||4.0 Analysis of the Barriers that Played a Role in the Case Study
4.1 Representation of Research Participants
The information below directly represents what was said in the interviews. The speakers remain anonymous. However, they are designated as a member of one of the following groups: Vancouver City Council, civic staff, Task Force on Atmospheric Change, citizenry at large. In the author's view, the interview participants have spoke frankly about what they perceive to be the barriers to implementation of the Clouds of Change recommendations, and this information has been faithfully transcribed for this thesis. Bear in mind that the purpose of the research is to have those responsible for the implementation of the Clouds of Change report identify in their own words what they perceive the barriers to be. In this respect, all perceptions of barriers are valid, and it is the researcher's impression that the barriers identified by the interviewees did in fact spring from actual as opposed to hypothetical experience.
4.2 The Barriers Identified by Interviewees
When reviewing the barriers list, the reader should bear in mind that it contains only those barriers specifically described as such by the respondents. Other barriers exist which are not cited below such as the existing built environment which inhibits opportunities for new transportation routes. However, let the reader be reminded that the research focusses on political and institutional barriers.
The following list presents only those barriers identified in interviews and not encountered in the literature.
4.2.1 Perceptual/Behavioural Barriers
Lack of Choices. Citizens who want to act in ways that support sustainability find it difficult because they are not in a position to exercise freedom of choice over many issues governing their daily lives. Financial restrictions, limited employment opportunities, and/or family obligations can influence behaviour as much as values and beliefs. Furthermore, in those areas where choices are possible, absence of city policies and infrastructure which facilitate behaviours that support sustainability deter many who would like to engage in them.
Prestige Motive. A person's desire for affirmation or simply acceptance can become a barrier to adopting actions that support sustainability if the acknowledged culture is averse to such action. There is a tendency for individuals not to introduce radical changes for fear of losing support of friends and neighbours. This barrier is especially relevant in a culture that values consumption and attaches prestige to the display of consumption.
Perception of Effectiveness. People think that what they are doing is adequate to cope with the problem, or they think they are being effective in acting towards change, when actually they are not.
Intangible Nature of the Resource. Humans are highly responsive to their sensory capabilities. However, issues which are not directly perceptible through sight, sound, touch or smell seem to generate lesser impacts on the human psyche. Since many aspects of atmospheric change and changes in air quality are not directly perceptible, they tend to be forgotten.
Lack of Championing by the Mayor or City Manager. The Mayor and City Manager are seen as the chief controllers of civic government. Through their actions, they can influence the way in which the rest of City Hall addresses an issue. If they do not perceive that a set of policies should be prioritized, then the rate at which these policies are implemented will be slower than it would be if they were championed.
Lack of Buy-in by Council. The Council decides what issues need attention by the civic departments. When making decisions about issues that affect the City, responsibility lies with them not to contravene city policies. If Council is not supportive of a specific set of policies, their implementation can be undermined by Council decisions.
Lack of Buy-in by Civic Staff. Civic staff research policy impacts and make allowances for their implementation. If civic staff are not supportive of a particular policy, its implementation can be delayed and sometimes prevented.
4.2.2 Institutional/Structural Barriers
Lack of Environmental Non-Government Organizations (ENGOs) The absence of an urban environmental group to advocate issues of concern leaves many policies vulnerable to manipulation by other special interest groups.
Weak Linkages between Government and Civic Departments. When communication is weak between Council and civic departments, cooperation between the two is diminished. Opportunities for problem solving go unnoticed and implementation of policies suffer as a result.
Weak Linkages between Civic Departments and Public. Communication between civic departments and the public provides an opportunity for social learning and improved cooperation towards policy implementation. Weak linkages between these groups often results in frustrated attempts to implement policies which are further undermined by ignorance or special interest groups.
Lack of Cooperation and Information Sharing among Civic Departments. Lack of cooperation and information sharing among civic departments can impede implementation of certain policies. This barrier is closely tied to the segregated, hierarchical structure of civic departments.
Weak Linkages Among the Policies of Civic and Senior Levels of Government. Policies in isolation do not necessarily have a great impact on improving sustainability. Policies created and implemented in coordination produce tremendous impact. Perhaps the weak linkages in environmental policy coordination (i.e. lack of knowledge about the environmental policies that exist in other government agencies and lack of coordination among these different agencies in creating, implementing and enforcing policies) is a result of the compartmentalized structure of government.
Lack of Familiarity with Environmental Policies in Own Department. Lack of familiarity with environmental policies in one's own department may prevent action-taking in specific situations.
Uncertainty about How to Implement New Policies. Examples of policies that have been implemented elsewhere provide an opportunity to identify and accommodate unexpected impacts that policy may have when implemented locally. Such examples also provide implementation strategies. Implementing original policies creates tremendous uncertainty. The work involved in having to generate the kind of information highlighted above is both expensive and time-consuming and thus avoided.
Uncertainty About Whether Specific Policies Need to be Implemented. Uncertainty in the institutional context may be the result of many other factors or barriers such as lack of information about the severity of the problem, differences in perception about how to interpret incoming information, fear of losing constituent support etc. Uncertainty tends to function at the institutional level in the same way that it operates at the personal level, cited under perceptual and behavioural barriers.
4.2.3 Economic/Financial Barriers
Inadequate Resources. Inadequate supply of support staff results in an inability to thoroughly research or implement policy initiatives on schedule.
Unwillingness to Pay More Taxes. Public unwillingness to pay additional taxes, whether stemming from financial limitations or cynicism about government's ability to spend the increases in tax money effectively, restricts opportunities to implement new policies.
Failure to Guarantee Results/Impact. If the desired impacts of a policy recommendation cannot be guaranteed, then chances that action will be taken to implement it are severely reduced. This situation is exacerbated if the results are only expected to occur in the long-term future, yet require financial inputs today.
Lack of a Prioritizing Mechanism. Without a prioritizing mechanism, staff remain uncertain about appropriate budget re-allocations. Spending on initiatives can be mis-allocated to those things which receive a large amount of attention, i.e. the squeaky wheel, but which may not correspondingly be of highest priority to the City.
Fear of Disadvantaging the Poor. Inequity of financial status among citizens leaves certain sectors of the populace vulnerable to hardship by the impacts of some policy initiatives. Where strategies to minimize such vulnerability are not apparent, the policies in question may not be implemented.
4.4 Analysis of the Six Most Commonly Cited Barriers
The six most commonly cited barriers shall be presented first, followed by a discussion of other significant barriers presented in order of their categorical type. Some barriers lend themselves better to discussion under the heading "Conditions that Facilitate Change" and accordingly will be discussed in more detail in chapter five. Under each barrier heading, the number(s) of Clouds of Change recommendations it affected are listed. Where the word "new" appears, reference is being made to a recommendation introduced by the City which has been added to the original Clouds of Change policies (City of Vancouver, 1990b).
The six most commonly cited barriers were: lack of understanding about the issues, perceived lack of empowerment, competing issues, limitation of jurisdiction, inadequate funds, and fear of losing constituent support.
Lack of Understanding About the Issues
This barrier was the most commonly cited among the members of the Task Force on Atmospheric Change. It is a fundamental stumbling block to adopting behaviour that moves society towards sustainability. It is linked to acceptance of the status quo, and manifests itself in two ways: either there is confusion about what constitutes action that supports sustainability, or there is limited understanding of how the consequences of actions contribute to unsustainability.
To illustrate the first case, a Councillor provides the following example:
The initial response to higher density (rec. 16) is that it increases traffic, so people work against it. But higher density is exactly what is needed. The Arbutus Industrial area is in keeping with Clouds of Change, but it was blocked by people who didnt understand this. In fact, they actually used Clouds of Change to argue against it.
Because the links between cause and effect are not always clear, i.e. there is an incomplete feedback loop, those who have a vested interest in defending the status quo find opportunity to resist change.
An example to illustrate the second case occurs with recommendation 26c, the regulation of wood burning, which would affect the use of fireplaces. This recommendation, supported by the Medical Health Officer, was not accepted by Council primarily because the deleterious effects of small particulate matter, generated by such activities, was not yet well understood. Now that such information is being more widely publicized, a reconsideration of recommendation 26c is forthcoming.
The need for improved understanding of the environmental impacts of actions is eloquently revealed by a civic employee:
If you go back to the good farmer, what he understands is that his livelihood depends on what he has; that supports him. If he damages his land, he damages his livelihood. It's a very close connection. Think about this in terms of Marx's theory of alienation: the farther away you get from this connection, the harder it is for you to understand it. Like me for instance, I get into my car in my car port and I get out in the underground parking at work. I don't even need a rain coat. I don't know what the environment is doing. I'm totally alienated from it, so how am I going to be concerned about it?
The scientific materialist paradigm of modern society does not reflect connections to sources of life. In order to begin understanding the issues that are linked to sustainability, there needs to be improved education which re-establishes this connection. This sentiment was supported by Councillors, civic staff, Task Force members and citizens alike.
However, education alone will not be the solution. The economic structures which influence decisions must also be adapted to reflect this increased understanding. As a civic employee explained:
Market failure is what you have... The externalities of pollution have to be internalized so that they become a part of business decisions. That's done by a variety of means... you regulate, you make people responsible for the outcome of their actions, e.g. manufactures have to be responsible for disposing of their packaging.
The preceding observations indicate an awareness of the problems created by incomplete feedback loops, and their affect on people's behaviour. The ideas put forward by the interviewees to overcome the problems are not new, yet despite their inherent sense, other barriers are preventing their implementation.
Perceived Lack of Empowerment
This barrier was cited by all the groups. It illustrates the way beliefs affect actions. In government, there are beliefs that i) ability to affect consumptive behaviour is limited because it is entrenched in cultural values; ii) the City is able to implement symbolic measures, but actions that will result in meaningful change can only be implemented by senior levels of government; and iii) political attempts to bring about change are secondary in impact to those of technological improvement. These perceptions prevent dedicated action because people believe results will not be forthcoming. In this respect, perceived lack of empowerment contributes to lack of political will (LPW) because government workers' enthusiasm for implementing the recommendations is dampened, especially in the face of obstacles such as limitation of jurisdiction. Perceived lack of empowerment, therefore, creates the paradoxical situation of a governing body which is unmotivated to bring about the changes it desires. Thus, perceived lack of empowerment is a barrier which reinforces acceptance of the status quo.
From a citizen's perspective, perceived lack of empowerment is a learnt perception. When asked whether people had attempted to persuade government to move faster in implementing the report's recommendations, the following types of sentiments were most commonly heard:
I directed correspondence to civic staff and politicians and received encouragement, but I don't feel it had any impact. Since that time, I've focussed my energy elsewhere, where I'd have more impact.
The responses to my queries have been very noncommittal.
You feel like you're beating your head against a stone wall. The City is not forthcoming in the rationale for the decisions they make... Some public participation processes I've been to, you really get the feeling that the planners have already made their decision. They stare at you, don't respond, walk out while your talking. The average citizen over time gets worn down and wonders what's the use.
These comments illustrate how experiences build perceptions which then negatively affect citizen's behaviour, influencing many to opt out of participating in civic governance.
Improved accountability and detailed responses to citizens' questions, along with better advertisement about the availability of government reports regarding policy initiatives would help minimize the frustration citizens feel. It would also help diminish the perception that the government is not making a bonafide effort to move forward on environmental policy initiatives.
