The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) has jumped into the 2015 federal election campaign with its first election toolkit, targeting Canada’s political parties on four specific issues.
The RAIC is urging members to become engaged in their communities and on social media during the campaign.
Championing the online outreach, the first national effort of its kind during an election campaign by the RAIC, is Institute vice-president and president-elect Allan Teramura, a principal with the Ottawa-based firm Watson MacEwen Teramura Architects. He says the RAIC’s election advocacy forms part of a recent commitment on behalf of the group’s board to become more engaged in professional and social issues and to represent the organization as an activist to the general public.
"It’s precisely because people don’t think about the quality of the built environment all that much that we’ve taken the election as an opportunity to bring some public attention to it," said Teramura.
"Architects as individuals tend not to be vocal on political issues, perhaps fearing repercussions to their own practices. The role of an association like the RAIC is to take these concerns to the public on their behalf."
Teramura, who takes over as RAIC president in January for a one-year term, says he and RAIC manager of communications and advocacy Maria Cook first discussed getting involved in election advocacy during the 2014 Ottawa municipal election. They were spurred on by positive feedback to those initial efforts from the RAIC’s membership.
The RAIC board is solidly onside with the current federal election outreach, Teramura says, but the toolkit clearly bears his personal stamp. Last year Teramura wrote an op-ed piece for the Globe and Mail lamenting the contemptible living environment of the Northern Ontario native community of Kashechewan. Teramura compared its "cultural sterility" to that of Tashme, the internment camp in British Columbia where his ancestors had passed part of the Second World War. Town planning for Kashechewan, wrote Teramura, seemed to have been dictated by the needs of the sewage system, not its residents.
And so, a year later, advocacy for the living conditions on First Nations reserves is being presented as one of four issues that candidates are being asked to address in the RAIC’s election package, billed as Election 2015: Building Better Communities. The others are the 2030 Challenge, a proposal adopted by the RAIC aiming to ensure that all new and retrofitted structures be built carbon-neutral by 2030; Smart Investment, an attempt to obtain a commitment to design excellence for all federally funded projects; and the role of community mailboxes in the context of livable cities.
So far, only the Liberals and the New Democrats have responded to the RAIC’s request for comments. (Editor’s note: The Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois sent responses after this article was initially published.) In most cases the responses appear to have been lifted directly from party policy binders, although the NDP did deal specifically with design excellence and took a shot at the "unwanted monument" to the victims of communism slated for downtown Ottawa. (Teramura noted the RAIC’s previous activism on this issue: "We urged the government to respect the government’s own urban design plan for Ottawa, the result of a century of planning.")
The Liberals, for their part, said they "recognize that architecture has the capacity to reflect our heritage, our history, and our culture."
"I’m actually encouraged by both the Liberal and NDP responses to this question," said Teramura.
"These are not necessarily intended to represent the only issues affecting the built environment today, and the website encourages members to propose others," he said.
"These are, however, issues that the RAIC has, in the last year, been active on."
Teramura said he felt it was important that the architects’ election outreach not come across as self-serving.
"I think it is important as professionals that we be seen to be advocating for the public interest, as opposed to a business group trying to drum up for work for ourselves — that would be inappropriate," he said.
There will be no endorsement of a party closer to election day, Oct. 19, said Teramura.
"This has not been our practice. We see this exercise as being an opportunity to build relationships with whoever forms the next government."
Teramura said the RAIC will continue its advocacy on public issues after the election.
"Beyond the election, we plan to engage members with specific areas of expertise to help guide our government-relations initiatives on more issues across the country."
Of immediate concern, he said, besides the controversial memorial, the RAIC will carry on working with Public Works and Government Services Canada on the design of the Centre Block rehabilitation project.
For more information, visit https://www.raic.org/raic/election-2015-building-better-communities. Follow Don Wall on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.