The Georgia Straight’s 2013 Year in Review: Reconciliation and loss

In 2013, many Canadians became aware of First Nations history; others mourned Cory Monteith and global icon Nelson Mandela
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This was a year when not a hell of a lot happened in Vancouver.

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There was no hockey riot. No serial killer went on trial. No babies were killed by coyotes or bears. No politicians of the stature of Jack Layton died in office.

There were no monumental natural disasters—if you don’t count the recent mysterious flooding of the Ming Sun Benevolent Society building on Powell Street. And the trees didn’t catch fire in Stanley Park or in the North Shore watersheds. However, a blaze that didn’t kill anyone and destroyed two historic buildings in New Westminster made CBC’s list of the top 10 B.C. stories, as did the bizarre tale of a rogue Chinese dentist operating out of his Burnaby home.

These were important to the people affected, but they don’t rank up there with Typhoon Haiyan or the death of Nelson Mandela. The fact that they made the B.C. list tells you something about the paucity of local news in 2013.

Meanwhile, TransLink delayed introduction of the Compass electronic fare card, a toddler of Asian descent urinated in a plant holder in the Richmond Centre mall, and Kanye West cancelled a couple of Vancouver concerts. These events probably generated more comments on media websites than nearly all other local stories this year.

The Idle No More movement energized young First Nations people at the beginning of the year. In September, the Walk for Reconciliation attracted tens of thousands of people to downtown Vancouver on a rainy Sunday—marking one of the highlights of 2013. Another bright moment was the reopening of the historic York Theatre on Commercial Drive, which helped offset the pain of losing the Ridge Theatre earlier this year.

In one of the biggest news events of the summer, a popular B.C.–raised Hollywood actor addicted to heroin, Cory Monteith, died of an overdose at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel. This resulted in an outpouring of grief and an avalanche of U.S. media reports, but it was all over within a couple of weeks.

A famous comedian who overcame his heroin problem, Russell Brand, spent a few hours visiting recovering addicts and the city’s supervised-injection site, which didn’t generate nearly as much attention. That’s unfortunate.

A provincewide initiative aimed at getting cops to stop busting people for marijuana possession fizzled. The Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, remained in a Mississippi jail even though the U.S. government wants to send him home to Canada. And former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong dropped his defamation suit against the Georgia Straight. What started with a bang in 2012 ended with a whimper in 2013.

Vancouver civic politics was duller than usual. There was still a great deal of cacophony over planned bike lanes along Point Grey Road and through Hadden Park and beside Kitsilano Beach. Some residents went berserk over community plans in Marpole, the Downtown Eastside, the West End, and Grandview-Woodland, bringing forth the usual complaints that Vision Vancouver is in the pocket of developers.

Meanwhile, the park board’s fight with six community-centre associations over their surpluses ended up before the courts. And the city approved a much larger, relocated Edgewater Casino with the same number of slot machines as the older version.

But none of these disputes were as intense as the scraps we used to see at Vancouver city council over new rapid-transit lines, a civic-workers’ strike, the last megacasino application, or financial problems at the Olympic Village. Things were even more boring at Burnaby and Surrey municipal halls, where one-party rule ensures there’s usually very little dissent in the chamber.

What can you say when something as eminently sensible as laneway housing becomes a political lightning rod across the region? Isn’t there anything more important to complain about?

Premier Christy Clark’s come-from-behind B.C. Liberal victory over the NDP in the provincial election added some drama to the news cycle. Adrian Dix’s positive campaign turned out to be dreadfully negative for him as he was forced to resign as NDP leader four months after the election. Some speculated that Dix was done in by a bad haircut, a boring personality, and an ill-fitting suit. It was that kind of year.

Clark’s most important announcement of the year had nothing to do with liquefied natural gas or the Northern Gateway pipeline; rather, it was her declaration at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that construction will begin in 2017 on a new bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel. She might as well have said: “To hell with transit users in the Lower Mainland. I’m going to make it easier to drive to a megamall in Tsawwassen.” Say goodbye to more farmland and hello to another expensive 10-lane boondoggle that will promote urban sprawl.

But this was a mere blip in the news in comparison to Toronto’s long-running political soap opera starring Mayor Rob Ford or the Senate intrigue pitting Mike Duffy versus Stephen Harper. This year, the world was captivated by the inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai. The Pakistani teen survived a Taliban bullet in the head to become the world’s foremost advocate for girls’ education.

You might ask where’s our Malala in Vancouver? Look no further than Prince of Wales secondary student Sam Harrison, who’s playing a pivotal role in the fight against turning the Lower Mainland into the largest coal port in North America. Harrison would probably shudder at any comparison to Malala, but give him credit for showing old-timers why the fight against fossil-fuel-induced climate change is something we should all care about.

Harrison and his friends in Kids for Climate Action understand that they’re addressing the most important issue of our time. For evidence, just look at all those tornadoes that struck the U.S. Midwest, as well as this year’s extreme flooding in southern China, northern India, Alberta, Colorado, and downtown Toronto, to mention just a few disaster zones.

Meanwhile, federal and provincial political leaders appear far more eager to dig more carbon out of the ground and ship coal to Asia than to take action to prevent future climate-induced calamities.

It’s unfortunate for Harrison and the others with Kids for Climate Action that their passion for the planet isn’t shared by those in charge.

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