Competing issues was the most commonly cited barrier among civic employees. Limited city resources force Councillors and civic staff to make value based decisions on which issues are the most important to address. Comparing the urgency of a broad spectrum of issues such as housing, crime, drinking water, etc., in addition to that of air quality is difficult. Competing issues can undermine action-taking if air quality is not perceived as a priority by some decision-makers. One Councillor made the following statement: "the general economy, housing pressures and zoning changes are senior issues that we deal with first." Even if there is concern, uncertainty about future impacts of poor air quality biases decisions against the allocation of resources to address this issue. Accommodating new policy initiatives requires trade-offs that affect existing programmes. Investing in air quality means appropriating money from other programmes. Unless the benefits of re-allocating the money are clearly visible, there is little incentive to do it. As one civic employee pointed out, "sometimes when you get down to the actual decisions, you realize that clean air for police safety is not always an acceptable trade-off." This statement illustrates how short-term issues with complete feedback loops inhibit initiatives to deal with long-term sustainability issues. Government may want to pursue both types of issues in principle, but in practice the issues of short-term, i.e. those whose impacts will be felt first, take precedence.
Competing issues is a factor in what is commonly cited as lack of political will because conflicting policies slow the progress government can make in any one policy direction. A Council member explains:
Debates arise over conflicting policies. One calls for keeping costs under control, the other calls for improving air quality which will add costs to the government's budget.
Public opinion tends to observe policy initiatives in isolation. There is an expectation that policies will be implemented as outlined. When this does not happen, inaction is rationalized as being caused by lack of political will.
Government could do more to communicate to citizens how existing policies impede new initiatives. The need for this type of communication is discussed further under the heading: Weak Linkages between Government and its Constituents.
Civic staff commonly cited inadequate funds in connection with competing issues. The combination of these two barriers function as a major component of lack of political will. The public calls upon the municipal government to address a host of issues. As one citizen pointed out, "the public's attention is constantly shifting: yesterday it was the environment, today it is the economy, tomorrow it will be crime." These shifts in public attention result in new Council initiatives. However, with limited financial and personnel resources, civic employees find it difficult to apportion an optimum amount of energy and resources to the many issues they confront. As a result, few of the initiatives are implemented with the level of thoroughness originally intended. Failure to produce the expected results fuels public cynicism of government integrity.
The problems related to inadequate funds are exacerbated without a prioritization mechanism in place to aid civic departments with choices in funding allocations.
Fear of Losing Constituent Support
Sensitivity to constituents' needs and/or desire for re-election can affect the decisions of Councillors. In such circumstances, decisions that would upset a particular group of voters may be avoided. When asked whether Council perceives its role as the leaders, motivators, and shapers of public behaviour, or as the servants of public will, a Councillor gave the following answer:
It's difficult. Politicians are elected to represent the interests of the people who put them there, and so, you're always trying to balance the interests of a local neighbourhood with the broader, general public interest. It takes a real struggle with yourself and your colleagues in Council. This question was asked when debating the Marpole high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane (rec. 12a). However, the final outcome was based on a political interest.
Government's "fear of displeasing someone and desire to please all" can inhibit opportunities to strike a balance, for the benefit of the public, between local and regional concerns. The result is the "tyranny of small decisions." When asked how often localized interest groups, also known as NIMBY groups, sway Council decisions away from their long-term goals, a Councillor answered "often." A second Councillor explains that "merchants vote, greater causes don't... The general public will forget this decision, but the merchants won't."
The Marpole example illustrates how need-meeting behaviours, pursued by individuals, can affect the outcome of government actions. It also demonstrates how several barriers function in combination. In addition to fear of losing constituent support, uncertainty played a role because Councillors were not convinced the lane would contribute significantly to reduced air pollution. Hesitations about implementing the HOV lane were strengthened further by citizens who were not supportive of the recommendations (representing the barrier citizens disunited about their vision of sustainability). As the first Councillor who spoke illustrates:
A further complication is the issue of values. You may ask yourself 'what is in the interest of the broader, general public,' but your answer may vary according to your values and belief system. For example, some people may say implementing the HOV lanes is clearly in the public's best interest, and perhaps from an environmental perspective this is true. On the other hand, someone who is oriented around economic measures could argue that continuing to support local economic development, even in a very isolated case, somehow contributes to the benefit of the public. So it's a value decision, which leaves it wide open.
Several Councillors acknowledged that had an ENGO been present to lobby Council on behalf of the "greater causes," the decision could have been reversed, in favour of the HOV lane. Such acknowledgement substantiates Castells' observation, from chapter two, that change is initiated by groups and that governments are simply the "instruments of social bargaining" between such groups (Castells, 1983, 294).
Another manifestation of fear of losing constituent support is that it can affect the content of reports written by civic employees. In this context, this barrier reinforces acceptance of the status quo and is stimulated by the prestige motive. Prestige motive represents a need for acceptance which shapes individual behaviour on a daily basis. One department head explained that perceived public opinion often conditions the tone of reports:
Perceived opinions of the public have more impact on political decisions than reality. Bureaucrats are also sensitive to public opinion and take this into consideration when writing their reports. Politicians must be careful of data they receive from bureaucrats... Bureaucrats should take positions, and politicians should challenge those positions. Too often politicians simply accept bureaucrats' words.
The dilemma caused by fear of losing constituent support for a civic employee is as follows: it is important that "people in the know be willing to speak out and not be cowed by contrary perceptions." However, "the fear comes from the backlash of displeasing people; it is easier to straddle the fence and try to please, or at least not offend anybody." As a result, policy recommendations which would introduce radical change, even if the interests of sustainability call for it, are avoided.
Limitation of Jurisdiction
Limitation of jurisdiction was recognized as a fundamental barrier among Councillors and civic staff. The general perception was that the City was making progress on most of the recommendations except for those which lay outside of its jurisdiction. The Toronto example of a city penalized for taking action outside its realm of authority deters Vancouver from tempting a similar fate (City of Vancouver, 1991, 2).
The City must lobby senior levels of government to either delegate power so that it can take action, or urge the senior government to use their authority to take action themselves. This type of lobbying follows strict protocol and, as a Council member points out, is itself a barrier. For the most part, lobbying is reduced to letter writing or, at best, a personal meeting between the Mayor and the Provincial Minister under whose jurisdiction the issue of concern lies. If the request is denied, the City is offered no form of recourse to appeal the decision. However, it may attempt the same request the following year. Lobbying is described by a civic employee as follows:
The lobbying role becomes very nominal. Somebody writes a letter, the Mayor signs it, and off it goes to the appropriate Minister. The Minister replies with excuses and that's that. There is a 'not my job' phenomenon when it comes to lobbying. Nobody will be re-elected or defeated based on their ability to lobby other jurisdictions. The municipal government must provide basic services to its constituents. Lobbying senior governments is not pursued with great conviction.
This statement illuminates the role of need-meeting behaviours which stimulate Councillors and civic staff to operate in a narrowly defined capacity. A complete feedback loop exists for issues such as: the supply of water; and the maintenance of roads, sewers and street lights. Citizens would immediately notice and complain if these things were not provided. However, whether the municipality lobbies senior governments goes unnoticed to a large extent because it does not affect citizens' ability to meet their daily needs. The same employee goes on to say that:
The only time lobbying is effective is when the Mayor has a personal conviction that something needs to be done. When government works with the appropriate Ministers, then things get done. But, both sides of this equation have to be committed.
Efforts to overcome limitation of jurisdiction are undermined by fear of losing constituent support, competing issues, and lack of championing by the Mayor. However, this should not imply that effective lobbying did not take place. In some cases, the City was successful in having its requests fulfilled. Nevertheless, it illustrates a general weakness in the governance structure. This will be addressed in more detail under the headings: Inappropriate Structure of Government and Weak Linkages Among the Policies of Civic and Senior Levels of Government.
When the City is successful in having power delegated, a host of problems may ensue. The Province may not delegate enough power to allow the City the breadth of authority necessary to implement a policy effectively. For example, the City was successful in gaining some power to regulate trees on private lots (rec. 28). However, the terms under which such regulation may take place is so restrictive that the City finds its extended jurisdiction to be almost useless. A civic employee explains:
The City may now require replacement trees for ones that are over eight inches in diameter that have been cut for development purposes. However, this regulatory power does not address concern for the preservation of old trees. There is no regulatory power to ensure that replanted trees receive adequate bedding preparation, and once occupancy permits are issued, there is nothing stopping people from removing these trees for other reasons.
Because of the poorly constructed nature of this legislation, Council was recommended not to move forward on this initiative. The same frustrated civic employee had these comments to make about the role of perception and lack of understanding about the issues:
The Province may not appreciate the administration difficulties encountered by the municipality. There is a perception that a number of municipalities cannot handle discretionary legislation. This may be justified because of B.C.'s resilient frontier mentality. In urban centres such as Vancouver we tend to be more enlightened, but the Province is hesitant to give away fundamental private property rights.
This example speaks strongly of the need for improved communication among the different levels of government. The precise range of powers required by the City must be clearly understood by the delegating authority.
A second stumbling block relates to lack of jurisdiction at the GVRD level. Because many transportation issues involve neighbouring municipalities, and because the GVRD has authority over air quality, Council passed the responsibility for implementing several Clouds of Change recommendations to the regional level. However, the GVRD has no planning authority, nor does it have authority over regional transportation services. As a result, it is poorly equipped to implement many of the recommendations which seem appropriate to it. This aspect of limitation of jurisdiction is directly applicable to inappropriate structure of government.
Limitation of jurisdiction, when not understood by the public, contributes to public perception of lack of political will. Improved communication between government and its constituents could diminish the role this barrier plays in generating public cynicism about government's willingness to adopt actions that support sustainability.
4.5 Analysis of Some Additional Barriers
In addition to the most commonly cited barriers, there are others which play a significant role in impeding government's ability to take action. The analysis reveals connections between barriers and the reader may chose to follow these paths rather than read about each barrier in sequence.
Overwhelming Complexity of the Issue
As one Task Force member observed, society's current problem solving models are very good at solving linear problems, but not good at addressing complex systems. Unless politicians feel threatened by not taking immediate action, there is a strong tendency to avoid issues of complexity. The feedback loops are incomplete in many cases, and uncertainty about future outcomes and fear of losing constituent support reinforce the tendency to avoid. Regarding the Clouds of Change recommendations, a civic employee explains that: "when getting into the myriad of trade-offs that would have to be made if we decided to implement some of the recommendations, Council shied away because they didn't want to deal with all of the problems it would induce."
The Task Force member states:
Fundamentally, our lack of social and political will (to take action) comes from the fact that we have effectively separated the consequences from our actions... Technology has allowed us to make such vast differences that even on a global scale it allows us to dissociate consequence from action. We are very good at tracking linear systems in terms of cause and effect, but when it comes to complex systems we fall apart... Lack of political will is simply short hand for the difficulty we have with complex systems.
One can think of a complex system as either:
1) Multiple causes - single effect. An example is the many factors that contribute to global warming, or
2) Single cause - multiple effect. An example is the many consequences of using CFCs such as stratospheric ozone depletion, and enhanced green-house effect.
