Council approved a motion last week to establish an “engaged city task force” to improve relationships between Vancouverites and improve citizen involvement in city government.
The Oct. 3 vote came shortly after council passed its controversial new affordable housing plan.
Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer said if the public were more engaged, their collective opinion would be better reflected in public policy decisions.
“It’s always important that the city’s improving engagement. We haven’t had, as a city, a serious look at the way we do engagement for 20 years,” she told the Courier Oct. 4. “Staff do try and improve and they’ve introduced social media and open data—there are a bunch of initiatives we’ve worked on, but [not] in terms of a holistic, full-scale what should we be doing differently given a lot has changed in the last 20 years.”
Earlier this year, a Vancouver Foundation study revealed social isolation was the single largest concern among residents in the region and that there’s a strong relationship between low neighbour-to-neighbour engagement and low engagement with government.
“We already committed to doing this as part of the election platform, but the big ah-ha moment for me was when the Vancouver Foundation research came out and realizing there’s a very heavy correlation between if people aren’t engaged with each other, chances are they’re not going to be engaged with the city,” Reimer said.
Reimer will be on the task force along with Mayor Gregor Robertson and 22 others with expertise and interest in community engagement. “It makes sense,” she said. “If you’re not talking to your neighbour, why would you come and talk to city council.”
Reimer said she’s “passionate” about citizen engagement and it’s one of the reasons she ran for a school board seat years ago. She was frustrated that people her age—30 at the time—were tuned into public policy and how it affected them, but tuned out of the process that makes public policy.
“We’re certainly not the only city in Canada dealing with this—there are cities in Canada, in North America, in Europe, in Asia, all trying to figure out how to better engage citizens in policy making,” she said.
NPA Coun. Elizabeth Ball voted against creating a task force. She maintains council isn’t doing enough to respect citizen input at a basic level in council chambers.
Ball pointed to the affordable housing report, explaining hundreds of residents had criticized council for not being afforded enough time to study it and provide feedback. She backed a suggestion to send it to neighbourhoods for further consultation before a vote.
“They voted it down. And if you’re not prepared to engage people with your own work by going into the neighbourhood and trust the work that’s been done—not just on this but on so many other issues—then what’s the point of having some sort of smoke-screen committee,” Ball said, adding people show up at council and their motivations are questioned and their occupations googled.
“I’m sure Ms. Reimer meant it in the best sense, but I think you have to start living it rather than just having another task force of some kind that won’t bear fruit because it’s not what your base treatment of citizens is.”
Engaged City Task Force members will be appointed through an open call nomination process. They’ll start meeting in December and report back to council by June 2013.