What’s wrong with Victoria’s business community?

October 25, 2008 at 12:27 am | In community_associations, leadership, politics, victoria | 12 Comments

I take it as a given that cities need healthy economies if they are to thrive as vibrant, creative places. And I wonder what’s wrong with the established business interests in Victoria, whether in traditional commerce, or in our growing high tech sector, or even in tourism.

Here’s the problem: we have a municipal election coming up on November 15.  With the sh*tstorm of issues facing us (homelessness on a big scale, drug abuse and addiction, financial turmoil,  credit crunches, possible stagnation, crumbling infrastructure, and provincially mandated sewage treatment to the tune of $1.2b), you’d think that everyone must have their eyes on the candidates — because whoever gets in for this next round is going to have a hard row to hoe, and we want to make sure we don’t elect NOOPs.

And guess what?  Many people are paying attention.  Witness the all-candidates meetings held around the city at various venues.

But here’s the rub: these events are almost all hosted by various community associations and community groups, and none of these have the broader economic health of the whole city on their agenda.  Instead, these are issue-driven venues with issue-driven agendas that cater to important, but nonetheless specialized, interests: whether it’s a community association (often with a NIMBY agenda) that wants to grill candidates on their stance around development and affordable housing, or poverty activists that want to grill candidates on what they propose to do about the growing problem of homelessness, none of these sponsors of all-candidates meetings have a balanced, holistic view of the entire city or its economic well-being.

Let’s face it: if you get enough people together in a room and agitate them with issues that are already in their faces, it won’t take much to have normally intelligent people reduce issues of great complexity to black-and-white caricature, and you’ll find that people readily sort themselves into rigid interest groups that brook little dialogue.  One of first complexities to go by the board is economics.  Whether or not our government is doing anything (beyond raising or lowering our property or business tax rates) to facilitate a climate of economic health is uninteresting in those contexts, because their focus is on what’s perceived as the immediate crisis to hand.

The typically agenda-driven community-organized meeting is about focusing on all the problems that bedevil us, and often on demanding our “rights” to better services.  Take affordable housing, a truly complex issue.  At your typical community association-sponsored all-candidates meeting, the issue invariably devolves to this: someone from the audience asks the candidates whether they will “stand up to” the developers of new buildings and “make them” include “affordable” housing.  And if they’re not able to “stand up to” those evil rich bloodsuckers, will they shut down development so that “our” city won’t be “given over” to the rich and the poor won’t be squeezed out?  That’s how easy many people think it should be. If we can’t get what we want, shut the whole damn thing down.  Stop everything.

Complexity?  Com-schmexity.  Rhetoric and posturing is all that matters.  The candidates are forced to respond and react within this framework, and the result is ridiculous.

Further, we have 7 people running for mayor, of which at most 2 are actually qualified in any real sense of the word.  And we have 35 people running for 8 council seats, and here again there’s a majority that’s simply unelectable because they have a single agenda or fringe idee fixe that speaks volumes about their inability to govern anything as complex as a city.

Yet the community-sponsored all-candidates meetings bring out the “best” (i.e., the worst) in these candidates, because inevitably the more fringe-y ones can turn things into a circus with help from the audience.  Of the 3 meetings so far, 2 degenerated quickly into out-and-out gong shows.  The venue and the audience / question period encourages this: insofar as audiences here typically already feel aggrieved, rational candidates cannot, in the 2 minutes allotted to them, convey a nuanced sense of what their platform is, and instead the decidedly more manic candidates act out and use the stage to perform what can only be described as a spectacle of narcissistic self-display that serves to whip up audience fervor.

Gong show.  Truly.

I am not suggesting that we get rid of the community association or community agenda-sponsored meetings.  But here’s my question: why are they the only ones who host open, free-to-all meetings?

Where, for example, is the business community and why isn’t it sponsoring all-candidates meetings?  In a private exchange I asked:

Where is the “business community,” anyway? UDI Victoria is hosting a mayoral candidates event at the Ambrosia Centre on 11/3 (which will probably involve charging admission), but where are the all-candidates meetings that aren’t being driven by the agendas of the poverty-industry advocates and/ or community associations?

Those groups look only at the negative stuff — they don’t talk about what’s positive, what’s worth continuing.

Where are the groups that could and should host meetings that don’t devolve down to 150% negativity? The business groups? VIATEC/ the technology community? Higher learning?

They seem to be allowing Victoria to flounder, flail, and drown.

Giant fail.

Well, it turns out the Chamber of Commerce is hosting a mayoral candidates meeting (albeit not an all-candidates meeting), but what a dog’s-breakfast they’ve made of it.

In a nutshell, it exemplifies what’s wrong with our municipal democracy: on the one hand, community-agenda driven meetings that seem blind to business issues, and on the other a Chamber of Commerce, which, by hosting a meeting that for all intents and purposes may as well take place in a different galaxy for all the relevance it’ll have, thumbs its nose at the larger community.

