You own property in Vancouver? Not if the Mayor says you don't
When asked by a reporter on another subject close to his heart, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson pointed out that civil disobedience was an option for opponents to oil tankers in Burrard Inlet. Although the statement wasn't particularly mayoral, it barely registered on the Gregor quote-o-meter.
Now in the midst of a particularly difficult land dispute involving Vancouver property owners and the Musqueam First Nations, Gregor Robertson has done something highly inappropriate and in the process complicated the matter even further. He first stated publicly that he is on the side of the Musqueam Band in the matter, and proceded to demonstrate his support by going to drum with protesters. The image of Gregor Robertson drumming his way into controversy, had it garnered any other coverage than the front cover of a community paper and a few blogs, might have cemented Vancouver's image as a town of flakes in the minds of most Canadians.
What most citizens of Vancouver don't realize, however, is the Mayor's actions were irresponsible and borderline ridiculous.
Those of us who are property owners in Vancouver would shudder to think if, one day, our homes were subject to a land dispute. Of course, we'd be forced to seek costly legal help, but surely we could count on public service professionals and members of our local government to be impartial and apply the law fairly in our case. Then picture how would it make you feel if the mayor of your city rolled up to your front gate, banging a drum to say he supports the guys who wants your stuff.
Consider how you'd feel if you or your family has held title for the land for over a half century. And not only that, you've only been recently issued a development permit to build on the land in the past sixth months – subject to a respectful dig in search of remains. Oh, and you've pre-sold 70 units of the building, which you decided to build as affordable housing in part to satisfy the political objectives of the city government.
It's not a dream, dear reader. It's reality here in Vancouver. A family who owns property on a strip of land between Marine Drive and a railway bed for over 50 years, in the shadow of the Arthur Laing Bridge onramp, have recently been told by both City of Vancouver officials and the Province of BC that they were able to develop the property and sold housing units in good faith, have been royally betrayed by the elected leader of the city.
Let me disgress by stating my own position on this matter. I happen to respect the Musqueam's efforts to gain control of the land referred to as the Marpole Midden. It's an ancient burial site for the band's ancestors, and is near the site of not only a former First Nations village, but one of the founding communities of Metro Vancouver known as Eburne. The land has historical significance not only for First Nations, but the foundation of our city. I attended a Musqueam ceremony at the Midden site in April 2004 with then Park Commissioner Suzanne Anton and City Councillor Peter Ladner, and see the property as a cornerstone of revitalization in the Marpole neighbourhood.
Creating an important public space with sacred and historical significance at one of the gateways to the city would be a splendid idea, and a welcome alternative to bridge on-ramps that divide the community. Currently the Musqueam have no such plans for the property, however. Rather, they have expressed the idea of turning the length of the Midden property into a national historical heritage site and possibly adding a museum.
Now, for the political junkie in me there's a delicious irony. The man who has been hired to negotiate with the City on behalf of the property owners is former NPAer Bob Ransford. Ransford was the architect of the 2008 centre-right split that led to the NPA's near complete wipeout. He's sidled up with Mike Magee and the Visionistas since, and despite embracing Vancouver's NDP farm team politically he's in tough with his client since Gregor's drum routine.
So as a citizen of Vancouver I have to ask Gregor Robertson: what the hell were you thinking? Was it nothing more than what one expert on aboriginal land disputes described to me as 'embarrassing grandstanding', or do you think Vancouver's legal department just needs to work harder? Not for a moment do I think Robertson had the consent of his caucus to do this, as supportive as some of them might be for his choice. This was a drum solo act (with Andrea Reimer on tamborine).
Notwithstanding the sensitivity of the land dispute and the resulting protests (likely emboldened by the Mayor's support) which are shutting down major thoroughfares during rush hour, the citizens of Vancouver now must ask who do they turn to when faced with a major property decision in our city. Vancouver City Council is supposed to be a board that governs land decisions, and the Mayor is chair of that board. He has betrayed his ultimate responsibility as a judge in these disputes, created havoc for City staff, and piled on huge legal costs on a Vancouver property owner.
Is it just me or does this episode make Vancouver City Hall look more and more like reality TV?
- post by Mike