Found a blogging councillor

Cairine Green
Cairine Green

While on a random web search the other day I came across the blog of Cairine Green, one of councillors for the municipality of North Saanich.While this might not be the only councillor in the CRD who is actively blogging, I certainly don’t know of any others. It is sad, really, as the web offers such an immediate way to get feedback and tell residents what is happening in their municipal government.

Here is Oak Bay our website isn’t even that great (I have promised Chris Causton some info on how I think it should be fixed, something I haven’t yet delivered. One of these days..). None of the sitting councillors have active websites and most didn’t even have websites in the first place. The sole exception was Tara Ney, whose site is blank.

Amongst the candidates, Michelle Kirby‘s and Chris Smith‘s sites have nothing more than thank you notices.  Michelle can be excused, as she continues to blog at

Beyond our little sleepy neighbourhood, a quick survey of the candidates campaign sites show a mix of blank, no longer registered or simply rotting away with old content. I didn’t spend the several hours it would have taken to google each one of their names, but I can guess the result: nothing.

Even further afield, the Toronto City Clerk has pushed council to enter the 21st century. They not only have a blog but even have a twitter account, TorontoCouncil. Both post near-real time or extremely fast updates on what is happening at council meetings.

Have you found another blogging councillor? Please leave me a comment to let me know so I can add them to the sidebar.

Election followup story by Oak Bay News

Well, the election is done and the post-mortems have started. Oak Bay News’ Vivian Moreau has posted a piece about the results, declaring Tara Ney a “surprise winner”. I am likewise surprised she polled as well as she did, given she is a non-incumbent. In contrast, in 2005, Nils Jensen and Frank Carson, Jr, both incumbents, topped the polls. That being said, I am uncertain whether Tara is that elusive fourth vote on bike lanes and other key issues. She struck me as progressive, intelligent and passionate, so I am hopeful.

The future

Now that the election is done, the future awaits. While personally I have a college term to finish, I have also been thinking about how I can make change in Oak Bay in the next three years. I have been kicking around some ideas and so I will keep this website running, posting my thoughts about where Oak Bay can change as well what council is up to.

Thank you!

Well, the unofficial results are in (PDF link). Sadly, I did not get elected, but I am content. I think Michelle Kirby and I both proved that young people can get out the vote in Oak Bay.

If you have one of my signs, I will be coming around tomorrow to pick them. If you want to pull them and put them by your door, that is fine.

Thank you for supporting my campaign. It was a lot of fun. Now I have an undergrad to finish…

Times Colonist finally posts candidate profiles

The Times Colonist has been teasing people in their community profiles that they would post full candidate profiles online. Well, they are now up and you can read the Oak Bay page. I don’t expect many people to see these and to date I haven’t had any traffic from the TC site.

Why don’t I expect many people to see them? In order to find them on the main TC site, you have to click on the Municipal Elections 08 banner, which looks exactly like every other advertising banner on their site, then you have to click on the map, which is rather difficult if you are trying for a small municipality like Oak Bay or View Royal.

All of this makes me sad, because nobody is going to get out and vote if they don’t understand the issues are where the candidates stand on them. This is why I spent a great deal of time trying to find somebody to organize an all candidates meeting. In previous elections, the TC has actually printed the full profiles, something they likely opted not to do because of the higher costs and lower profits throughout the newspaper industry, although I will note that the TC subscriber numbers are actually fairly steady.

Followup to all candidates meeting

Yesterday evening was the All Candidates meeting at Monterey Centre. The room was standing room only, with easily several hundred people there. It was great to see so many people interested in the municipal elections. I want to express my gratitude to the Oak Bay Business Improvement Area and the Oak Bay Residents Association for hosting the event. I wish we could have had more, as many people I have spoken to today said they would have gone but that they had not heard about it. Well, I guess there is always 2011…

Solving the housing crisis by cutting off water to illegal suites

The Central Saanich Council has come across a unique solution to solving the housing crisis: cutting off water to “persistent offenders.” Quite frankly, I’m horrified. Access to fresh water is a fundamental human right, not something to be used by a government in a dispute with a land owner. In the Times Colonist article, Denis Pilon, a UVic Political Science prof, points out that the person most likely to be hurt is the renter, not the landlord. This isn’t surprising, as any time council and a landlord get involved in a dispute, the renter gets caught in the crossfire.

All of this talk of punishing landlords who rent out substandard housing ignores the reality that landlords can rent out this type of housing because of the massive housing crisis in our city, a crisis that can partly be laid at the feet of our municipal councils, who have failed to provide real leadership.

Tonight at 7pm is the All Candidates meeting in the Garry Oak room of the Monterey Centre. Please come out and learn about each candidate stands for and ask us all questions. Hope to see you there.

Calming traffic by removing roads?

Controlling traffic speed and volume is a problem that has vexed planners and governments for almost 100 years. Most of the time the end result has been a misguided attempt to reduce congestion and speed flow by adding and expanding roads. Why is this misguided? Because you can’t build your way out of congestion and also, it seems, more connections can lead to worse congestion.

You can’t build your way out of congestion. There is even a fancy term for this: induced demand. Essentially, if you provide it, they will use it. Grocery stores understand this perfectly well. Why do you think all those candy bars in their shiny wrappers are right at kid height at the checkout aisle? This coin has two sides and if adding roads adds traffic, then removing them will reduce it. Sounds crazy, right? This isn’t just conjucture, both Seoul and San Francisco have both removed major roads and have reaped the rewards.

For more information, the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute‘s Todd Litman has a excellent summary report: Smart Transportation Investments: Reevaluating The Role Of Highway Expansion For Improving Urban Transportation (PDF).

Now what about closing connective roads to reduce congestion? This works on psycology of human driving behaviour: provide fewer choices and you will have an easier time choosing. Not only that, people instinctively choose the “fastest route”, which has predictable results. A little bit of mathmatical modelling and suddenly you can see what roads you need to keep, what ones can be cut and what roads should be cut. Sightline Daily has a good story and for the mathmatical modellers in the audience, the paper can read online: The Cost of Anarchy in Transportation Networks (PDF).

What does all this mean for Oak Bay? We need to be proactive. We need to figure out what streets are actually critical for traffic flow and which we can sever without causing major issues. All this would allow us to have the seeming paradox of safer streets with increased traffic flow and making Oak Bay a better place to live.

Premier freezes property taxes

As you have probably read already in the Times Colonist or on, the Premier froze property taxes at 2007 levels until 2009 and has allowed anybody, not just seniors, to defer property taxes for up to two years. While the short and long terms effects may be minor, it does shine on a light on the problem that municipal governments budgets are basically controlled via Victoria.

Lets look at the numbers. Oak Bay had a budget of about $27 million in 2007. About $15 million of that is property taxes. Property taxes are decided by a provincial authority, BC Assessment. Now imagine yourself a financial officer for a muncipality, trying to plan your budget, knowing that the vast majority of your budget is under the political control of another level of government.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear. Isn’t it time the provincial government stopped playing politics with municipal budgets?