Best of Vancouver 2011 contributors' picks: News & Politics
For theGeorgia Straight’s 16th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2011.
Best political use of a Salvador Dali mustache
When Marc Williams, the owner of the now-demolished Pantages Theatre, outlined his plans to build a condo development on the site to be marketed to artists, Downtown Eastside activists saw red. After Williams called that part of Hastings a “dead zone”, the protesters decided to resurrect the ghosts of Salvador Dali, Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Andy Warhol, dressing up as the long-dead artists to condemn the plan. Even Williams seemed amused, Tweeting: “We had zombies visiting today. Fun! From our little dead zone to actual undead!”
Best mayoral announcement
Volatile saxophonist and uberheckler Darrell Zimmerman announced that he will be running for mayor in 2011, just as he did in the previous municipal election. Zimmerman, the last name on the ballot, was booted out of a park-board meeting in Strathcona in 2010 after four warnings. But can someone really be all bad when he tells Mayor Gregor Robertson that he will be running and will offer free transit and reduce all salaries of councillors and the mayor by 10 percent, as well as those of city staff?
Best potential political comeback
After the NDP machine united behind political neophyte R J Aquino, it looked like proud leftist and unrepentant class warrior Tim Louis had no chance of securing a Coalition of Progressive Electors nomination. The party will run three candidates for council, and the conventional wisdom was that incumbents Ellen Woodsworth and David Cadman would secure the first two spots. But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Cadman’s support plummeted, even though he obtained more votes than Woodsworth in the 2008 election and was the only COPE politician elected to council in 2005. And Woodsworth, Aquino, and the Fidel Castro–admiring Louis emerged as the triumphant nominees. Louis, who has served two terms on park board and two terms on council, has a decent chance of returning to office this November. If it’s a close election between Vision Vancouver and the NPA, Louis could even end up holding the balance of power. Wouldn’t that be fun (as long as you’re not a developer, aquarium president, or a police chief looking for more funding)?
Best place to spot a politician
Gung hay fat choy! The annual Chinese New Year parade attracts more politicians than any other event on the calendar—including the Pride Parade and the annual Vaisakhi celebration. And many of those politicos are decked out in traditional Chinese attire, which offers amusing photo opportunities. Federal Liberals usually show up in red, whereas Conservatives will often don blue attire. Given Premier Christy Clark’s shifting policy positions, it’s anyone’s guess what colour she’ll wear to the event next February. One thing is certain: she’ll be there, unlike her no-show at this year’s Pride event. Even Gordo used to appear at the parade until the booing became too much for him.
Best little app that could
When Vancouver-based startup Zite launched its free, eponymous iPad app in March, it wasn’t long before it caught the attention of media giants. Garnering 120,000 downloads in your first week will have that effect. At first, the attention wasn’t exactly positive. Zite collects articles from other sources and presents them as a sort of personalized magazine tailored to its users’ interests. This earned the company a cease-and-desist letter—cosigned by the likes of Getty Images, Associated Press, the National Geographic Society, and Time Warner—claiming the app was “plainly unlawful” and that it misappropriated intellectual property. Zite complied not by removing the content but by presenting the articles as they originally appeared, ads and all—which would generate revenue for the media companies. A win-win! Then, in August, the Time Warner–owned CNN acquired Zite for an undisclosed sum, reportedly between $20 million and $25 million. The good news is that Zite CEO Mark Johnson has insisted that content from the parent company will not receive preferential treatment and that the app will continue to use the same “agnostic” algorithm that it always has. The bad news (at least as far as hometown pride is concerned)? Zite is relocating to San Francisco.
Best clothing choice to appeal to as many voters as possible
Mayor Gregor Robertson has always had a keen fashion sense, and he didn’t let us down at last April’s Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver. He showed up in a Canucks jersey that resembled a South Asian kurta (pyjamalike clothing). And like a good baptized Sikh, he covered his head. Everyone was happy, including the Punjabi celebrants, the vast number of Canucks fans, and the media, which had a great image for the evening newscasts.
Best Vancouver excuse for hurling a pie in blighty
What better place to unleash your inner (pie) tosser than England? And forget Rupert Murdoch. What better target for a pie-tossing exists than former B.C. premier and drinking-driving legend Gordon Campbell? GC will soon be spending a lot more time on the island of his ancestors now that he’s Canada’s high commissioner to the U.K.
Not that we’re advocating violence. A well-aimed pie with the right intent can be an act of humour. But you’d better get that pie shot off quick. A few seconds dawdling and you might find that Gordo has hired Wendi Deng to handle pernicious pastries. After all, she’s proved her worth.
Best reason to delete emails
We’re well aware of the existence of the provincial NDP, so why does that party’s secretary, Jan O’Brien, always see fit to email us, as media people, whenever there’s a fundraising drive? You wanna speak with us about party business or give us a scoop? Pick up the phone. Wanna dump on us? Write a letter to the editor. Wanna annoy us? You’re already doing a pretty good job with those email circulars asking us for money.