Several civic staff commented that the length of the report and the breadth of its recommendations left them feeling overwhelmed. If the report had been limited to two or three priority recommendations they would have been able to concentrate on getting them done.
Uncertainty proved to be a major barrier with respect to taking some of the more dramatic actions called for in Clouds of Change. Without proof that negative ecological consequences will ensue if the status quo is maintained, there is little incentive to act in ways that will inconvenience certain segments of the populace. One citizen stated that:
There is lack of leadership from government and its agencies in promoting change because they don't seem capable of making choices... They waffle in uncertainty instead of just making a choice. Furthermore, lobbyists who benefit from the status quo work to maintain uncertainty.
Decision-makers are exposed to tremendous amounts of information and it is not always easy to tell which sources are reliable and accurate and which are simply manipulating data to serve a particular agenda. Increasing uncertainty in today's information era is not because of lack of information, but because of its excess. Information is to a large extent an unregulated enterprise, and this creates problems. One councillor described the situation in the following terms:
Modern technology allows increased access to information manipulation: docudramas, infomercials, photographs that are computer altered. It becomes increasingly difficult to tell anymore (what is true) with so many people operating at different levels of reality. And it is only going to get more complicated. As technology becomes readily available to more and more people, it means they can manipulate information with extraordinary sophistication.
This situation parallels Huibert De Man's observation that crisis in the institutional/political system results from a lack of responsiveness to the changes taking place in the world of the constituency. Lack of response can be caused by such things as "the cognitive limitations of decision-makers, the information overload on channels of communication and vested interests" (1988, 24).
Perhaps it is time to think carefully about how society utilizes, generates and transmits information. From a technical perspective, we've only just begun to unleash the possibilities of data processing and transmission, witness the most recently talked about "information super-highway." However, how much of this data is a person, or institution, able to convert into useful knowledge? This social aspect of information management is arguably being left far behind.
Lack of Choices
While this barrier does not necessarily impede government's ability to take action, it does affect the success with which policy initiatives are implemented. As governments grapple with the issue of influencing citizens' behaviour through policy implementation, it is very important to observe a key point. Some policies fail despite their inherent logic because they assume citizens have a greater range of choices available to them than they actually do. For example, creating town centres so that people have the opportunity to work close to home influences only those citizens who are in a position to choose either their work location or place of residence. Often citizens are in a position to choose neither; they may be locked into a mortgage, reside in an area for the benefit of their children, e.g. extended family close by, or are unable to leave their place of employment without incurring severe career setbacks in terms of loss of seniority and/or income. Such factors cause need-meeting behaviours which keep citizens commuting around town despite policies that facilitate centralized living.
A common criticism of the report was that "the report doesn't address the trade-offs, or offer adaptation strategies for trade-offs, or recognize choice restrictions of the people for whom the policy is being designed." Some Clouds of Change recommendations would have been more useful if the policies were designed from the perspective of citizens living with very restricted choices. One citizen commented that:
The report looked too heavily at penalties and seized too easily on a scapegoat - the car. It should have looked more at where people live and where they work and why are they in cars. What would get them out? We must pay attention to people's limited choices and what is imposed upon them, e.g. bad suburban - city transit.
Creating opportunities to live close to work is fundamental, but this must be supported by initiatives which enable people to meet their daily needs in ways that support sustainability. The focus should be on creating supplemental policies that facilitate choice in the face of the restrictions cited above. This opens opportunities for people who would like them.
By creating and facilitating choices, government begins to work at the tremendous task of shifting behaviour. In a discussion about penalizing automobile use, a Councillor points out:
You cannot just make it difficult for people without providing choice alternatives because people will just get increasingly frustrated, but they won't change their behaviour because they have no alternatives. Therefore you need to give them options.
Although people cannot be forced to do things, it is possible to influence behaviour by creating alternatives and encouraging their use. Imposing penalties is one side of the coin, the more difficult task is making it easy for people to change in a world that historically has been designed for unsustainable living.
Differences in Perception
The attitude of the department head has a tremendous influence both on the culture of her/his department and on Council. A Councillor states:
The directors are here for a long time. They control information, and therefore, they set the agenda for their department. Council is at their mercy, or can be. Their philosophical bent and their objectives set the tone. When they match those of Council it's great, but when they don't, friction exists. Bureaucrats can undermine Council's attempts. They can package information in terms of their own bias.
This comment is significant in light of the fact that none of the department heads interviewed perceived atmospheric problems as an extremely serious threat, whereas fifty percent of Councillors did (Appendix C, question 7). In fact, the point was raised several times that air quality in Vancouver is actually getting better not worse thanks to reduced industrial activity. The fact that surrounding municipalities' air quality is deteriorating due to the migration of pollutants originating in Vancouver was not identified as a primary concern of the City.
Differences in perception create difficulties for interdepartmental initiatives. Some departments see other issues as priorities and direct staff's time to deal with these issues first. For example, one department head made the following comment:
There are always a lot of things that have to be done, so people just keep postponing those things that don't have to be done immediately... We haven't done them (recommendations) for the first hundred years, so do they have to be done this year?
As a result, establishing funding, scheduling meetings and coordinating people to do the work becomes difficult.
Differences in perception can create frustration within a department as well. One employee remarked:
We don't always follow Clouds of Change. We bow to certain market forces... (We say) that's the way market pressures are, Council wants it, so who are we to fight? A lot of this depends on the personality of the department heads and what they believe and see as their role. There are staff who try to change directors' beliefs, but it takes a combination of personality and a particular interest to do it.
Several civic employees agreed with the following sentiment:
The bureaucratic structure prevents line staff from moving without management consent... However, the line staff are much more receptive to environmental ideas than management.
Staff who share this sentiment feel they can affect their superior's attitudes with "gentle prodding," but there is no guarantee that their suggestions will be heeded.
What is interesting to note is the perception among staff that some directors cater too much to Council's wishes. This contrasts the perspective of some Councillors who feel the opposite is true. Thus compliance and non-compliance with perceptions of Council can be seen as a barrier to taking action in support of sustainability.
Interestingly, this barrier was not identified by Councillors. Prestige motive is closely linked to acceptance of the status quo. Cultural norms inherited from past decades of sanctified consumption continue to define the aspirations of many citizens (Rees, 1994d, 19). As a result, civic employees feel their efforts to induce changes that support sustainability are frustrated by public desires to maintain high levels of consumption in their daily lives. Activities which reduce personal consumption are therefore resented, as two highly appointed civic employees describe:
We are not a transit conditioned society. Taking the bus is seen as something negative, something you do because you cannot afford a car.
We are still psychologically and economically wedded to the car.
Information about problems that result from maintaining unsustainable behaviour seems insufficient to overcome this barrier unless it is presented in an emotional context that appeals to people's need to feel good about themselves. Furthermore, perceived inequity undermines efforts to change unless policies are also in place to provide incentives for those who take up the challenge of adopting ecologically considerate behaviour.
Acceptance of the Status Quo
Acceptance of the status quo restricts the willingness of decision-makers to examine new options and new directions for the development of the City. It instills a rigidity of thinking that accommodates existing unsustainable development. There is mild adaptation, but no change in direction. Initiatives that require citizens to give up existing conveniences are avoided because of fear of losing constituent support and fear of disadvantaging the poor. This barrier is also linked to perceived lack of empowerment because those in government do not believe they can change public preferences.
The public's acceptance of the status quo is most often linked to lack of understanding about the issues. A civic employee points out a common dilemma:
It is difficult to get members of the public thinking about atmospheric change as a forefront issue when they are concerned with maintaining the look and feel of the old neighbourhood, which means low density and no mixed uses.
A department head observes that:
Changes are difficult to introduce because they require behaviour change. People aren't willing to accept restrictions on what they believe are their basic rights.
As long as people believe that the "good life" is synonymous with high consumption, initiatives to reduce consumptive behaviour will be resisted.
That being the case, acceptance of the status quo becomes linked to the overwhelming complexity of the issues, because trying to introduce change to existing structures and attitudes may release a series of uncomfortable consequences. There appears to be little incentive to examine ways to provide citizens with opportunities to meet their daily needs with the same level of convenience they presently enjoy but in a way that supports sustainability. Instead of looking at ways to reduce automobile dependency in the long-run, there is a tendency to simply accept its presence and to continue planning for it. Councillors, civic employees and citizens alike expressed the following sentiments:
It's simply not realistic to expect anyone to bicycle in from Surrey.
Anyone who thinks we are going to get rid of the car is completely naive.
Sentiments such as these restrict possibilities for change by keeping the planning horizon limited to established transportation patterns. As a citizen observes:
We seem to park our brains... Everything we are doing is still catering to the automobile. There is no long range thinking for ecology. We are still thinking in the past when the environment could absorb a lot of additional pollution.
Perception of Effectiveness
Of those interviewed in government, fifty percent of Councillors, fifty percent of S.O.E. staff, plus fifty-five percent of civic staff felt appropriate progress was being made in implementing Clouds of Change recommendations (Appendix C, question 1). This contrasts the eighty-two percent of citizens and eighty-eight percent of Task Force members who felt progress was too slow.
A common observation among the dissatisfied was that cosmetic adjustments, such as "posting bicycle route signs," were being used as examples of progress. Symbolic measures which cure "eco-guilt" but fail to produce significant impacts, can raise public awareness about environmental issues. However, such actions can also have severe negative impacts. Government support of symbolic measures absorbs money which could have been spent on actions that directly contribute to sustainability, such as "imposing ride-share programmes on large employers." Incomplete feedback loops allow false perceptions of effectiveness to persist.
Perceptions of effectiveness can also terminate implementation efforts. For example, the 1992 Special Office for the Environment status report on Clouds of Change defines a recommendation as complete or "essentially complete" if "staff have reported back to Council and Council has adopted recommendations," meaning their suggestions (City of Vancouver, 1992, 2). Thus, recommendations recorded as being completed include the urban forests initiative (rec. 28) and the proposed traffic management bylaw (rec. 9). However, if the reader refers to the barrier headings Limitation of Jurisdiction and Weak Linkages Among the Policies of Civic and Senior Levels of Government, one sees that the goals set out by these recommendations have not been achieved.
It is not only government whose self-perception of effectiveness is open to question. Civic employees often used the example of recycling glass to illustrate how citizens take part in symbolic actions, but do not realize their ineffectiveness. They may feel that they "have done their duty." Such personal satisfaction frees them to go about the rest of their activities with an attitude of complacency, largely because they do not realize the more destructive activities they engage in, such as driving single occupant vehicles, using cooling systems that still contain CFCs, etc.
Fear of losing constituent support combined with the public's lack of understanding are barriers to the reallocation of government funds away from symbolic measures and toward more progressive actions. Government sponsored information campaigns, or the information dissemination services of an ENGO, could help break false perceptions of effectiveness.
This barrier is closely linked to lack of choices. Many of the restrictions named in that section serve as the penalties citizens endure if they choose to act in ecologically considerate ways. One citizen expressed his frustrations as follows:
Why should I be penalized for buying ethanol blended gas by having to pay more for it. I should be getting a discount.
Although the cost of producing ethanol blended gas may warrant its expense, it serves as a barrier to its use. Since there is currently not enough emphasis on developing policies that help citizens overcome the bothersome aspects of changing their behaviour, they tend to feel discouraged in their attempts to support sustainable development.
