Recently I read in these pages of Councillor Susan Chapelle’s decision to seek re-election. The article touched on two key decisions she made while on council.
First, her rejection of the CIBC branch now being finished at Garibaldi Way and Highway 99, and second on Lot 509 and 510, in which Council was asked to reconsider its population threshold for opening those lots to development.
In both cases, Coun. Chapelle voted to uphold the letter of our Official Community Plan, which called for financial institutions to be located downtown, and no new development in certain areas until a population of 22,500 had been attained.
Official Community Plans cover a broad range of topics and goals. Too broad to get into here, but one aspect of their deployment I’ve never liked is when they are used to try to dictate economic development. In service of that goal, an OCP’s vision becomes an exercise in predicting the future. Unfortunately, human beings have a spotty record in that department (remember Bill Gates’ famous ‘they’ll never need more than 640kb of RAM’?).
The reason ‘capitalism’ has survived all the other ‘isms’ is because it really isn’t an –ism. It wasn’t invented by some clever academic on a chalkboard. Capitalism is what people do, and have done naturally for thousands of years. It’s trading stuff. People will not (without coercion) buy what they don’t want, and a successful business sells what they do want and locates where they want it to be. Further, a business’ function is to generate a return for its owner.
Anything else can more properly be considered charity. Enforced charity has a very odious track record. An investor forced to choose between operating in an uneconomic way to comply with an OCP, or not investing at all, usually will choose the latter. OCPs can and from time to time should be reviewed and changed. They are not intended to be scripture.
The OCP may well state that certain areas should not be developed until certain thresholds are met, but what if those requirements are actually holding back development? Likewise, does it make sense to use the OCP as a bludgeon to keep financial institutions out of the region where most of us now live, and where a ton of commercial development has already happened?
Personally I agree with Councillor Chapelle that policies like the OCP, once adopted, generally should be adhered to. That is the whole point. But I also think we have to acknowledge and adapt when reality isn’t meeting our expectations.
As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.” Plans can and sometimes should be changed. We should be careful not to kiss off jobs and investment in religious adherence to a vision that may not materialize as we’d hoped.