Best Shakespearean comeback line
With a new, bigger mainstage tent, Bard on the Beach has been able to accommodate more patrons this summer—though one ticket holder discovered she was less than welcome when she attempted to bring in her eight-week-old nursing infant. Told of the Bard’s policy of not allowing children and infants aged six and under, Leanne Scorah turned to the media to voice her displeasure, calling the barring of kids and babies a “violation of human rights and discrimination against breastfeeding mothers, and possibly others”. Bard artistic director Christopher Gaze’s response was equal parts honey and vinegar: “I’m very delighted to offer her a special night at Bard with her and her husband or partner—if they can find someone for the baby.” Scorah got little public support for her complaint: more than 550 readers voted in a Straight poll on the issue, with 84 percent supporting a ban on children and infants at performances.
Best imitation of former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell
Quick-tempered former mayor and present senator Larry Campbell had two taps: cool charm or white-hot rage. He once called members of the Bus Riders Union “losers” when a more soft-heeled approach should have been taken. A similar stunt was undertaken by our current mayor, Gregor Robertson, one day after the Stanley Cup riots, when he declared that the people carrying out the rioting were nothing more than “losers” and “a bunch of hard-core criminals”. Man, Larry would’ve been so proud he’d have kissed you.
Best political karaoke moment
The B.C. NDP leadership election in April 2011 promised to be an eventful day. The party was voting to replace a leader who had been very publicly ousted by members of her own caucus and paying tribute to that very leader at the same time.
But the showstopper of the day was B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director David Eby, who funnelled his enthusiasm for his by-election race against new premier Christy Clark into a song. The candidate jumped on-stage, grabbed a microphone, and began belting out the lyrics to Jon Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”.
While the election-night results were nail-bitingly close, Point Grey voters opted to send Eby back to his day job. No word on whether or not he’s planning on trying out for a political—and musical—comeback in the riding.
Best political-expense item
When Vancouver city councillors posted their 2010 expenses online earlier this year, there weren’t a lot of juicy surprises. Residents found out how much various councillors spent on Christmas cards, what Raymond Louie expensed on a battery charger, and bicycle enthusiast Geoff Meggs was outed as a frequent taxi user—with $1,988.19 in cab expenses racked up.
But perhaps the most unusual item came from Vision Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson with his expense of $10.40 for “dry cleaning—flag for Pride Parade”.
Clean flag or not, Stevenson’s Vision Vancouver party was out in full force at the Vancouver Pride Parade. Meanwhile, Christy Clark’s Liberals were the only party subject to speculation when the premier’s summer vacation allegedly prevented her from showing up at the annual West End event.
Best impression of Saul Alinsky
You think Barack Obama was a community organizer? He couldn’t match Saul Alinsky, the father of community organizing and one of the greatest champions of the poor. His legacy lives on in the Smile With Dignity! campaign, which is an initiative by the Alliance for People’s Health to include basic dental care under the B.C. Medical Services Plan. “The reason why we call it our Smile With Dignity campaign is because it also affects your sense of human dignity and belongingness,” says one of the organizers, Melanie Spence. “People who don’t have all their teeth or who feel badly about their teeth have told us that they can’t get a job, feel embarrassed in a lot of social situations, and, in addition, they can’t get the proper nutrition that they need. So it does lead to a lot of other health problems.” Young health workers go into the streets, collect signatures and stories, and post them on a website—all with a goal of building public support to expand public health care. Imagine that: actually increasing services to the public rather than cutting them.
Best public intellectual
Joel Bakan could have taken the easy road. As a professor of constitutional law in the UBC law school, he could have sat back, collected a fat cheque, and pontificated about various court decisions to his students. But Bakan has chosen instead to educate the public about the nastiest entities known to humankind: corporations. In his 2004 book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (which was the basis of a documentary film), Bakan exposed why large, publicly traded companies are so prone to acting unethically. This year, he wrote an equally impressive book, Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children, which explained how corporations exploit sophisticated psychological research to hook kids on consumer products. While this is happening, the pharmaceutical giants are busy turning many of these same kids into overmedicated psychiatric patients. It’s scary stuff, and proof that some professors don’t just hang out in ivory towers.
Best candidate for a Nobel Prize in economics
It’s not a stretch to describe UBC community- and regional-planning professor Bill Rees as a modern-day prophet. A cofounder and past president of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics, he was talking about sustainability before most of us had even heard the word. He developed the concept of the ecological footprint in the early 1990s and then cowrote a book on the topic with his then–PhD student Mathis Wackernagel. The ecological footprint measures a population’s demand on its ecosystem, changing the way the world looks at resource consumption. The City of Vancouver relies on Rees’s model to track its environmental performance. “It would be great to see Bill get global kudos for his work, because it’s really world-changing,” Mayor Gregor Robertson told the Straight a while ago. “Thousands of cities are talking about it. I mean, we had over 1,600 cities looking at our greenest-city work and are influenced by it.”
Best union basher
We don’t know if this really warrants a “best” designation, but Fraser Institute alumnus Laura Jones is the reigning champ. Now a senior vice president with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Jones can be relied on by the media whenever they’re looking for someone to bash organized labour. She took a run at Canadian Union of Public Employees B.C. president Barry O’Neill during a Labour Day interview on CBC Radio. Three days later, she followed that with a swipe at B.C. teachers, noting that the average “top” salary of $75,000 is far higher than the OECD average of US$48,022. It would be fun to compare the wages of small-business lobbyists, but that’s impossible because they don’t disclose their salaries.