This barrier reveals how negative feedback loops discourage behaviour change and encourage existing need-meeting behaviours which do not support sustainability.
The most common phrase used by politicians and civic employees to describe the way government operates was "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." This statement illustrates the profound effect attention pressure has on action-taking. The squeakiest wheel is not always the most important one, yet the current structure of government allows it to receive the most attention. This phenomenon is reinforced by inappropriate structure of government (political term) and fear of losing constituent support.
At the municipal level, departmental staff and Councillors often find themselves catering to the demands of those concerned with minor issues. This creates a dilemma for many civic employees who are confronted with the following question:
What's more important, dealing with an outraged citizen screaming at your counter or dealing with the stack of reports you must review for a long-range plan?
Yet the dilemma was documented nearly twenty years ago using the following analogy:
Yates points out that the process of determining the problems that require the attention of the municipal policy maker is rather like being in a shooting gallery. 'Like the urban policy maker, the shooting gallery player has far more targets than he can possibly hit, and they keep popping up in different places or revolving around and around in front of him.' The player is constantly reacting to a new target (problem), and is conscious of the fact that firing at any one target (dealing with any one problem) means letting most of the others go by until the next time. Given the need to react quickly and to deal with such a variety of targets, the player is likely to rely on reflexes more than any considered plan of action (Yates in Tindal and Tindal, 1984, 191).
The problem is that municipal government structure has not adapted itself to deal with ecological problems that extend past the realm of specific, short-term issues. Ashby's law of requisite variety states that the administrational framework must mimic the structures and/or mechanisms of that which it is trying to manage (Beer, 1979, 89; Boothroyd, 1992, 151). The institutional framework of government does not have the requisite variety necessary to meet the demands of the environment. To deal with attention pressure, one suggestion is that two groups be established in every department, or division: one to deal with the immediate pressures, and one to deal with long-term issues. Such a system would enable government to deal with the conflict between short-term, usually localized issues, and long-term, more broadly based issues.
This barrier is associated with inappropriate structure of government and is reinforced by lack of a prioritization mechanism. Many participants in the research identified the need for a system of prioritization of Council goals and simultaneously a mechanism to help Council stick to these goals even in the face of attention pressure.
Lack of Championing by the Mayor or City Manager
Although recognized as an important issue, Clouds of Change has not been singled out as a priority over existing initiatives. It was perceived as a well championed document within the City, but many research participants felt it should have been championed more at senior levels of government, specifically the GVRD. Analysis of the barrier Limitation of Jurisdiction reveals that lobbying of senior governments is not pursued with great vigor because in most cases it does not meet the immediate needs of civic officials to manage the City. One civic associate director believes that championing could have resulted in a bigger budget for public education which was a needed, yet for the most part, overlooked recommendation. Although some would contest that the GVRD was lobbied to take up the recommendations suited to it, and the Clouds of Change report informed GVRD policies, there still appears to be a lack of integration and coordination of efforts among the differing levels of government to implement civic policies. The need for improved communication and coordination of policy initiatives among the different levels of government is discussed in more detail under the heading Weak Linkages Among the Policies of Civic and Senior Levels of Government.
Sensitivity to the stresses already being placed on civic employees to complete other types of work also plays a factor in Mayoral and City Manager leniency with staff in terms of meeting Clouds of Change deadlines.
Lack of a Catalytic Personality
The role of the catalytic personality was regularly identified by research participants as a crucial component to action-taking. Regarding initiatives which require senior government support, one Councillor observes:
If you can't get a champion of your project in Victoria, it won't go anywhere... Victoria deals with a lot of issues... If something doesn't require, or demand, a lot of attention, it won't get anywhere.
Considering municipal issues, another Councillor makes a similar observation:
If somebody (staff or elected official) takes responsibility and champions the issue, then you get results. Otherwise nothing happens, and competing issues win out. Someone needs to say, I'm going to keep this on the agenda, I'm going to ask for reports, I'm going to constantly bring it up in meetings.
Many citizens identified Gordon Price as a Councillor who promotes action-taking on the part of Council to address ecological concerns. He is seen as a champion of the Clouds of Change report. However, catalytic personalities among civic employees were not identified. This does not mean that such individuals do not exist. When the originally established Special Office for the Environment (SOE) disintegrated, it was thanks to the efforts of such individuals that the office was revived.
Differences in perception and the rigidly enforced hierarchical structure of departments inhibits civic employees who are responsible for environmental issues from speaking publicly on policy initiatives or acting as advocates. Such suppression contributes to public perceptions that the government is not concerned with environmental issues. Furthermore, allowing such individuals more opportunity to liaise with advocacy groups who are concerned with particular policy initiatives would contribute to improved communication links between government and its constituents and facilitate action-taking on the part of the whole community towards achieving sustainability.
Several citizens identified the role of academics as catalysts. However, it is felt that their potential to facilitate change is largely under-utilized because of their absence from citizen run demonstrations. Such absence contributes to feelings of lack of empowerment among citizens, as is illustrated by the following observation:
(Academics) are separated. They don't get down in the trenches with the masses who are waving placards and protesting. People with a lot of credibility, who are established in their fields, need to get out and show up at the rallies and demonstrations.
Lack of Buy-in by Council
Civic staff saw Council as strong champions of the report. However, from a citizen's perspective, a commonly cited barrier to taking action was lack of political will. This is a term which is used to encompass a broad range of factors. The research indicates that lack of political will stems from: uncertainty, lack of awareness about the issues, competing issues, overwhelming complexity, inadequate funds, inadequate resources, limitation of jurisdiction, differences in perception, fear of losing constituent support, acceptance of the status quo and lack of a prioritization mechanism. These barriers affect the need-meeting behaviours of Councillors in ways that discourage action-taking in support of sustainability.
Lack of Buy-in by Civic Staff
A common theme among civic employees was frustration over the way the report was handed down to them. Many civic staff feel overwhelmed by the demands of the community and Council. They felt the Clouds of Change report was simply "dumped on them." The pressures of competing issues, overwhelming complexity, perceived lack of empowerment and inadequate funds contributed to lack of civic staff buy-in, and one department head went as far as saying:
Most departments tried to get rid of their Clouds of Change responsibilities and get on with the real world. There were too many; they were too broad; there was no cost consideration. To be effective you need a list of the top three things that need to be done and make sure they are doable... If you want to solve problems, take things for which there are solutions and start working on them first.
Frustrations with the short deadlines and problematic wording of some recommendations were common. For example, recommendation number one, asking for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to 1988 levels by the year 2005, creates frustration because "no one even knows what these 1988 levels were." Other frustrations were expressed over the fact that not enough attention was paid to the Vancouver context. In some instances, the City had already achieved what was suggested in a recommendation; as a result the recommendation was understandably not pursued. Examples are converting the city fleet to alternative fuels (rec. 30ai), and adopting the use of smaller vehicles. One civic employee points out that the report took bylaws from other places and super-imposed them on Vancouver... for example, using the California model bylaw without recognizing that Vancouver's existing policies already achieve higher public transportation use... This is not always the best approach.
Examples such as the ones cited left staff feeling alienated from the report. Many civic employees would have liked an opportunity to comment on the recommendations and discuss implementation strategies with the Task Force members prior to the report's final drafting. They believe such a process would have facilitated its implementation.
Although limitation of jurisdiction has resulted in lack of implementation as well, most civic employees did not resent this aspect because they felt that requiring the City to lobby senior levels of government would contribute to heightened awareness of the issues. Some expressed the opinion that having a citizen's task force produces stronger recommendations than those created by an in-house process. On the other hand, it does not facilitate implementation of the recommendations, unless there are workshops with civic employees to improve awareness of the issues, discuss the nature of the recommendations, and discuss implementation strategies and necessary trade-offs.
Citizens Disunitied/Not supportive
Council members and civic employees found this barrier to be the most frustrating with regard to taking action that supports sustainability. It is linked to citizens' lack of understanding about the issues, differences in perception, disjunction between what citizens are willing to verbally support and what they are actually willing to do, lack of understanding about action roles and perceived inequity.
Citizen groups tend to mobilize around issues which directly affect them regardless of the issue's role in the greater context of urban planning. Citizens' unwillingness to accommodate change prevents action-taking by government, especially when it is reinforced by the barriers: fear of losing constituent support and inappropriate structure of government (political term). It contributes to frustration and perceived lack of empowerment on the part of Council, the results of which are described by a Councillor as follows:
Politicians are being pummeled by the public with a kind of arguable cynicism. Well, it is creating a cynicism in turn on the part of politicians. This is not a healthy relationship.
Information is often not an adequate tool to gain citizen support. Fear of economic and social impacts motivate citizens to resist change in their neighbourhoods. Several civic employees and some Councillors suggested that the City should consider compensation packages to those citizens who will be negatively affected by policy initiatives. It is hoped that the CityPlan process will help resolve some of the problems that spring from this barrier.
Media's Presentation of Information
Not everyone agreed that the media's presentation of information or lack thereof acted as a barrier. There were some who felt the media was doing an adequate job, but a majority of interviewed citizens and highly appointed civic officials felt the media did not research stories thoroughly, nor did they present information to the public in a comprehensive and thought provoking manner. One Council member commented that the "media shapes people to be politically stuporous. Therefore, they remain politically ignorant." A citizen observes that "papers today don't support ecological educators. The media works to suppress cooperative, leadership tendencies among the public." The results of this problem are summarized by a civic employee who states:
As a society, we are moving away from talking about ideas. Now we talk in slogans. The media doesn't force us to think issues through in their full complexity. Thus, we are now getting policies driven by slogan orientation... They (media) are irresponsible. They are not doing their job to effectively transmit to the public what is happening. Accuracy in the media stories is not there. The media have a vital role in the democratic process and they are blowing it.
This aspect of media coverage on environmental issues inhibits action-taking by reinforcing the barriers: lack of understanding about the issues and acceptance of the status quo. It allows scientific materialist values to remain unchallenged as society moves further down the path of unsustainable development. One Councillor made this observation: "the local issues of less global importance get media attention. That's how Clouds of Change issues get lost."
It should be noted that the media is not being accused of failing to address environmental issues. Reams of articles regarding air pollution and atmospheric change have been generated over the past years; however, what is lacking is an analysis of issues and government policies so that citizens know what is being done, not being done, and why. Coverage of government reports which document the difficulties governments face in implementing policies and the rationale behind their decisions are almost entirely lacking. There are exceptions to this observation, but they are too few and far between to serve the purpose of keeping the citizenry well informed.
Complaints such as those voiced by the research participants reflect a dilemma regarding the business of information management. Precisely because it is a business, run for profit, the media tends to operate on a mandate that caters to public consumption preferences (Downs, 1972, 42; Herman and Chomsky, 1988). It thus serves as an instrument which reinforces scientific materialist values.
Disjunction Between what People are Willing to Verbally Support and what they are Actually Willing to Do (35h)
This barrier was commonly cited as one that undermines the successful implementation of policy initiatives. It is the more broadly based reflection of the barrier titled citizens disunited/not supportive. Disjunction between what people say and do exists primarily because there is a separation between what people believe and what they need. This separation can also be expressed as the difference between societal values and personal values. Societal "values tend to sound good and noble on the surface. Consequently, people can verbally state that they have a value even though that value has no impact on their behaviour" (Hultman, 1979, 29). People behave according to their personal values, i.e. those activities which meet their needs (Hultman, 1979, 25). Certain needs may be fulfilled by behaviours which support sustainability, but others may not. Perceived inequity, prestige motive, and financial gain motive contribute to behaviours which do not support sustainability and thus reinforce the problem of disjunction between words and actions.
