You know the Vancouver civic election campaign has begun in earnest when the candidates start trying to buy your vote.
Both the NPA's Kirk LaPointe and Vision Vancouver's Gregor Robertson made promises this week they claim will make Vancouver a more affordable place to live.
Mr. LaPointe, in a direct appeal to the city's downtrodden motorists, promised that if he's elected, street parking outside the downtown core will be free on Sundays, holidays and after 8 p.m.
Gregor Robertson, apparently unaware of what parents go through to get their kids into a swim class in this city, promised free swimming lessons for young children.
The promises may be small, and in the grand scheme of affordability, insignificant – but they speak volumes about who the candidates are courting in this election.
The NPA chose the relatively safe and not at all sympathy-inducing backdrop of the Kerrisdale business district for its announcement. Mr. LaPointe told reporters that Vision Vancouver has been gouging drivers by maintaining the longer meter hours that came into place during the 2010 Winter Olympics. (On-street parking had been free until 8 p.m., but was changed to 10 p.m. during the Games.) He also pointed out that sometimes driving is the only option for many people. He did not use the phrase "Vision's war on cars," but the subtext was there.
It is true that even the most transit-loving, car-sharing, power-walking, part-time cyclists among us may occasionally need to use a car. But part of doing that means paying for the associated costs – metered parking among them. Parking meters raise a substantial amount of cash for the city – $44-million in 2013, according to city figures. The two-hour limit also promotes turnover, which is good for local businesses – the very businesses that Mr. LaPointe stood in front of while making the announcement. How much would his promise cost? Mr. LaPointe isn't certain. Vision Vancouver estimates it would mean more than $7-million in lost revenue per year.
Mayor Gregor Robertson outlined his "affordability plan" in front of a children's playground at Grandview Park. You might think of this as friendly East Side territory for Vision Vancouver, but it's not. The neighbourhood has been embroiled in a battle with the Vision-dominated city council, fighting back against the city's community plan to increase density. Even so, an announcement about free swimming lessons plays well with the young families in the neighbourhood.
But as any parent of young children will tell you, getting your kids into those lessons is next to impossible because of the limited number of spaces. On the day the spots are sold, families have multiple computers logged on to the Park Board's website with cursors hovering over where they know from experience the purchase-button will appear. Good luck with that. Getting tickets to a Beatles reunion concert with Radiohead as the opening act would have been easier.
When the mayor was asked about the scarcity of the lessons, he promised the city would make an effort to increase the number of spaces. Again, no real plan, and no mention of what the whole thing might cost.
To be fair, Mr. Robertson's free-swimming scheme was part of a larger announcement on making the city more affordable. That's a whole other set of even less tangible promises.
This, by the way, marks the most exciting week of the civic election campaign to date – which doesn't say much for the kind of campaign it's been.
The promises reinforce the notion that the NPA is the party for the moneyed slice of this city, and Vision Vancouver the party for the slightly less moneyed, but perhaps greener constituency.
In both cases, the promises represent forgone revenue for the city – which the city will have to find another way to make up. Forgive me for bringing up the teachers' strike, but this is beginning to feel a lot like the province attempting to placate parents by handing them back their own money in $40 increments for every day kids were out of school.
It's old-school, business-as-usual politics.
I'm not generally known as an optimist, but I was hoping for better.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver. @cbcstephenquinn