You won’t just be voting for a new mayor in Vancouver on Saturday. You’ll be asked to approve a project that might just give the city a $31 million dog pound instead of a library in one of its poorer neighbourhoods.
It won’t be obvious at the voting booth. The dog pound is buried inside the details of a proposal to approve $220 million in borrowing to finance the city’s infrastructure plans. Most people don’t even know it’s there.
It’s a choice about what kind of city Vancouver should be - building libraries and upgrading community centres in our have-not neighborhoods or financing a multi-million dollar lavish lost-and-found for stray dogs.
The new dog pound is the pet project of Councillor Kim Capri, former Operating Officer at the SPCA. It’s competing with plans for a library in the Downtown Eastside-Strathcona area, currently the only neighbourhood in Vancouver that does not have its own full-service public library.
A decision between these two projects may look like a no-brainer. Building the library is another step toward addressing inequalities across communities and the needs of Vancouver’s poorest. Building a new dog pound is, well, a new dog pound.
The financial machinations behind this dog pound plan are another in a string of murky money management decisions at city council. There’s just not enough transparency in how taxpayers’ money is spent.
The dog pound, an idea city councilors haven’t talked much about, comes on the heels of a secret $100 million bailout of the Olympic Village that you weren’t supposed to hear about either.
It may just be city council’s next multi-million dollar controversy.
The $220 million the city wants to borrow will ostensibly be used to finance approximately 40 per cent of the city’s infrastructure financing from 2009 to 2011. Hidden in the details, which you won’t see at the voting station, is a budget line that offers the first step to creating the $31 million dog pound.
For Councillor Capri, it’s a race between the pound and the library. The first project to present Council with a good proposal will receive the $13.6 million in seed funding sitting in the Capital Plan pot, to get either project started.
It begs the question of why should how quickly an interest group presents their project to city council determine funding. Certainly there is a better way to decide between libraries for our poorest people and a pound for Vancouver’s pampered pooches.
Capri’s plan for a multi-million dollar pound has already squeezed out other projects that Vancouverites care about.
Take the Britannia Community Centre.
In September, city councillors were met by a riled-up roomful of Britannia Community Centre supporters at the public consultation meeting to review the Capital Plan. They waved little yellow signs and delivered eloquent messages to the councillors about the importance of the centre.
Ray Gallagher, Britannia Centre President captured the mood best: “If you don’t support hospitals, people die. If you don’t support community centres, communities die.”
In the days that followed, the draft proposal was rewritten into its current version. Britannia was shut out. But the dogs are still in line to get their new pound.
You’ve got to wonder at the logic. Vancouver has less than 20 stray dogs per day in our city and that number has been on a steady decline for the past decade. This is a $31 million problem?
The potential outcome is that a runaway dog will have a much better chance for shelter than the homeless on Vancouver’s streets.
Vancouverites need to ask council, in these days of unstable financial markets and in the lead up to Olympic spending splurge, whether millions spent on 20 stray dogs a day is the best bang for our buck.
When voters go to the polls on November 15, the are likely to green-light the city the $220 million financing needed for some badly-needed infrastructure projects.
But in the months ahead, don’t forget to let the next mayor know this idea is, well, a dog.