracts? Probably, but I’ve nothing to prove that hypothesis.

In the end, though, despite the ridiculousness of the arguments for and against the Games, I’ve come to give the bid my qualified support. Yes, it’s expensive, but much of the spending will be in projects that Vancouver either needs or wants. The economic boost will be decent for a province that continues to lag the country in growth, although it won’t have the dramatic effect that organizers claim, nor will the Games solve Vancouver’s social ills. Nor will they exacerbate them—if anything, it’ll make governments serious about tacking them. Yes, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Games, and hoping for a good result today.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003


Coming soon

A few words on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games bid, just so that I can make it clear where I stand before the word from the IOC comes down. Check back in an hour or so.

Reports, opinions, columns, and anything else on this site, are © 2002-2003 Ian King unless otherwise noted. Permission granted to use material on this site for non-commercial purposes provided that the work is attributed to the original author. All other uses require specific permission of the original author. Contact weblog owner with any inquiries.

Feel free to link to this web log. The management likes getting lots of traffic.