A common frustration heard by Councillors and civic staff is that "everyone says they would support transit, car pooling, etc., but when it comes time to do it, or time to pay, they don't." What results is a type of cynicism among government employees who feel that there is no widespread public support for their efforts. In turn, cynicism grows amongst the general public who feel government is not sincere about implementing environmental policies. A Task Force member helped give insight to this barrier with the following comments:
People blame politicians without recognizing their own responsibilities as lobbyists. They blame politicians out of laziness. They want someone else to tackle what is hard and complex to do.
This observation illustrates how this barrier is reinforced by lack of understanding about action roles and lack of choices.
Lack of Information Sharing
This barrier is primarily concerned with the difficulty of integrating scientific knowledge with political decisions. Although this problem exists at all levels of government, most research participants who identified lack of information sharing as a barrier used the GVRD when giving examples.
There is a perception that because air quality lies within the GVRD's mandate, it is capable of dealing with the issue. However, in addition to the problems already created by limitation of jurisdiction, lack of information sharing is a barrier to action-taking because GVRD decision-makers are elected officials who do not specialize in air quality issues. It has long been an accepted fact that elected decision-makers view recommendations about how to proceed on a particular issue against a backdrop of public opinion. When sensitivity to public opinion is given precedence over scientific fact, the possibility of making sound decisions based on ecological need is put at risk. Despite the existence of an air quality advisory committee, there is skepticism regarding how much information is actually shared between it and the political decision-makers. One research participant makes the following observation:
The GVRD is incapable of addressing air quality issues because it is made up of municipal politicians who don't understand the issues... The air quality committee has some informed people, but then they are insulated from the decision-makers... The head of the GVRD didn't want the committee to discuss policy issues. The committee asked that policy issues be addressed and the GVRD never let it get on the politicians' agenda.
The difficulty of addressing environmental issues vis-a-vis other political concerns is one that must be examined further. Information is impotent unless it is used.
Lack of an ENGO
Certainly, the complaints of local agencies who might be negatively impacted by the implementation of a Council initiative must be heeded and weighted into the final decision. However, examples exist where such weighting seems to heavily favour localized interest groups, at the expense of taking action that supports sustainability and the benefit of the general public. For example, the decision not to implement the Marpole HOV lane was described by one Councillor as follows:
The politics intervened and really was the deciding factor... I mean it's difficult for politicians to go against a group of, in this case, small business people who don't see the greater benefit to themselves... There was quite a well organised group of people who came to council and made a very strong case.
When asked if the presence of an organised group of citizens who were lobbying for the counter opinion of having the HOV lane installed would have affected the outcome of the decision, two councillors answered yes.
Presence of an ENGO to lobby Council on issues that affect the general public helps overcome attention pressure. It is difficult in the face of direct pressure coming from a special interest group to stick to goals that benefit the greater majority in a mild way at the expense of severely impacting a localized group. A potential negative threat to a small group of people serves as adequate motivation for them to mobilize and bring their grievance to Council. However, a potential benefit to a largely disbursed population does not provide the same incentive for members of this group to band together and lobby in the same way. Furthermore, it is difficult to stick to long-term goals when confronted with short-term interests because there is more dissociation between actions and consequences the further one moves into the future, i.e. the feedback loops become increasingly incomplete. The fact that the consequences of a short-term initiative are immediately felt provides an element of concrete realism which is absent in the long-term initiatives where cause and effect are separated not only by time, but often also by benefactors, i.e. those who will experience the consequences may not be those who take the actions. ENGOs can play a vital role in attempting to bind long-term cause and effect relationships closely together in decision-makers' minds.
There are many ENGOs currently operating in the City. However, what is lacking is a coordination of these groups' efforts to support issues of common interest. Better networking among ENGOs to improve cooperation and to provide a united front when addressing specific Council initiatives could have a tremendous impact in moving the City towards actions that support sustainability.
Weak Linkages between Government and its Constituents
The City is moving towards improved communication with citizens. However, as the comments cited under the heading Perceived Lack of Empowerment indicate, there is still much room for advances in this area. A common frustration among citizens is that they want to contact someone in government who would take an interest in their concerns, but do not know who such a person would be. The difficulty of identifying civic employees who are either directly responsible for implementing a policy initiative, or who are seen as champions of a particular issue, weakens opportunities for communication between government and its constituency. Although a new communications department has been instituted, and policies adopted to facilitate citizens who telephone City Hall, the City must continue its efforts to improve communication with the constituency.
The effects of disjunction between verbal support and willingness to act may keep some Councillors and civic employees skeptical about the information they receive from citizens. However, mechanisms such as the "Issues and Choices" programme operated through CityPlan provide documented proof of public opinion, and this type of programme which determines constituents' priorities could be used to address many contentious issues in the City. It could be especially useful when problems caused by competing issues, attention pressure and lack of support from specific citizen groups are encountered.
Improved communication links could diminish public cynicism of government's effectiveness. The Special Office for the Environment does publish status reports on Clouds of Change initiatives, implementation efforts and setbacks. There may be a role for the media in disseminating this kind of information to citizens. The research indicates a surprising ignorance among citizens regarding the availability of such reports.
Better communication links could improve cooperation between government and its constituency so that tasks and goals could be achieved more effectively. As a citizen observed:
If government made more information available, you'd create a better informed constituency which will facilitate cooperative, or at least better informed decisions on the part of citizens.
For example, members of the Special Office for the Environment could act as outreach workers to non-government organisations (NGOs) interested in particular issues that the government is also trying to tackle. Such an outreach person could let these NGOs know about existing government projects, upcoming decisions by Council that affect their particular interest, etc. This type of communication helps improve the lobbying abilities of such groups and the lobbying itself serves as a feedback mechanism indicating to Council which issues people feel are important enough to take action on. An ENGO could also take on this type of liaison work.
Weak Links between Council and Civic Departments
This barrier is manifested by the perceptions expressed previously in the research that Councillors sometimes feel at the mercy of civic department heads, and department heads feel that Council places unrealistic demands on them. The frustration that results when civic employees are constantly being asked to accommodate new responsibilities and Councillors are constantly being told why they cannot move ahead on policy initiatives creates tension which can block cooperative efforts to take action on a particular issue.
Lack of Cooperation and Information Sharing Among Civic Departments
This was a barrier to the Special Office for the Environment and, according to one original SOE member, resulted in its initial dissolution. Good personnel management is crucial to the success of an organisation. This point is well illustrated in the case of the SOE which was established by the City of Vancouver to "assist rapid action on priority environmental issues" (City of Vancouver, 1990, 51). The Special Office for the Environment is situated within the City Manager's Office. At the time of its original inception, an announcement of its establishment was made and a director for the office was chosen from outside the pool of employees working at City Hall. As one civic staff member pointed out, this created resentment among some staff already working on environmental issues at City Hall who would have liked the opportunity to a) work in the newly created Special Office for the Environment, and b) have some input into the design of the Office's mandate and structure. Having these two opportunities denied, those individual staff members who initially felt resentment towards the alienating strategy used to establish the Special Office for the Environment were able to put their differences aside and work cooperatively with the newly hired staff of the SOE. However, the ramifications of the strategy used to create the Special Office for the Environment superseded individual issues of disgruntlement. The rapid establishment of the SOE accompanied by its staff from outside City Hall created an abrupt change to the existing organisational structure. This created tension between the SOE and some departments because there was an inadequate adjustment period in which the departments could familiarize themselves with the SOE's role in their own departmental affairs. As a result, the departments tended to ignore this newcomer if only by virtue of the fact that they did not see clearly its connection to existing departmental activities.
Many civic staff felt no direct resentment towards the Special Office for the Environment when it was created, but several also stated that its role vis-a-vis what the departments were already doing with regards to environmental issues seemed unclear. In addition, it was felt that had the SOE been staffed by employees already working at City Hall, the adjustment to the new office would have been eased. Such staff would already be familiar with the environmental projects underway in the various civic departments, and by virtue of previous acquaintance, such staff would find it very easy to coordinate the SOE's work with the work being done in various departments.
Lack of Familiarity with Environmental Policies within Own Department
This barrier was suspected by one Task Force member, but was not born out by subsequent research. It was not perceived as a problem within civic governance.
Weak Linkages Among the Policies of Civic and Senior Levels of Government
This was a commonly cited barrier; it is very closely tied to limitation of jurisdiction. Citizens feel frustrated with what they perceive as a constant re-invention of the wheel at every government level. Instead of focussing on coordinating government efforts to implement existing policies, each level of government seems intent on producing its own policy statements. Often these statements parallel what has already been drafted by another government agency. Citizens sometimes feel frustrated with the vast amount of time and resources that go into drafting similar reports. More could be achieved if those resources were used to focus on how the differing levels of government and their agencies could help each other implement existing policies. One citizen makes the following comments:
The existing bureaucracies: Federal, Provincial and Municipal, all have interest in Clouds of Change issues, but they don't work cooperatively. Why can't we have all government levels working together as a Task Force. For instance, the GVRD wasn't involved in the report and it should have been. Now the GVRD is going ahead and writing its own reports. Why couldn't they have done it all together and then all take responsibility for implementing it (each according to their jurisdictional abilities). We must make sure that all government levels are involved in writing these reports... Changes have to take place because the money is not going to be there anymore for start from scratch reports.
Furthermore, regardless of which level of government authored a policy, each requires the cooperation of various agencies who have authority over different issues. These agencies do not always share the same priorities or concerns, yet their cooperation in implementing certain initiatives is crucial. Thus, emphasis must be placed on bringing these different authorities together to identify how each can help the other attain their goals. For example, vehicle licences are regulated under the Attorney General, transportation falls under a Provincial Ministry, air quality is the concern of the GVRD and parking regulation is the concern of the City. Clouds of Change recommendations require that all these governing agencies come together and agree on cooperative strategies.
Several Clouds of Change recommendations which fell within the City's jurisdiction were passed up to the GVRD on the premise that the region is better suited to deal with issues that transcend municipal boundaries (recs. 9,12b,15a,15b). Although this rationale may be sound, it sometimes proved to be an ineffective strategy. One Councillor gives the following explanation:
I can give you an example of what I consider to be abdicated responsibility at the local level where we in fact have the ability to do something. In the Clouds of Change report there is a recommendation that proposes a trip reduction bylaw (rec. 9). An initiative on the part of some Councillors wanted to proceed with a formal program, introducing a bylaw. That was not adopted; instead, Council decided that a regional programme (should) be highlighted. The reason was because it (traffic management) is a regional issue, and because the region is (with gestured quotation marks) working on it. Thus it should be left to the region's determination. In transport 2021, the GVRD states that they want to use carrot measures, and one of their stick measures that they don't want to move ahead with right now is this traffic management bylaw. So it means it is delayed again.
Thus, Council addressed the recommendation and decided to pass it up to the Region. Now, even though the Region decided not to act on it, Council no longer feels obligated to pursue the issue because they have already "dealt with it."
