George Affleck has been the voice of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) since 2011 when he entered politics and became one of the party’s two City Councillors in office.
Like his colleague NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe, Affleck’s background revolves around journalism, working as a journalist for the CBC and a handful of local newspapers in B.C.
Prior to being elected, his full-time job was with Curve Communications, a locally-based marketing firm which he founded. Balancing his duties with City Council while also managing a small business isn’t without its challenges he told Vancity Buzz during an interview.
“I moved my offices closer to City Hall, it was previously in Yaletown,” said Affleck. “There are lots of challenges including avoiding conflict, so it doesn’t help business I’ll tell you that. I’ve gained people who love me but I’ve also gained people who hate me, and in politics you want people who love you.”
His marketing company has been around for 14 years and Affleck now acts more as a creative director than his earlier involvement as the managing director. The current re-election bid will be his final campaign for running in Council.
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Affleck answers some questions with regards to Vision Vancouver’s operations as the majority party in Vancouver City Hall as well as Community Amenity Contributions (CACs), New Year’s Eve and the arts community.
What are your thoughts on Vision Vancouver’s performance as the governing party? What are your thoughts on your first term as a City Councillor?
For the most part I’m disappointed with what has become apparent to us all. Vision Vancouver has a lack of process and respect for the city – the way that they have treated people has been disappointing.
It boils down to their reactions and how they behave in both the council meetings and public hearings, which I quite often find offensive and disappointing. They are not listening, they do not seem to care what people have to say. They are on their computers typing god knows what even though their job is to be listening to people when they are there to speak.
People who come to council and public hearings feel intimidated, it’s a scary experience. It is scary going there speaking in front of us, people are nervous especially when it is their first time so you must respect that.
You wonder if there is a whole point to the process if they’re not going to pay attention and have already made their decision before they got to their chamber seats.
Other than that, the small victories have been good. The New Year’s Eve motion, which is of course still happening, the Dragon Boat facility, tasting lounges… these are small victories I have achieved, and a lot of it was through the grassroots who were frustrated by the processes to date.
I would have liked to achieve more in office, but I can’t as I’m in opposition. With eight votes, Vision controls everything – it’s the magic number for power over City Hall. It can go to your head as it clearly has with Vision.
As Kirk had said, we are both journalists and believe in transparency and open government. It makes it very easy to work with a guy like Kirk as he shares the same principles in government. None of us are career politicians, we both came into this by accident and our principles and goals are very similar.
What is it like running a small business while also fulfilling your responsibilities as a City Councillor?
Councillor Kerry Jang works at UBC as well. It’s not unsual to own a business while running City Council, but it does make it difficult.
It helps me provide a different perspective, and I don’t encessarily think being in city council should be a full time job. You get caught up with micromanaging staff, and I don’t think that is what City Council should be doing as it is ultimately a governance board where you are overseeing and ensuring that staff reports are of the highest quality and follow what the people want.
You are a conduit for the voice of the people, regardless of party. You are the voice of the people. So when things come from staff or people you need to look at the lens of people and see whether it is really what they want. And you make a decision as a governor of the city.
Vision has gotten too caught up with the process of managing city hall instead of governing city hall.
Do you think some departments at City Hall are overstaffed?
Yes and no. My concerns over staffing levels came with the communications budget in a report in spring 2013. I put forward a motion to get the line to line budget for communications staffing over five years after journalists came forward to me about their frustrations. It took me five to six months before I got the report, which showed that they had gone from four staff to 24 staff – from $400,000 to $2.4-million.
The most recent numbers shows it’s now 30 communications staff, although part of the staff increase was because we used to outsource web design and now it’s done internally.
We now know there are 33 gardeners in the city… which is insane with the number of parks and gardens we have. Something is wrong and needs to be fixed.
What are the things you want to be done right away?
Well, the first thing is to dig. We need to know the numbers, how much is coming in and coming out through each department. We need to be transparent about this and be open about those numbers. We need to dig deep into the operating budget to figure out how the departments are spending their money, challenging them to come back with their spending needs.
I see the potential of making cuts in the budget without reducing services. If we look at certain departments and reduce budgets here and there, but increase it in others like in park and garden maintenance, it will be good for the city. But first we need to dig into the budget before we put a plan together.
How do you feel about this team right now as supposed to the last one? What are your thoughts on LaPointe’s leadership?
I was surprised by the last outcome… But the team we had put together for the current campaign is really impressive. There’s electioneering and then there’s governance.
The team we’ve brought together will govern the city properly with kindness and thoughtfulness. I have no worries and am pleased with the team we have.