Here’s the format for the Chamber’s meeting:

City of Victoria Mayoral Candidate Forum

Join the Chamber and hear what your candidates have to say about issues that affect your business.
The Mayoral Candidate Forum will be moderated by Bruce Carter and questions will be encouraged from the audience.

Candidates participating in this forum are:

Dean Fortin
Rob Reid
Steve Filipovic

November 12th, 2008

Delta Victoria – Ocean Pointe Resort & Spa
7:15 a.m. – Registration
7:30 a.m. – Event Start
Continental Buffet Breakfast Provided

The page continues, but a note first.  There are 7 mayoral candidates, and by excluding 4, the Chamber is engaging in some heavy-duty editing.  But most interesting is that they chose to include Steve Filipovic, who doesn’t stand a chance to be elected.  He’s the token candidate; the Chamber would have been better off to directly state that Dean Fortin and Rob Reid are the only two viable candidates, with Fortin an incumbent councilor with lots of experience, and Reid the newcomer who wants to shake things up a bit.  (Although I’m not impressed by Reid’s strategy of aligning himself with several NIMBYist community association leaders, who will surely bring the city to a halt if elected.  My impression now is that Reid doesn’t know what he’s doing.)

Ok, here’s my point as to why the Chamber’s efforts are a dog’s breakfast.  First, the venue is the Ocean Pointe, which just screams “exclusive” and “riff-raff keep out.”  Second, here’s the price of admission:

Nov 12, 2008
07:30 am – 09:00 am
Members: $30.00 +GST
Future Members: $45.00 +GST

The cute “Future Members” notwithstanding, I found that $45 price tag maddening.

So we have a “no riff-raff” venue and an admission price that seals the deal that this meeting is for the “let them eat cake” crowd.

But these are stupid cake eaters, to boot.  For here’s the final straw.  After exhorting us (in bold) to Register Today!, we read:

Note: Our online registration system is not compatible with Mozilla Firefox or Mac computers and only accepts Visa & MasterCard. [emphasis added]

That really takes the cake — alas, it doesn’t take the cake away, but it takes it.

If that’s our representative business chamber, obviously reliant on proprietary Microsoft software and unable to deal with either Macs or Firefox (because they use Internet Exploder), then how can we expect any innovation or creative thinking from this sector?

And how can the voters in this city expect innovation or creativity from potential leaders who are forced to flail about between the horrible Scylla and Charybdis of crisis-focused community groups on the one hand and fossilized business thinking on the other?

What a mess.

(Additional blog post on this topic from 10/26 here.)


  1. […] the increasing difficulty candidates are having connecting with voters through traditional means in a new blog post specifically targeted at Victoria’s business community. The typically agenda-driven […]

    Pingback by Hearing the candidates–an exercise in futility? « Robertrandall’s Weblog — October 25, 2008 #

  2. “Note: Our online registration system is not compatible with Mozilla Firefox or Mac computers and only accepts Visa & MasterCard.”

    That is ridiculous — or rather, shows either arrogance or, more likely, incompetence.

    Good luck with getting through the “Scylla and Charybdis” course of this election.

    Comment by maria — October 25, 2008 #

  3. Hi Yule,

    A well written entry, and I am in the same camp as you, however I think the issue is sadly (lack of) demand. Special interest groups spend the effort to have their issue raised to the surface. As you may know, the Cridge park all candidates meeting is this week. All it takes is organization to have a meeting on that which interests you.
    Might I suggest if you’re as passionate about the issue as your article insinuates, you try to organize a broader topic all candidates meeting. I would attend.

    Comment by Kris C — October 25, 2008 #

  4. The political scene in Victoria is all about reaction. There’s no vision.

    Comment by NorthOfEdward — October 25, 2008 #

  5. It’s not really all about reaction, but people need the right channels for action.
    @Kris C, as Rob Randall intimated, there may yet be a “third party” platform for an all-candidates meeting coming up, but my complaint here was sparked by the fact that the Chamber is missing an opportunity which it should indeed use and …er, leverage (if leveraging hasn’t become the dirty word of all time in the wake of the credit crunch).
    And they’re blowing it.
    Look, they have the ecosystem in place already, they have the traction. I could organize a meeting, but without that ecosystem (which the Chamber as well as the community groups have), you and maybe 3 of your friends would show up, but overall it would be a pretty barren event.
    But with an ecosystem (networks) already in place, you can host a meeting and guarantee that many people will come out for it. Chamber as well as community groups have those networks. That’s why they can play host to these meetings and be assured that candidates will show up, and that audiences will be there, too.
    Now, here’s the rub: the community groups have (rightly!) already convinced most of us that the issues they care about are issues we should all care about: housing, homelessness, social disorder on the streets, development issues.
    The Chamber and business community at large is doing a crap job (to put it bluntly) in convincing anyone outside of their inner circle (the folks who will come into the Chamber’s walled garden by virtue of their $30-45 admission fee) that the issues of business and commerce are issues we should all care about.
    I’m arguing that these are indeed matters we should all care about, but the Chamber is doing a very, very poor job to get that message across. And this exclusive l’il mayoral candidates meeting just amplifies their incompetence.
    Furthermore, there’s already a credibility gap, with the advocacy groups in the community world having the edge: they’re seen as “owning” the more important issues (poverty, homelessness, etc.), and business hasn’t figured out how to bridge that divide to convince those on the other side that they should indeed be part of the team that helps solve our problems.

