One-on-one with NPA Vancouver mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe

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Kirk Lapointe NPA Vancouver

Kirk Lapointe, the Non-Partisan Association’s (NPA) mayoral candidate, told Vancity Buzz that he wants to be the mayor of Vancouver as it’s an extension of the best work he gets from being a journalist.

The 56-year-old has a 30 year long career in journalism behind him, having worked at Billboard, the Canadian Press and the National Post. Lapointe also held various positions in network television: he was a host for CBC Newsworld programs, later becoming the Senior Vice President of Bell Media overseeing CTV News, before returning to the CBC as its Ombudsman.

What gave Lapointe the West Coast connection was when he left Toronto to become the managing editor of the Vancouver Sun. More recently, he teaches journalism at the University of British Columbia and is the editor of a North Vancouver-based book publisher.

“There are two main attributes that were important to me in journalism – one is strengthening the community and the second is collaboration,” said Lapointe. “I find that the more collaborators you have, the more consultation is done, the better the outcome will be. That is why these are my essential building blocks for the approach I will take.”

Besides having an established journalism career, Lapointe admits that not much is known about him as he is not a career politician. He only stepped into the political arena in mid-July with his announcement as the NPA’s candidate for the mayor’s seat.

“I grew up in poverty with a single mother who had another child eleven years earlier,” he said. “She had to make a choice of which one of us to keep… she didn’t have the money for both us. So she sent my brother to live with friends in New Brunswick.”

He was rescued by a mentor – someone within walking distance that encourages young people to be their best. In this case, it was his coach.

Food was also another factor for his childhood; Lapointe says he was a scrawny kid because of poverty, he didn’t make the link of what food will do for him in terms of making him “better focused.”

“Let’s make sure that when children leave their homes in the morning they have access to a meal, and when they go home for the summer from school they have access to books,” said Lapointe. “Those kinds of things are integral to building a better city. If we get that right with young people, we are going to have far fewer issues as they age and so something like a mentorship program can actually reduce the level of teen depression. It’s a very important thing to do and combat.”

  • Favourite restaurant: La Quercia (West 4th and Alma)
  • A typical weekend: Playing hockey as goalie + strength and conditioning lessons + boxing
  • Favourite sports team: Canucks, of course… despite frustrating me
  • Favourite neighbourhood other than your home: Yaletown
  • One spot in the city you’d love going to: The ball diamond where I coach girl’s softball

Here is our one-on-one with Kirk Lapointe, covering key Vancouver issues and NPA platform elements ahead of the November 15 civic election.

kirk lapointe

Image: Donovan Mahoney / Vancity Buzz

Free parking

About your introduction of free parking, is it just a free gimmick?

No! All it does is restore how we were a few years ago in terms of parking meters, reversing it back from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. It is a silly nuisance that is not worth the money it gets for the city and it antagonizes people.

The City should not be making people angry over these things… it antagonizes people. This city is now over angry things like bicycles, motorists – the whole ridiculous war created over the past little while. The job of a city is to please the people who live here, which means irritants need to be taken away. We need to try to encourage people to get around the city, outside of downtown, on a Sunday or holiday.

I also want to explore new technology around parking. Other cities like San Francisco have very smart meters that will tell you when you are approaching them… you’ll be using your app or some kind of smartphone linked to your car where you’ll be able to determine whether there is a lot of parking in a particular block that is available. So you’ll pay a particular rate based on the availability.

What they found in San Francisco is that about one-third of cars were looking for parking spots. So in our downtown, I want a pilot project that makes economic sense for us, to have surge pricing over certain times of the day and year. I think we need to make smart investments and use technology to help us learn that.

There is also the congestion issue in the city… we should not be the most traffic congested of all the Canadian cities. We are very small and have a small population, it should not be a crisis for us. And some of this is because we have not made investments in smart technology to learn about our traffic flow.

We need to consider counterflow lanes to get traffic in and out effectively. Our biggest pollution shouldn’t be idling cars.

With these changes on free parking and reducing meter hours, wouldn’t it hurt the city’s finances?

It’s going to help a lot of businesses, and those businesses will stay there longer from the additional traffic. It all siphons towards the economy – it’s a small price to pay to stabilize a lot of neighbourhoods.

But doesn’t that encourage people to drive more?

Not really, I think a lot of people are still going to take public transit, bike and walk. What this does it take the nuisance out of the way for those who actually need the car. In some cases, there are people who don’t have access to public transit, have large families or are on a limited budget… this is meaningful to them.

I also don’t want to give any impression that I’m here to further the use of the automobile like what happened in the 20th century. But you’ve got to make sure you don’t have an imbalance around this, that you are serving all elements of the transportation network.