Fear of losing constituent support, primarily among the business sector, and marginal pricing and economic valuation were cited as the primary reasons for not readdressing the recommendation once the GVRD declined.
Marginal pricing and economic valuation aggravates weak linkages among the policies of civic and senior levels of government at the Provincial level as well. Fear of losing control of income generating opportunities, was perceived as a barrier to Provincial cooperation in implementing recommendation 13a, calling for road pricing mechanisms. Some civic staff believed that the Province shied away from granting the City additional powers to implement a road tax because it feared this would reduce the Province's own sources of income.
To the City's credit, an addition to recommendation 15 in Clouds of Change was made to review "regional initiatives in regard to emission reductions and transportation subsidies to ensure there is no duplication of efforts" (City of Vancouver, 1990, 11). Also, a Councillor stated that Clouds of Change was used to inform policy directions established recently by the GVRD. However, there was some evidence that communication between the City and those staff at the GVRD who could facilitate implementation of some recommendations was inadequate.
Uncertainty About How to Implement New Policies
This barrier was not heavily cited by research participants, but it is deserving of comment. There was agreement among civic employees that drafting of new policies is easier if they can be copied from other cities who have instituted similar initiatives. However, complexity of the issue and the many impacts the new policy(s) could have can overwhelm those wishing to take on the task. One civic employee admitted:
If we were to try something like Clouds of Change again, I would want to move in smaller increments. Moving in one big step towards a specific objective becomes overwhelming. This can lead to inertia. We don't know how to do it. Paralysis sets in; people ask how do I get there, its so far away? Big organisations change better in small steps.
Long-range goals should be supplemented by a host of adaptive policies which can be implemented in succession.
Uncertainty About Whether Specific Policies are Needed
This barrier was not commonly cited. It is closely linked to differences in perception and uncertainty, and the reader is encouraged to refer to those barrier headings.
Inappropriate Structure of Government (vertical)
This barrier was commonly cited by civic employees and Task Force members who expressed frustrations with the segregated structure of departments and hierarchy within departments.
The city is an urban ecosystem. The relationships among human actions, infrastructure management and ecological impacts are closely related. However, the civic departments are highly segregated. Policies administered by one department may directly contradict the efforts of another. This problem is exacerbated by limitation of jurisdiction, because still other functions in the city, such as public transportation are administered by agencies outside of the municipality. The segregated nature of municipal departments reinforces the barrier of differences in perception by reducing opportunities for staff from various departments to share their perspectives on issues confronting Vancouver. It also inhibits opportunities to prioritize competing issues from other departments vis-a-vis one's own and develop cooperative strategies for dealing with them. Although meetings are regularly scheduled where senior department staff come together to discuss their concerns and projects, and interdepartmental committees are formed to address certain issues, several staff indicated that more communication and cooperation among departments was desirable.
A second complaint was that the hierarchical nature of the departments stifled communication opportunities for staff. Several staff explained that the attitude of senior management sets the tone for how the whole department operates. This can inhibit attempts to improve coordination among departments, as a civic employee observes:
Attitudes permeate out from the director and affect middle management and sometimes line staff as well. The director and middle management also set the tone for the way bureaucrats are expected to act and conduct business in their department... (Under the previous director) engineering maintained fierce independence to the point where the director actually refused to carry out certain tasks requested by Council. The whole engineering department as a result has been permeated with this lone ranger mentality - 'we know what's important; don't tell us what to do.' (The new director) has tried to improve the department's attitude, making it more answerable to Council, but it still maintains its independent identity. The Planning department is only slightly better. Instead of outright refusal to cooperate with Council, Planning has the attitude that inaction is the safest route when in doubt.
Thus, segregation of departments reinforces differences in perception, which in turn impedes attempts to implement Council initiatives.
Inappropriate structure of government (vertical) is also closely tied to limitation of jurisdiction. A common theme both for the municipality and the GVRD was frustration at not having adequate authority to fulfill their mandates. For example, the GVRD is mandated to address air quality issues, but many feel that the structure of the GVRD and its limited planning powers impede its ability to do so. A Councillor explained that:
A lot of them (recommendations) are done, but they're not necessarily having the impact they should. One of the problems with the GVRD was getting them to do something. But, it was also a problem for the GVRD to get the Province to give them permission to do it.
One public service member stated "the fact that a city the size of Vancouver does not have a metropolitan planning authority is ludicrous." Many initiatives for improved transportation have been blocked by disagreements among municipalities. It is believed that if the GVRD was granted planning authority, progress on actions that support sustainability could be made.
When asked how GVRD members work around the problem of trying to get the Province to delegate power, a Councillor who also sits on the GVRD responded:
I think we can't. We have to change the structures that we have to allow responsibilities for specific things to get as close to the local level as possible... Vancouver by itself could have the best clean air policies and actions, but if everyone around us ignores them, then it won't make any difference. We do have an air shed which involves four regional districts and one county.
At the municipal level, several Councillors expressed a preference for a ward system of governance. One Councillor gave the following explanation:
Councillors need to change their self-perception from decision-makers to facilitators and advocates for change. Some Councillors have the arrogance to think that the common citizen is not capable of making (her or) his own decisions... As long as this small group is holding on to power in the face of ever growing responsibility they are going to feel freaked out, overburdened, that they can't cope, that everybody wants them to do everything... Councillors and staff are already so spread-out with so many existing agendas. We have ten Councillors which isn't enough to get things done. That's why we need to open up and share power... The ward system is a way to decentralize City Hall. It would transform the whole way we deliver civic services, making them more accessible at the local level.
This observation identifies fear of losing control/power as a barrier to changing existing institutional structures. Most of the Councillors interviewed agreed that they felt overwhelmed by the workload and felt the City would be better served if either more Councillors were elected, assistant staff were provided to Councillors or government structure was adapted to provide greater roles for citizens in decision-making.
Inappropriate Structure of Government (political term)
This barrier was cited most commonly by Task Force members. It reinforces the barrier Fear of losing constituent support. A citizen summarized the effect of this barrier as "taking short-term considerations to address long-term problems." A Task Force member points out that:
Council will always be short-term oriented because their primary focus is on the next election. By definition, Council is only structured to be responsible for what happens for three years until the next election, so how could they be expected to act in the interests of a longer time horizon?
A second Task Force member introduces the concept of political action-taking cycles in relation to length of political term:
Policies are often adopted at the beginning of Council's term. However, pressure to act on them is never felt until the end of the term, right before the next election. Clouds of Change was adopted right at the start of the do nothing period. In fact, it got adopted right before the election. It was too late to do anything about it because politicians were focussing on getting elected. Then after the election there was no impetus to do anything about it because they'd just been voted in for another three years.
This observation may reveal a certain cynicism about politician's motivations, but it does reveal how disruptive the electoral process can be with regards to taking action on issues that require long-term initiative. To work around this problem, a Task Force member suggests that:
We need new institutional structures to address the long term issues. We need things like the Round Table, like Community Forums, like Futures Commissions, like Task Forces. We need one body that is integrative, that deals with all the issues of the urban landscape: crime, housing, air quality, basically integrating all of the work of the independent task forces and dealing with it on a long-term, ongoing basis. These long-term oriented institutional structures should serve as advisory bodies to Council. Final authority should rest with Council because they are the elected decision-makers, but these advisory bodies should make it their business to maintain strong media access to publicize their issues and make their advice to Council so well known that Council really begins to operate under close public scrutiny. The advisory bodies should be made up of non-partisan members in that they are not affiliated with specific interests in the City. They should have such moral authority that if Council chooses not to listen to this body's recommendations, they clearly do so at their own risk. These issues have to be outside political agendas, accepted as the long-term direction in which we are moving regardless of who is in power. This format/structure will help to counterbalance the extremely short term vision of those operating in the electoral framework.
Weak Understanding of Action Roles
This was a commonly cited barrier that affects many aspects of governance. It directly contributes to weak linkages among the policies of civic and senior levels of government because there is a need to clearly identify lead agencies and define their roles and responsibilities. As a civil servant who works in air quality explains: "Definition in air quality of who should do what is probably the fuzziest of any environmental issue. There must be clearer definition of which agency has the lead responsibility." Improved communication and clarity among the different government agencies, so that each stays very well informed of what the others are doing, helps avoid duplicate initiatives. It also allows for improved policy implementation because the different levels of government can work cooperatively to support the efforts of the lead agency at every level of government.
Within municipal government, the responsibilities of lead agencies also need to be clarified. When interviewing members of the SOE, two individuals expressed surprise when they discovered recommendations that were their responsibility to implement. Here, competing issues and lack of resources seem to reinforce weak understanding of action roles more than perceptual barriers such as perceived lack of empowerment or acceptance of the status quo. One SOE member gave the following explanation:
(Implementation of a recommendation) might slip through the cracks because we already think we are doing it. For example, informing the public about the use of the car is perhaps not being pursued because Transport 2021 raises awareness of this issue and so does Air Care. Maybe nobody is personally responsible; that is, nobody has been appointed to do this task.
A civic employee made the following observation about the role of planning:
Planning focusses on how land is used. This doesn't deal with pollution except with respect to proximity planning, which is a minor issue.
Here one sees how lack of understanding about the issues directly contributes to weak understanding of action roles.
With respect to citizens, this barrier is paramount in the eyes of Councillors and civic employees. One Councillor states:
The most important thing that we could do in terms of implementing the report is have the citizens understand that it isn't what government does that will solve the problem, it's what they do that will solve the problem.
Citizens need to understand their own responsibilities in activating the changes they desire. "The public sets the agenda. In climate change issues, the public is not banging on government's door demanding that tax money be spent on it. They are doing it for smog, but if you can't see it then it gets ignored." Thus, citizens may complain about lack of political will without realizing that their own behaviours, such as acceptance of the status quo, disjunction between verbal support and willingness to do what they say, and prestige motive are in fact some of the biggest barriers to government action-taking. One Councillor explains the citizen's role in activating change as follows:
There's too much in society. We operate most of our bylaws on a complaint basis. If we were to go out and enforce to the letter every law that had been passed by this Council since it had been established in 1886, it would be a nightmarish '1984' type of situation. It would be an intrusive level of government, unacceptable to the public. So we by and large operate on a complaint basis. If something has gone wrong to the point where people are motivated to call and find out who is responsible, that identifies it has reached a level of priority where it is appropriate to use limited resources to address it. If something like posters in bus shelters, on city vehicles and in city buildings (rec. 35h) was significant enough of an issue to be raised (by citizen inquiries), and many issues in Clouds of Change have been, then that would tell me that that is something we should go back and look at. Such a scenario was the case with the issue of HOV lanes which tells me this is probably an issue of more direct concern.
A Task Force member observes that:
It isn't clear to people in the street what their responsibility is. The academic's job is to make explicit the connection between actions and their consequences. That connection has two components: i) consequences of every day actions and ii) consequences of deliberate actions, i.e. informed actions involving thinking about what things can be changed. Academics must identify how actions for change take place, and acquaint people with this information.
Another Councillor explains that:
It's really not enough just to elect people and often times that's just what happens. People elect other people to go and do the job, and then think o.k. they are taking care of it. But, given the power structure that we have, those who are most powerful get heard more often than those who are ordinary folks without a lot of power, money, and influence. And so, if we as ordinary citizens want our voices to be heard, then it's going to take extra measures to make sure that happens.