Forget about those boring discussions between federal leaders before the last election. The most entertaining verbal slugfest occurred at the Rio Theatre last November between Vancouver environmentalist Ben West and tar-sands defender Ezra Levant. With the stage designed like a boxing ring and some crazy lighting, things got positively surreal when the pugnacious Levant, a Calgary lawyer, refused to shake the hand of Gitz Crazyboy, an Native man with concerns about how tar-sands developments have damaged his home community. Crazyboy had previously been heckling Levant by shouting the word “Holocaust”, which Levant took as Jew-baiting. “You’re nothing but grievance politics,” Levant said with disgust. “You’re nothing but a racist yourself.” By diverting the discussion to a racial confrontation, Levant distracted the crowd from the central issue: each barrel of tar-sands oil produces three times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as a conventional barrel of oil. West, who handles himself well in debates, was facing a very clever opponent.
Best use of slang by a local politician
Although Gregor Robertson’s most infamous off-the-cuff comment is likely the “f bomb” incident, the mayor has opted to demonstrate a cooler kind of vocabulary over recent months.
In a city-council discussion of Olympic anniversary celebrations, Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal broke out with some festive cowbell-ringing in the city-hall chambers. Robertson didn’t miss a beat before wryly demanding “more cowbell”, instantly endearing him to fans of Saturday Night Live.
A few months later, the social-media-savvy mayor cemented his youthful cred when he nonchalantly inserted the word yo into a couple of tweets. “Yo Vancouver residents”, he greeted his followers in a message asking for input on the capital plan. He later thanked them for “all yo’ RT’s”.
No signals yet from the NPA camp as to whether or not rival mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton is planning to up the lingo ante.
Quickest way to check how Vancouver councillors affected your community
City-hall watcher Joseph Jones took the time to collate the votes of Vancouver councillors on major planning decisions starting in 2009. The result is Vancouver Council Votes. “Far too often, only the opposed votes of councillors value the daily lives of present Vancouver residents above the economic interests of speculators, developers, and party funders,” Jones writes on the site. As Jones’s tally shows, Vision Vancouver councillors typically vote as a bloc in favour of development proposals over the objections of community residents.
Best colourful take on race as ideology
Former (and would-be) Vancouver councillor Tim Louis may be white but he says, in only part jest, that he’s also a person of colour: “I’m as red as Fidel, I’m as orange as Adrian Dix, and I’m as green as David Suzuki.”
Best lesson on the ties that bind B.C. political life
Chris Delaney reflects on the biggest lesson he has learned during the course of the battle against the harmonized sales tax. “The thing that I learned most was just how deep the connections between the government and the big-business corporations and even the big media are,” he said. He went on: “I guess I’ve always kind of suspected it, but now it’s obvious to see when you have [CKNW talk-show host] Bill Good shilling for the government and doing everything he can to hold the people’s feet to the fire instead of the government, it makes you wonder…It’s kind of pathetic. I think it’s a wake-up call for British Columbians to see just how deep these connections are.”
Best rant regarding the John Furlong–Doug Keefe report on the 2011 Stanley Cup riot
SFU criminology director Robert Gordon: “In many ways, this report is itself a confused collection of thoughts and ideas and recommendations.”
Best reason to back Geoff Meggs
The Georgia Viaduct belches thousands upon thousands of bridge-and-tunnel people into East Van each rush hour, deadheading them at Venables Street and Victoria Drive, where there’s a Do Not Enter sign. As a result, the side streets off Commercial Drive give you a good idea what a giant maze would look like if you filled it with fossil-fuel-burning rats. City councillor Geoff Meggs has gone on record, repeatedly, arguing that the viaduct needs to go. In a best-possible world, this would, presumably, see traffic diverted off Prior/Venables to some sort of new False Creek Flats artery that doesn’t cleave through a residential neighbourhood. For that reason alone, if he runs again for council this fall, some of us know how we’re voting, if only because East Van is tired of playing urban frogger with every suburb dweller of Burnaby, Coquitlam, and beyond.
Best example of a politician changing his mind
In January, the Straight asked then–federal Conservative Delta-Richmond East MP John Cummins if he wanted to be the next leader of the B.C. Conservative party. “No, I don’t think so,” Cummins responded. “I’m quite happy with where I am. I’ve got lots to do. I’m as busy as they come.” About four months later, in May, he was acclaimed as the new B.C. Conservative leader.
Best articulation of the B.C. NDP’s deepest desire
In March, at the height of the leadership contest among provincial New Democrats, Delta North NDP MLA Guy Gentner expressed what is surely driving members of a party that has been out of power since 2001: “Any one of those of those candidates will make a good leader, but I want to know, which one is going to take us to the promise land?” the maverick MLA declared. Going for a shorter version, he said: “I want to win.” Gentner ended up supporting Mike Farnworth, who eventually lost to Adrian Dix.