Bike lanes

How do you feel about bike lanes?

I support bike lanes, but I don’t support poorly built ones. And by poorly built, I don’t necessarily mean the engineering around it but rather the public consultation that went towards the projects. I don’t think the last few were properly consulted, and as a result we have divided the city in an unnecessarily way between cyclists and motorists because of the process.

There is a driven intention to have the bike lanes built regardless of what the neighbourhoods told the city.

What about Point Grey Road? This was the largest bike lane controversy over the last few years.

With the Point Grey Road situation, the vote was shortly held before midnight and the road crews were out by 7 a.m. the next morning. So how authentic exactly was this public consultation process??

That said, I have concerns about undoing the Point Grey Road bike lane. It cost about $6-million for the bike lane route and another $6-million for the new intersection at the south end of the Burrard Bridge. It might be more expensive than what we’d be prepared to pay to undo the bike lanes.

The NPA, by the way, built about 75 per cent of all the bike lanes and paths in the city without antagonizing the public. It was only the last few that fostered public anger… we need to get the job, but without alienating communities.

So it makes sense to add more bike lanes?

Absolutely. The bike lane is not a toy. It may be recreational for some, but for others it is big part of essential transportation, especially for those who cannot afford a car.

Uber’s entry into Vancouver

So with Uber and the whole taxi situation, with Uber trying to come into Vancouver, what are your thoughts on that?

I have said so far that I have great reservations in Uber with its capacity to deal with the challenges of transporting people in a licensed, safe and reliable way. And that includes predictability in pricing.

As a platform, Uber is not going the distance yet for the community in order to operate here. I’d have to be very satisfied that Uber will address all the issues, such as driver risk and insurance that taxi’s address.

I’m also cognizant by the fact that taxi businesses are people who have the licenses have invested heavily in their training and maintenance. So you can’t just snap your fingers and say it’s time for change… you can’t risk safety.

UBC-Broadway Line

If I could borrow your pen and paper, I’d give you the same sketch the City has for the UBC Line. It’s one of the grand hoaxes of our time.

I teach at UBC and I have students arriving 20 to 25 minutes. Some of them think, ‘hey it’s going to be great, we’re going to have the subway next year.’ And I’m thinking, ‘did I miss that? No.’

Are we also looking for something on ground level or even elevated? Not underground?

Here is the mythology in our city at the moment. There is regional support for an above ground extension between VCC-Clark and Arbutus, then the express buses take people from Arbutus to UBC.

That’s just the regional share, so there is no provincial share at the moment – we’re going to have to deal with a referendum on that. And there’s no federal share either. But it’s usually a one-third funding contribution from each of the three parties.

There needs to be a conversation with senior governments, and I think I can get that conversation done. I have a better way to discuss with both Ottawa and Victoria on this.

As for building an underground line all the way to UBC, the university itself needs to be a partner in this. But even if there is a great grand partnership, you’re dealing with another eight years of waiting… and that’s just not going to work.

Remember now that if there is going to be a subway between VCC-Clark and Arbutus, it is going to be a City issue – not a TransLink issue. TransLink, which is funded by the region, is providing the money for an elevated extension. It will be another $500 to 600-million of City of Vancouver funding to put the system underground.

So if it’s coming in eight years earliest, what can we do in the meantime? Congestion will only increase, especially with the Evergreen Line opening in 2016.

So I’ve said that in the meantime we need more buses that will be financed out of TransLink funds. It’s a short term solution to address congestion. We could perhaps even consider starting new bus routes from VCC-Clark or come up with bi-articulate buses that are longer and carry many more passengers.

Affordable housing

What are your thoughts on people who want to live in the city, into the core in downtown but can’t? I personally know many families who have a problem with this. They want a kid or few kids, but the affordable option seems to be further out in the suburbs…

Well we’ve lost track… we’ve lost a generation of potential homeowners. I understand the criticism of city governance over the lack of having the right kind of supply.

We need to take the tiniest steps back in order to take all of our steps forward. The tiniest step back is to revitalize the City Plan, which was a forward thinking document that established the principles of how we will develop our city – the mixtures of housing and ideas that were going appeal to groups, especially those that are disenfranchised.

I think that if we have that conversation after we gain power, we’re going to basically start understanding what kind of community we’re going to be. I wouldn’t want to drive this but rather have the community come together to talk about this.

The desired outcomes are housing for young families, first time buyers and seniors. The latter group is a looming crisis, and for those who are in the so-called “sandwiched generation” they have the worst of it: they are trying to find housing for their parents while ensuring that their children stay in town.