However, a circular pattern begins to reveal itself. As indicated in the analysis of perceived lack of empowerment (section 4.5.1), many citizens who try to affect government decisions eventually become frustrated because they feel their access is limited. This frustration is worsened by perceived inequity. There is a sense of "nihilism: nobody else is doing it so why should I? In fact I'll suffer more and it won't make any difference." Eventually those citizens who started out with the energy and willingness to participate lose their desire to do so. Improved communication links between government and its constituents is a vital ingredient in preventing this scenario from repeating.
A final comment on weak understanding of action roles relates to the Task Force on Atmospheric Change and the perceived purpose of their report. Some Task Force members and civic employees pointed out that the original purpose of the Task Force was to examine the potential effects atmospheric change could have on the City and to make suggestions on how the City might best adapt to these changes. From this original mandate, the Task Force's report evolved a focus on local air quality and actions the City should take to improve it. As a result, although the report is highly praised, there is a common sentiment that in its final form it really should have been a document presented to the GVRD level of government and not to the Municipality.
Fear of Losing Control/Power
This barrier was cited as a reason why the Clouds of Change recommendation to establish a public monitoring group to track implementation of the recommendations was never established by Council (rec. 32b). On a broader scale, however, this barrier plays an interesting role in the allocation of funds and is associated with weak linkages among the policies of civic and senior levels of government. As one deputy director states, "most logical answers aren't pursued because of turf wars." A director from a different department gives the following explanation:
We can't spend money in all areas so we begin to misallocate money based on who is there first, or who can go to court to get court actions, and in my opinion, we're just missing the boat. We're not looking at all of these issues and saying where can we best apply our resources to improve our quality of life and our public health... We should set up priority committees to assess risks. These committees should include representatives from civic departments and different federal and provincial departments... I think the political decision-makers would be better served if we could get together and say here are all the risks... and their assessment... and their affect on public health and the environment. Based on that risk assessment, this is where we think the funding should be allocated... Unfortunately, that's not happening because everybody is pursuing their special interest, and I don't think the public is well served, and I don't think the decision-makers are well served, and I think it is an unfortunate state of affairs.
The barriers of inadequate funds, inadequate resources, differences in perception and lack of awareness about the issues all play a factor in fear of losing control/power. Mechanisms to reduce the segregated nature of government organisations should be a focus of future research.
Weak Diversity Among those in the Decision-Making Arena
This barrier was not commonly cited. Those who made reference to it expressed a concern that Councillors and department directors were, for the most part, entrenched in traditional belief systems, such as the scientific materialist paradigm. This results in an insular view of "what is right for the City" and often reinforces acceptance of the status quo. Several citizens and civic staff expressed the hope that younger, more ecologically aware individuals would soon find their way into civic governance and act as catalysts for change by challenging the existing perceptions of decision-makers. Introduction of a ward system of governance was also seen as an opportunity for expanding the scope of decision-makers.
Although not commonly cited as a barrier, negotiated contracts seem to be preventing some Clouds of Change recommendations that directly address working conditions at City Hall. For example, union contracts were cited as the reason free transit passes were not exchanged for civic employees' free parking privileges (rec. 30b). Additional reasons why this recommendation was not implemented were that some employees require their vehicles for work purposes and it was deemed unfair to penalize people who must commute from far away locations. According to one citizen, failure to communicate to citizens why this recommendation was not being implemented resulted in private sector companies deducing that the cause was lack of leadership on the part of civic governance. Therefore, there was resentment among some private sector personnel when "companies were asked not to offer free parking to their employees."
Existing contracts were also cited as a barrier to introducing split time scheduling and work at home options (rec. 14). An additional barrier to telecommuting opportunities was a perception among management that staff productivity would decline.
In addition to staff related issues at City Hall, union lobbying can prevent opportunities for adaptations to things such as public transit. For example, a deputy director pointed out that small operators of mini buses could provide shuttle services in suburban areas to and from major transit routes. However, "if you want it to work, then you can't pay a union wage to get it done." The respective unions were against allowing non-unionized shuttle services, and thus, the initiative was dropped.
As identified at the start of this research, economic and financial considerations provide the contextual framework within which government and citizens operate. They are likely to be a major force in shaping perceptions and may be at the root of several barriers identified in previous sections.
Financial Gain Motive
This barrier was cited several times as having a direct impact on blocking certain Clouds of Change initiatives. Financial gain motive focusses primarily on citizen's behaviour and is a cause of citizens being disunited and not supportive. Perceived inequity and lack of choices can also operate as barriers based on financial gain motive. The merchants resistance to the proposed Marpole HOV lane is an example of this barrier in operation. Another example is the parking operators resistance to instituting preference parking downtown for HOVs. In this example, difficulty with enforcement was also cited as a problem.
Furthermore, financial gain motive is part of what causes disjunction between what citizens verbally support and what they are actually willing to do. It operates the same way at the civic and senior levels of government, as a Councillor points out, "all levels of government are happy to promote and verbally support initiatives. The problem comes when deciding who should pay and how much."
Marginal Pricing and Economic Valuation
This barrier focusses on the decisions government makes to preserve economic generating activities even if such decisions directly undermine efforts to move towards sustainability. The scientific materialist paradigm, and its resultant economic structure, is a pervasive barrier to taking actions that support sustainability. "How can you change one hundred years of economic development and economically influenced cultural development overnight?" asked one citizen with exasperation. A councillor explained the situation this way:
The problem is that we are growth oriented in our society. We equate progress with consumption instead of with improved social well-being. Our economic structure is dependent on this growth model. If nobody bought a new car, our whole society would collapse in a year. This raises an interesting dilemma. How do we restructure society to get rid of the car when our very economic survival is dependent upon it?
A deputy director summarizes the situation as follows:
Liveability starts with a job, so we have to make sure we don't undermine our economic basis which would in turn undermine our ability to fund other programs to sustain our environmental objectives as well... There's only so much you can take out of an economy before you begin to seriously impair its ability to function.
Underlying these sentiments is the concern that implementation of some of the recommendations would create inconveniences for businesses causing them to relocate outside of the City. The recommendations in question are those that deal with trip reduction (rec. 9) and taxes such as the carbon tax (rec. 27). Restricting the ease with which employees commute to work and increasing the cost of goods movement within the City are among the top concerns with respect to negative impacts on business.
This barrier is reinforced by the overwhelming complexity of the issue, limitation of jurisdiction, weak linkages among the policies of civic and senior levels of government, and, in this example, weak coordination with the policies of neighbouring counties in the U.S.A. With regard to recommendation 27, a civic employee explains that:
At face value, it is a wonderful idea. (The finance department) suggested abandoning the gas tax because for one thing it's too complex. It would cost more to administrate than the money it would take in. The other thing is that you cannot ignore the fact that you are not living on an island. You have to stay sensitive to what the surrounding areas are doing. How do you justify this increased tax to citizens who won't be benefitting from it directly with improved transit. If you set up a local tax, people can avoid it by crossing the boundary and buying gas somewhere else. Not only would the Province have to set up the tax along with a programme to minimize avoidance, you'd also have to get the Federal government to set up a programme to minimize cross-border leakage. There is an inelastic demand (for gas); therefore, we have to think about what the U.S. government is doing as well. I don't disagree with the underlying concepts of the gas tax, I disagree with the practicality of it.
Several Councillors and civic employees also suggested that the Province was unwilling to delegate certain powers to the City because it was afraid of losing its own tax base. As a result, the City remained powerless to implement some of the recommendations.
It should be noted, on the other hand, that marginal pricing and economic valuation can also act as a facilitator of action-taking under the right circumstances. According to some, the Province eventually implemented a one cent per litre tax on gas because it required additional revenues to continue public transit services in the face of growing debts.
At the municipal level, this barrier did on occasion sway Council from abiding by its own guidelines. For example, restrictive parking policies downtown are undermined by private parking operators who set up temporary parking lots on land awaiting redevelopment. As one citizen observes "the City could regulate this in terms of surface parking, but they don't." This type of activity generates income for the City and is "so profitable, that developers often delay redevelopment."
A second consideration for the City that relates to this barrier is maintaining productivity. When asked about how serious he considers the threat of atmospheric problems to be relative to other issues, one civic employee responded:
We have some serious financial and work productivity problems. We like to pursue environmental policies, but we also have to give tax payers value for their dollars. Meter readers (for example) could use electric vehicles, buses etc. However, meter readers' productivity goes down significantly even when using a bicycle over a vehicle.
In the past, technologies such as the automobile, which now poses a threat to sustainability, became inextricably tied to work practices. Unknowingly, society began to trade sustainability for productivity. As long as this pattern persists, efforts to change remain stymied or limited to those means which do not inhibit production. Rather than examining a breadth of alternatives, such as hiring several part time meter readers with bicycles to replace a single, vehicle equipped, person, Government stays tied to unitary decision-making, based on economic efficiency criteria. The result is resistance to even the small changes which eventually can contribute to a large movement or transformation.
This was a commonly cited barrier, recognized by all four groups. Above anything else, Councillors and civic staff share a general frustration with the amount of work they are required to do and the limited staff resources available to do it. This barrier is exacerbated by competing issues, attention pressure and lack of a prioritization mechanism. Several Councillors expressed the concern that ten members of Council were not enough to adequately deal with the many issues confronting the City. One Councillor made the following comments:
Several Councillors do it full time and several don't. It's an evolving role that Council members are trying to undertake... Some continue to do work elsewhere and their work (in Council) reflects that. But you also have to consider the other side of it. Council members cut their salary by 5%. Now it is less than $30,000 per annum. So for many people, I would suspect that they think that they really need additional income to support themselves... The salary base needs to be looked at and the resource base needs to be looked at. If you look at Canada's two other major cities, the salary base for Councillors is higher and they have access to more resources for things such as research. In Edmonton, the City funds one person per Councillor to work as a researcher for them. That would make a difference if you had an additional person to assist you. But, the political reality is that it is likely to go nowhere because of how people feel about politicians and about finances and deficits.
When asked if the role of Councillor should be a full-time employment position, this same Councillor replied:
My first response is yes because I see what goes on here, and it's really very minimal. It would contribute to a more effective Council.
However, many would object that to give up one's career to take on a position in Council of uncertain duration is an unfavourable risk. Nevertheless, these comments illustrate the impact lack of resources has on government's ability to take action in support of sustainability. It also identifies the connection this barrier has with inappropriate structure of government. As Vancouver and its neighbouring municipalities continue to grow into a thriving metropolis, the existing structures of government must adapt. Many barriers, such as inadequate resources, indicate that this adaptation is not happening quickly enough.
Many civic staff also feel overwhelmed with their work load. A common complaint was that there is not enough time, manpower, or money to "do it all." As a result, many Clouds of Change recommendations have not been implemented according to schedule. This barrier contributes to lack of civic staff buy-in.
Existing Funds Already Pre-Allocated to Other Initiatives
This barrier is primarily a function of competing issues, lack of civic staff buy-in and lack of a prioritization mechanism. Many civic staff felt that the process used to create and adopt the Clouds of Change report did not allow them adequate opportunity to make adjustments to their existing and forecasted work programmes. Thus, when the recommendations were handed down to them, their department funding had already been pre-allocated to other initiatives. Without guidelines from Council indicating which existing projects were to be subordinated to the Clouds of Change recommendations, many staff found themselves unable to re-allocate funds without severely hampering projects which they also believed were vital.
