Tonight I went to a federal all-candidates meeting in the West End sponsored by Xtra West. While the three main topics were human rights, support for the arts, and housing, the last half of the meeting was devoted to questions from the public who attended the meeting. Two long lines formed at both of the mics. Many different topics were lobbed at the candidates, ranging from the War in Afghanistan, terrorism, support for Insite, crime, decriminalization of prostitution, and the economy. Every speaker who asked a question was passionate about it, and a few were left disappointed when the meeting had to end because the time for the room rental was up.
It reminded me of a public meeting at City Council that I attended almost 20 years ago, when COPE Councillor Harry Rankin chided some of the NPA Councillors for either laughing at some of the speakers or talking to each other instead of listening to the public. "You may not think this is important", Rankin told them, "But it’s obviously important to some people!"
Listening – and seriously considering the point of view – of the public – is one of the most important responsibilities of an elected official. There is no meaningful accountability to the public unless that happens.
When COPE formed the majority on the Park Board from 2003-05, we brought in an open committee system. Prior to this, there were no committee meetings open to the public, only "workshops" behind closed doors. Yet these "workshops" – which were de facto committee meetings – were where the groundwork was laid for the reports and motions that were subsequently brought to the Park Board. At the board meetings, the public often had 10 days notice – at best – on a particular issue – and only 5 minutes at the board meeting to speak, and the Parks Commissioners made their decision the same evening.
When COPE brought in the open committee system, the public were welcome to attend any committee meeting where a topic of interest was discussed, and were welcome to join us at the table and participate in the discussion – usually without time limits, unless there were an unusual number of speakers – about the issue they were interested in.
COPE welcomes public participation in decision-making, and we seek to improve community outreach so that more people in Vancouver can be involved in decisions about our parks and recreation facilities.