So I think this conversation is absolutely central over what we need to do. And if we don’t get the conversation right, then we’re going to continue a lot of our ad-hoc, spot rezoning that has alienated neighbourhoods and made them resistant to change. It means we don’t have a lot of adequate housing stock for our community.

The evidence is there that we have a lot of condos that are empty… what is your plan to combat this?

I slightly disagree in saying that there is no evidence yet… but it’s a really important topic to tackle.

In the really short term, I’d get evidence-based studies on what is going on to really find out what the issue is. The bigger issue is how we’d tackle it.

To date, a lot of the proposals by our rivals wouldn’t pass the legal challenge. And so, rather than put the city in court hundreds or even thousands of time, I want to find enforceable options but it’ll take some pretty advanced legal minds to establish what we can do.

We have to not be naive in how we approach it, but it is a legitimate concern in many neighbourhoods – it is the city’s job to get to the bottom of it.

Other jurisdictions have tried but they do not have the constitution and array of law that we have that enforces private property rights.

What about Meena Wong’s plan to tax homeowners that are letting their homes go empty?

Well, the first issue is that we have bylaws to deal with this, when homes are not maintained properly. We do act on this as it is a blight to the neighbourhood.

And with regards to the tax, I’ve been told by lawyers that it will be too easily challenged. You’re not going to be able to force it, you will be in court a lot. I don’t want to create a whole separate process to deal with taxation that will not withstand scrutiny.

Preserving cultural districts

When it comes to culture in town, how do you preserve cultural districts like Little India, Chinatown, Little Italy… in the past, you’ve said Mayor Robertson hasn’t done enough, but what would you do?

Well, I mean, a little of this is what they call the “boiling frog theory.” If you turn up the heat on a frog in a pot of water in increments of five degrees, it won’t notice but it’ll die eventually and might be a surprise when it does go belly up.

That’s also what happens with neighbourhoods when they go into some decline, they get into some stress. And if you don’t attend to the issue, one they you wake up and they decide to move to Surrey, Richmond or even entirely out of the Lower Mainland.

So early intervention is critical… conversation with our local business associations and merchants is absolutely critical.

With Little India, when I first arrived in Vancouver, it was incredibly vibrant and active…

So do you think the area is going to be a write-off?

I hope it’s not going to be a write-off, but it will be a tough challenge to revitalize it. To regenerate it… what these things do is that they grow organically from common interest and culture. So you get that important synergy, and once it gets diffused it is very difficult to reconstitute. But it will be a priority as it is a large element of our city and community.

I see the same issue with our Filipino neighbourhoods and Chinatown. The City sort of goes in cruise control and doesn’t listen as stresses begins to intersect, and before you know it we’re wondering how it got to that state.

The beauty of Vancouver is that it has a huge history of cultural preservation and inclusiveness… that’s one of the things that attracted me to this city. I don’t want our communities to lose their unique presence, we need to be leaders in this.

Fun events

Vancouver doesn’t have that one signature event… we even tried to spearhead a New Year’s Eve celebration. So when it comes to an issue like that, it was a funding issue. What steps would you take…

The City has to take on a piece of it, but it can’t take on all of it as it can be a challenge on city finances. I do believe there is a genuine desire to make Vancouver a lot more fun than it is, there is something happening each week… we need a strategy that isn’t entirely borne on taxpayers while making us a more attractive place.

I think the one area we need more of is things that happen for free, which can really ease the issue of affordability. We need more of the free or near free things so that we don’t have to empty our wallets every time.

Do you think the City can get back to the level we were at during the Olympics?

Yeah, what a great objective that would be and I really agree with you. I think we have really squandered some of the great currency we earned through the Olympics. And of course, the riot gave us the wrong image abroad.

But the Olympics were majestic and we lost our momentum after that… within six months it was like they never happened here. We should still be basking in that, we should have had a 10 to 15-year long legacy feel and renewing ourselves with lots of sporting events to renew that feel.

We’re not really part of the national conversation any longer on some very big issues. We’re not getting any share such as infrastructure… since the Olympics we have not received a big piece of the pie for any projects.

I think it’s because of some leadership alienation from the rest of the country, so we’re not part of any great dialogue with regional mayors to attract investment, the province to get projects done or the federal government for the bigger infrastructure pieces.

Vancouver is no longer the national leadership a lot of issues we used to be. I still think a lot of great things happen here and that it’s a great city, but that it’s badly run.

*End of interview*

Vancouver’s municipal election takes place on Saturday, November 15. Voting is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Find out more about the election and where to vote through the City of Vancouver’s website.

Stay tuned for our one-on-one with Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson.

 

Feature Image: NPA Vancouver

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