The campaign itself has been going great, there has been no negativity and backstabbing. Campaigns tend to be very emotional when we run around, but we are a tight team and respect each other. I look forward to governing with them.
What are your thoughts on the future of the Arts community? What do you see in the future there?
Well, NPA City Councillor Elizabeth Ball has been a champion for the arts program. A lot of the things we have are things she developed, including the growth of our non-profits.
I think the arts provides the city with opportunities in so many ways. I have a passion for the arts, but it’s also the business side. The economic spinoff from the arts is huge, we have a lot of great artists in the city… a great dance community, visual arts community; it’s a very vibrant community.
We should be doing anything we can do as a government to provide them with more, not necessarily money although money is one of the biggest challenges, particularly cash flow. You want to hire a fundraiser person but you don’t have the funds… New Year’s Eve ended up with the same challenge.
What about the bureaucratic red tape that arts groups face?
For small works and groups who are doing performances or installations, there should be something at City Hall that bypasses the red tape specifically for arts organizations. They just want to do something very small, but you need to go through the same process that major organizations have.
We want to speed up the process so that artists that want to express what they can do can do it faster. Their energy can be used to the art itself instead of filling out paperwork and dealing with bureaucrats.
I know you have been an advocate for a New Year’s Eve celebration in the city. What is your vision? No one wanted to do it, so Vancity Buzz tried but will continue its efforts for next year.
Previous to politics, I had been working with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association on an event. This was after the Olympics. We had the same challenges you guys had, the timeline was too tight. We tried to put it together in the summer of 2010
Overall for the city, it is unfortunate the hockey riots happened and there are things that impacted it. There are things like insurance, problems that the hockey riots created. It now costs significantly more for insurance of outdoor events, which makes it very challenging for events that don’t have that kind of money.
A lot of the fun city things comes from neighbourhoods. Yaletown for example wanted to hold a Car Free Day, but the city asked them to pay for the missing revenue from parking that day. Organizers said that was not possible, so the event was scrapped. It is cost prohibitive for the Yaletown Business Improvement Association, but it is not going to bankrupt the City of Vancouver… this type of stuff drives me crazy.
For NYE, the police costs for instance are astronomical. And if the city waives that fee, that is great but it is not that simple. Policing costs are why the last NYE event disbanded, the costs went out of control and they finally decided to pull the plug.
There was a NYE event at the Vancouver Art Gallery, but it got canceled because of the rising costs in policing.
You have been an advocate of allowing more restaurant patios…
I am very frustrated by Granville Street, especially as a resident. I find that there’s a huge opportunity that is lost in terms of interactions between the restaurants and the sidewalk – where we now park cars.
I know we spent all this money on Granville Street before the Olympics, but we did it wrong in my mind. It needs to be more flexible for closing and should have more patios that can be built further out so that you can have the Yaletown experience.
You have very few residents in the area, as supposed to the current insanity on weekends. The idea is to make it more friendly, so that people aren’t there just to party… it would be more of a Barcelonian lifestyle. With a better design, you can have tourists sit outside during the summer.
So what’s holding us back with this?
I think it’s combination of bureaucracy and money. I think that sometimes it’s just bad design. It’s also really about empowering the local BIA’s more. The BIA’s need to take greater initiative with this, I think they can be leaders with it since they know their businesses and the people who shop there.
There are many different things we can be doing to improve the fun we are having in the city.
Is there something else that you’d like to see changed in the city?
One of the things I have been very vocal over the last few years is the very significant Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) we have been receiving from developers. There is about $150-million just sitting in the bank right now, with millions more to come from increased density.
The intension of CACs was to provide stuff (parks, daycares, playgrounds, community centres, etc.) for the neighbourhood being impacted by the density.
Now with Vision Vancouver, they are taking all of that money and putting it into housing which is counter to the intent of what the CAC was designed for – which was to deal with increased housing.
But by increasing more housing to the housing problem, you are creating an even bigger problem. The impact of that won’t be seen for 15 to 20 years. Without things like community centres, parks, proper sidewalks for the street, and proper pavement, it could lead to crime and other social issues.
With Yaletown, there are so many kids living there right now. There are sometimes 90 to 100 kids climbing at Emery Barnes Park even though it was designed for only maybe 15 kids. The solution to this is money, which we could get from developers through CACs.
What is your vision for Vancouver in 50 years?
Obviously our connection with Asia is huge, we will be a global hub. In 50 years, we will take on some of Toronto’s role in terms of being an international investment centre and transportation hub. We already have a lot of different kinds of people who use Vancouver as a centre.
We have a huge opportunity when we talk about prosperity, but when it comes to housing and affordability we need to talk about it as a region.
*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.
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Images: Vancity Buzz