This barrier is severe and reflects an inadequate supply of funds to implement the many initiatives to which Council aspires. A Task Force member observes that "very few people come in (to Council) as a natural involvement of their community work. Those that do are sorely disappointed to discover that once they are in, they can't effect change primarily because budgets are already pre-allocated."
Unwillingness to Pay More Taxes
This barrier is closely linked to inadequate funds and resources. Most of the Councillors and civic employees interviewed were sensitive to citizens' unwillingness to pay more taxes. A Councillor expressed the situation thus:
There is a basic cynicism in people. They don't trust the government to spend the money wisely... They think: our taxes are always going up and the deficit is never coming down. Give them more money and it won't help anyway.
Weak communication links between government and its constituency, weak linkages among the policies of civic and senior levels of government, and lack of understanding about action roles contribute to citizens' cynicism about government's ability to affect change. As one department head explains:
We've hit the wall in terms of what taxpayers are willing to pay and yet they are constantly calling for more services. You look at a Council package and how many reports are called for every week, and then you say well who is going to pay for all of this?
Citizens seem conditioned to expect government to look after problems as they arise. As Vancouver continues to grow so too do many of its problems. Perhaps it is time for Councillors to examine alternative roles for government. In addition to service-provider, it may indeed be time for government to take on the role of educator and facilitator, helping citizens realize that they need to help themselves. The reader may want to refer back to Councillors' comments under the heading Inappropriate Structure of Government (vertical) for a further explanation of this last point.
Failure to Guarantee Results/Impact
This barrier is reinforced by unwillingness to pay more taxes. In an effort to combat public cynicism, government wants to spend money and take action on those initiatives which will have visible results in the short term. Unfortunately, many Clouds of Change recommendations do not fall within this category. As one Council member states, if you are successful in implementing the recommendations "you won't get an article in the paper saying Vancouver's air is clean." A second Councillor pointed out that:
Some of the recommendations are extremely expensive to implement and government must prioritize its spending. The taxpayer is clearly saying they are unwilling to support additional taxation and they want to know that existing tax money is being wisely spent... There is often the assumption that these initiatives will produce great benefits, but there is no identifiable way to quantify these benefits.
Visible results are required to allay taxpayers' suspicions. However, a citizen reveals a contradictory perception:
Councillors feel if they plan too far ahead, they won't get support from voters for the next election, so they focus on short-term decisions instead. However, this is a mistake. B.C.ers are very environmentally sensitive and they want green policies, so politicians are mistaken.
Uncertainty adds to decision-makers' hesitancy to implement certain recommendations. Regarding recommendation 35d a Councillor states:
You'd have to prove to me that posters in bus shelters really have an impact on peoples' behaviour before I'd be willing to fund such an information campaign.
Lack of a Prioritizing Mechanism
Need for a prioritizing mechanism to guide funding decisions was a commonly cited barrier among civic staff. For comments on this subject regarding the different levels of government and priority setting among their Ministries and departments, the reader should refer to the barrier titled Fear of Losing Control/Power.
At the municipal level, the need to address many competing issues, such as providing sewerage, clean drinking water etc. tie up civic department budgets in long-term programs. The addition of new responsibilities, unaccompanied by resources to support them, requires a re-budgeting of existing programmes. However, without direction from Council as to whether the new responsibilities are to be treated as top priorities and which existing programmes are to be given lower status, civic staff find it difficult to make such budgeting decisions. As one department director explains:
I suppose we could go faster. It boils down to a matter of priorities. If that was the only issue we had to deal with, we could implement them (recommendations) right away. But, the reality is, people in charge of implementation have a hell of a lot of other things to do as well. It's a matter of priorities and many departments struggle with how do Clouds of Change recommendations fit into their scheme of priorities.
Another civic employee remarks that department heads who do not perceive the recommendations as a priority will show "lack of resourcefulness, or innovation, in re-allocating funds. This can be used as an excuse not to take action."
The allocation of priority was seen as a responsibility of Council by most civic employees from directors to line staff. The frustration felt by not having a prioritizing system was highly visible. One employee made the following observation:
It's like the thirty-nine clowns syndrome. At a circus you see many clowns (the initiatives) coming out of this tiny car. There are so many competing priorities that no one in particular is done well. There's no clear sense of an overall strategy to link these priorities.
Another employee explains that in addition to making funding decisions, a second problem is maintaining accountability:
When it (recommendation) comes in and is passed by Council, (staff must have an) opportunity to ask: 'do you really mean that we don't do all those ten rezonings that we've had people waiting for over two years to get done?' You have to have Council say: 'yes, you switch your resources to these new priorities right away. We realize there will be some delays in your existing projects, and as Mayor, I'm going to send out letters to these people that explain that indeed we are going to defer some of this work that had been promised for some time because something else has come up that is of higher priority to us.' When that doesn't happen, it is left with staff who face the dilemma of already having a full work programme. So what are we going to cancel? As happened with a lot of this (Clouds of Change initiatives), the question becomes: 'so what are we going to brush off to some future date and time?'
Several civic staff indicated a hope that the outcome of the CityPlan process will aid Councillors in establishing priority issues.
Fear of Disadvantaging the Poor
This barrier was cited commonly among Councillors. It creates a dilemma which is explained by a Councillor as follows:
The CO2 tax was voted against... because it was a regressive tax. It would have priced low end income earners out of cars which they might need for a job. But, if we subsidize cars so that the poorest person can afford to drive, then you'll never get rid of cars... Other forms of transit cannot compete with the car.
Fear of unjustly disadvantaging the poor is reinforced by the existing car oriented structure of the City and by lack of choices. Owning a motor vehicle is an expensive endeavour for most citizens. Many people interviewed felt frustrated that the City continues to cater to automobile traffic despite a priority policy that places pedestrians first.
The following are samples of what the citizens interviewed had to say about non-automobile transportation options:
We should create environments that don't limit people to the grids (i.e. having to use the same routes as automobiles). For example, we should install a glass elevator from the south end of Granville Bridge right into False Creek. There should be more support of these kinds of ideas to get people moving, not cars... The urban environment should be designed for the human body and not for the car body.
The City could have made a more serious commitment to bicycle use. But their bike paths are a joke. Except for paths around False Creek, all they've done is put up signs on side streets. But that's unsafe for cyclists; it's why I don't cycle.
I don't know how much influence the City has on public transit. Progress could be made on inter-modal transport, e.g. allowing bikes on buses and sky train. You can put your bike in the wheel chair area of the bus which is often under-utilized. The City seems far more intent on making things wheel chair accessible than bike accessible. There are lifts on busses for wheel chairs, but there is nothing like that for bikes. Transit is just too slow to be competitive with other modes of transportation. There is too much stopping and starting. What we need are more express buses and buses that stop farther apart. For example, two buses travel the same route, the first stops at every other bus stop and the second stops at the ones in between. Commuters could buy reserved seats on a monthly basis for the express buses that go from the distant suburbs right downtown. Furthermore, bus stops are places no one wants to be. (The City) could provide well lit, heated shelters with desks and chairs so that people can plug in their computers and do their work while they wait. Council has to get serious about addressing these issues if they expect the people to take it.
Although these suggestions would increase transit's competitiveness with the private automobile, and would greatly improve transportation options for pedestrians, the reader can perhaps anticipate how the barriers listed in this research, such as limitation of jurisdiction, inadequate funds, competing issues etc. will operate to prevent their implementation.
4.6 A Comparison to the Victoria Experience
Healthy Atmosphere 2000 is a report addressing atmospheric change and air quality issues in Victoria and its surrounding region known as the Capital Regional District. Two people involved with the report were interviewed for this research. They experienced similar barriers to those identified by the participants in Clouds of Change.
The Healthy Atmosphere 2000 report was modeled on Clouds of Change. The Task Group on Atmospheric Change, who prepared the report, consisted of professionals, youths and other citizens, but no politicians. This was felt to be a major weakness "because it is very important to have a champion of these issues at the political level." Although the Task Group "heard from over eight hundred people, politicians viewed the report as biased and said it didn't represent the general public." Those interviewed felt that the public participation process used in formulating the report helped raise awareness and concern for the issues, and had a politician or ENGO been present to harness the growing interest among the citizenry, the report might have gained momentum resulting in its acceptance by government. Thus, lack of a catalytic personality, lack of buy-in by Council, and lack of an ENGO were seen as major barriers.
Other barriers that were identified were inappropriate structure of government (political term), and lack of awareness about the issues. The process of creating the Healthy Atmosphere 2000 report began three years ago. During that time, politicians were made familiar with the issues. However, prior to the completion of the report, new Councillors were elected. When the report was presented for adoption,
Councillors who had been there all along were supportive, but the new Councillors were not. No environmental training had been provided for the new Councillors... This is most important... because they think in terms of costs. If they see things just as an extra expense, they won't support it.
A second opinion cited differences in perception and lack of information sharing as major barriers:
The problem here isn't so much lack of money as it is lack of political support. David Turner, the Mayor of Victoria, was the only one who supported it (report). Decision-makers aren't convinced that there is an air quality problem. There is antipathy towards environmentalists. (Politicians) are more comfortable believing there is no problem. Workshops to bring decision-makers on line are needed. That's how you get champions at the political level.
In addition, fear of losing control/power was cited as a barrier. The municipalities were perceived as wanting to maintain their own self-determination. Thus, they remained suspicious of losing power to the CRD.
Yet another barrier was lack of buy-in by civic staff, and union regulations was perceived as a contributing factor to this problem. One of the interviewees explains:
There was no effort to bring civic employees on line. Bureaucrats are restricted to union hours and many meetings occurred during the evenings. Staff don't volunteer their time that easily.
Without incorporating the Councillors or the civic employees into the process, those interviewed felt the report would remain outside the sphere of government, even though a very large number of citizens had participated in its creation.
Both interviewees cited overwhelming complexity of the issues as a barrier. One of them explained:
There was a very good public participation process combined with research to develop the recommendations. A weakness was that the report was long and detailed... therefore, people tended to shy away.
Finally, lack of understanding about action roles was cited as a barrier in that "the report got sidetracked to primarily focussing on local air quality, which isn't as big an issue as atmospheric change."
The recommendations in Healthy Atmosphere 2000 parallel those in Clouds of Change. However, one of the interviewees cites that a major issue not covered in either of the reports was the financial benefits of enacting the recommendations:
The cost savings are tremendous to the Province and the regional governments if they go with reduced CO2 policies. There would be reduced accidents, reduced need for police enforcement and lower hospital bills. There would also be less expenditures on highways and reduced crop losses... Telecommuting offers a way to create such differences in spending... Politicians must think in terms of costs so thirty percent of the Task Group's time must be focussed on economic aspects. At the moment, the recommendations are seen negatively, as trying to take away cars. They can be shown in a positive light in terms of pay-offs. These need to be highlighted more. The region that moves the fastest in CO2 reduction will gain the most in terms of quality of life and economic savings. Politicians need to be shown these things in terms of benefits.
Thus, many of the barriers encountered in the Victoria experience are similar to those identified by the research participants involved with Clouds of Change. The last quotation illustrates that understanding what the barriers are informs attempts to overcome them.