    @maria: exactly, “…arrogance or, more likely, incompetence”! It was actually their notice that they can’t accept Firefox or Mac users when processing credit card transactions that made me pop my cork. They’re sending a clear message that they’re absolutely not interested in having any creative businesses in Victoria as members. They’re telling a whole generation and more to get lost.
    With that notice (no Macs, no Firefox) they admitted that they’re in a box, and they may as well just close the lid and stay stuck for all time.

    Comment by Yule — October 25, 2008 #

  6. PS: It’s confirmed that the UDI (co)sponsored event at the Ambrosia Centre on 11/3 has a $30 admission tag.
    I think that’s just ridiculous. I don’t know why the organizers have to charge that much, except to guess that the venue (Ambrosia Ctr.) is charging them.
    Look, folks: we need to find sponsors who will either provide the venue or else pay the venue costs, so that attendance can be free of charge. Community participation shouldn’t require a $30 entry ticket.
    So, thanks for nothing (again), Business Community (and even DV2020), ’cause your price tag is totally and completely unacceptably undemocratic. And thanks for nothing to the venue for not making your space available for free. This is how democracy dies: no commons.

    Comment by Yule — October 25, 2008 #

  7. egads..

    I really want to learn more about the candidates, but do I really have to jump through these hoops in order to understand what they all stand for? Is there an online city candidate-matrix that I can see? It seems to me like an online forum would perhaps be superior to anything we could do in the environment you describe above, which does sound unmanageable and not ideal for information gathering purposes.

    I agree with your sentiment about the lack of platform support on the website – it says a lot about the people behind it.


    Comment by davin — October 25, 2008 #

  8. I agree that an online “candidate matrix” would be ideal, but I suspect we need to build more of an ecosystem around online participation before it becomes the first place people go to and think about. Right now, candidates have to worry about the all-candidates meetings and about finding enough $$ to put ads into the MSM. Yeah, I know you and I never look at those, but apparently they (MSM ads) still have a strong hold on the voter base.
    I know I’m coming down very hard on the business sector for walling out popular or at-large participation with their high admission prices, but to their great credit, they are working harder at getting candidate responses online.
    The Chamber has a site where candidates can submit answers and platform statements, and DV2020 has put together an excellent set of questions that they hope candidates will commit to answering (operative word here: hope, since you can’t force candidates to articulate). You can read those questions here, and kudos to DV2020 for formulating them.
    They’re excellent questions, and tough ones, too. It’ll be hard to answer these with mindless boilerplate statements, or, if a candidate does answer them like that, they’ll be recognized for being a retailer of mindless boilerplate.

    Comment by Yule — October 26, 2008 #

  9. […] my October 25 post, What’s wrong with Victoria’s business community?, I blew up at the business community here, particularly the Chamber, for charging terribly high […]

    Pingback by » DV2020 nails candidate questions Yule Heibel’s Post Studio © 2003-2008 — October 26, 2008 #

  10. I’ve nominated the CofC’s stupid web page for the “Daily Sucker” at http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/

    Comment by RW — October 27, 2008 #

  11. To the Chamber’s credit, their municipal election site for candidates (questions, with candidates posting their answers) is quite good and informative.
    It goes some way toward satisfying Davin’s request for an online candidate-matrix.
    The problem I see with this format is that it’s difficult to compare candidates — each one is on a separate page, and voters/ citizens have to wade through an awful lot of pages, clicking between tabs to get close to comparing candidates’ stances.
    It would be cool if users (of the site) had the option to click on a question (eg., “Do you believe the region has sufficient protective services? Please explain your answer”) and by doing so call up all the responses to date (some candidates are so unserious that they don’t bother responding to these surveys at all), with names of candidates appended (which would give users information on who has bothered to respond: another criterium for voters as to whether we should take the candidate seriously).
    An additional feature I’d like is then, as a user of the site, to be able to “score” each candidate, so I can keep track of how they do (for me) on each question.
    At the end, I could then print out a score card.
    Matrix!, dudes and dudettes… This would be useful — fun, too. Might get more people engaged in local politics.

    Comment by Yule — October 27, 2008 #

  12. […] posted the following comment to my Oct. 25 vent-a-thon against the Chamber’s $45-admission mayoral-candidates meeting, and realized that it has enough substance to be a blog post: To the Chamber’s credit, their […]

    Pingback by » What a good online candidate-matrix should do Yule Heibel’s Post Studio © 2003-2008 — October 27, 2008 #

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