The people who hate your plan threaten to vote you out of office. They accuse your staff of lying about statistics. They say you are arrogant and do not listen to the community. They say you are being bought off by a few rich folks.
In the face of that, when does a city councillor decide it is time to back down and abandon an idea, and when – as Vancouver city council did on Monday in approving a bike route in the western beaches – do they say, “In spite of the vocal objections, we’re going ahead with what we think is best for the city?”
Former city councillor Gordon Price maintains that, if about a third of the people who come out to council support your idea, that is a strong enough sign.
“In a very emotional and often hostile environment, if 30 per cent of the speakers have made the effort to come out in spite of the opposition, that means the community support is probably there,” said Mr. Price, who was a councillor with the city’s once-dominant centre-right party and is now a vocal cycling and transit advocate.
Mr. Price’s words were something that Vision councillors took to heart as they faced almost 150 speakers over the past week, at least half or more of them saying that they adamantly opposed the plan for a Point Grey/Kits bike route and greenway.
Those councillors also reminded themselves of two things: What did you tell people your priorities were in the last election? Does anything in this plan need a serious fix?
“It’s really hard to sit and listen to people who are upset and angry,” said Councillor Heather Deal, who introduced the final motion on Monday to approve the plan. “It’s wearing. But you look at city policies and the things you ran on – like being the greenest city, like the Transportation 2040 plan – and you rely on that.”
Although Councillor George Affleck, who tried to get the project decision deferred until October, said that about 70 per cent of the speakers at five nights of council meetings were opposed, Ms. Deal said that it was more like 60 or even 55 per cent.
She also said she believes there was a lot of misinformation, which made people fearful about things that will never happen.
That makes her confident that, once the new route is in place, people will see it is nothing like the vehicular disaster they imagine.
Other previous councillors from both parties say they have had to make the same kinds of difficult decisions, realizing that just because a lot of opponents come out to speak, that does not mean they are the majority or in the right.
Mr. Price said that moderate supporters often get scared off from speaking publicly because the opponents can seem so intimidating. So when they do step up, their opinions get extra points.
He said that experienced councillors also understand that it is rare to make an important decision without heated debate.
“There’s the trap people fall into, thinking that anything that’s controversial means something is wrong with the process.”