Best of Vancouver 2012 contributors' picks: News & Politics

For the Georgia Straight’s 17th 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 2012.

Best example of risque business

B.C. premier Christy Clark seemed none too pleased after British billionaire Richard Branson invited her on a naked kiteboarding date. In May, Clark attended a media event at Vancouver International Airport at which Branson launched new Virgin Atlantic flights to London. Shortly after, the Virgin Group founder posted a blog item saying Clark had accepted an invitation “to come for a kitesurf ride on my back”. Branson wrote: “One thing, though—I forgot to tell her about the dress code! Well, here it is.” A photograph with the post showed Branson kiteboarding with a young, nude woman clinging to his back. Amid the ensuing media frenzy, Clark dismissed the invitation as a disrespectful publicity stunt. However, she still took a cheeky shot at Branson, telling reporters: “Someone said to me as a joke that if that’s his best pickup line, then maybe there’s a reason he called his company Virgin.”

Best way to get elected to municipal office

Don’t tell voters in advance of the election that you’re planning on running for the legislature before your term expires.

Best way to get elected to provincial office

Seek an NDP nomination before a by-election, even if you live in the Fraser Valley.

Best way to get elected to federal office

Hire a company to send automated calls to voters who hate your party, informing them that their polling-station location has been changed. Ideally, do this as close to election day as possible.

Best example of putting your money where your mouth is

In May, more than a dozen climate-change activists, including former Vancouver councillor Fred Bass and SFU professor Mark Jaccard, made their way to White Rock and blocked Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company trains carrying coal. The railway, which is owned by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett’s investment company, had already obtained an injunction holding demonstrators responsible for any costs. Had the RCMP recommended that the Crown charge the activists with violating the injunction—rather than simple trespassing—they could have been financially liable for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. That takes guts, especially for those protesters who own homes and who were, literally, risking the roof over their head to drive home the danger of a warming planet.

Best in-your-face way to monitor police behaviour

A citizens’ group called Vancouver Cop Watch began patrolling the streets of the Downtown Eastside last spring, packing digital and cellphone cameras. Their mission: to record and expose abusive behaviour by the police. Group cofounder Jennifer Allan defiantly declares: “I’m right up in their face with a camera and let them know, ‘You’re being watched.’ ”

Most unusual municipal election photo op

The phrase “chickens and wheat fields” became something of a mantra for the Non-Partisan Association on the November 2011 campaign trail as they took issue with Vision Vancouver’s spending on certain food-policy initiatives, even though the related expenditures of taxpayers’ money were inconsequential. (The “wheat fields” involved a $5,000 grant to schools for urban agricultural awareness.) Suzanne Anton and her NPA team ratcheted the message up a notch with a display on the lawn of City Hall the day before the election. The stunt featured a person in a chicken suit, a mock tent city, and a fake wheat field. Campaign manager Peter Armstrong could even be seen moments before the news conference adjusting prop bags of money in a large wheelbarrow. Although NPA candidates said the event was designed to “have a little bit of fun” during the campaign, the stunt provided Vision Vancouver flacks with plenty of ammunition. Some Vision staffers can still be seen on Twitter lobbing quips about chicken suits to their NPA opponents.

Best attempt to steal the media spotlight during a mayoral campaign

The 2011 municipal election campaign saw no shortage of independent candidates keen to throw their hat into the mayoral ring. Limo driver Gerry McGuire cast his bid, as did local hip-hop musician Dubgee and city-hall watchdog Randy Helten. Once again, though, the title of most colourful mayoral candidate went to perennial protester Darrell Zimmerman. The “Saxmaniac” made his presence in the race known when he charged on-stage during a mayoral debate between the two frontrunners, wielding a large toy lobster. Zimmerman was again in the audience when dozens of Occupy Vancouver protesters decided to crash a mayoral debate on housing at a West End church. He could be seen shouting from atop a pew and clutching his ever-present lobster. When financial-disclosure forms were released postelection, it appeared that Zimmerman’s investment paid off in terms of media mentions. According to his form, the candidate spent nothing more than $35 for, you guessed it, a “stuffed toy lobster”.

Best-paying city jobs (and the biggest salary differentials)

Annual compensation for Vancouver’s board of parks and recreation general manager Malcolm Bromley: $216,989, plus free sandwiches at park-board meetings. Park-board chair Sarah Blyth: $10,000 a year, plus $8,000 in expenses. Difference? $198,989. In 2011, Vancouver city (micro)manager Penny Ballem earned $334,002, not including expenses. The average city councillor’s base salary? $64,386. Difference? A stunning $269,616.

Best public tribute to the city’s diversity

In a talk last April at ceremonies marking the completion of a park named after her late father, Vancouver park commissioner Constance Barnes paid homage to the city’s rich diversity with a message of tolerance. Her dad, Emery Barnes, was the first black Speaker of the B.C. legislative assembly.

“When I look out into the crowd and I see people of every colour, every nationality, every language, every age, able, disabled, well-bodied, struggling,” Barnes said, “I see a couple of the homeless folks that I see from the Downtown Eastside and I see some people that are going to get into their BMWs and drive home—this is what my father was about. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or if you’re living on the streets. It doesn’t matter if you’re rolling, you’re walking, what you’re wearing, what your heart, your religion, your sexuality [is]. It doesn’t matter.

“We’re all human beings,” Barnes continued. “We are all here for a reason. We all need to respect each other, not judge each other, work together to achieve the bigger picture. And that was what my father was about.”

Best question about Vision Vancouver’s green credentials

Vision Vancouver flaunts its supposed green agenda. But parks advocate and all-round gadfly Jamie Lee Hamilton pointed out that since the ruling party won majorities on council and park board in 2008, the city hasn’t made a major purchase of land for park space. She recalled that the last time the City of Vancouver bought a huge chunk of land for park purposes was in 1993, with the 3.05-hectare Trillium park site. So Hamilton asked: “Where’s the green?”

Best political nickname (Provincial)

Premier Snooki

Best Political Nickname (Municipal)

Mayor Moonbeam