Best of Vancouver 2018: News & Politics

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      Best new face in the legislature

      There was a new voice in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia last March. A very new voice, in fact. One that only managed a few squeaks and gibberish but which was still heard. It belonged to Dev Juno Chandra Herbert, who was only 13 months old when he took a seat in the legislature. Baby Dev was in Victoria with his father, Spencer Chandra Herbert, who is the NDP MLA representing Vancouver–West End.

      Chandra Herbert brought his son to work to illustrate a change in chamber rules that now allows MLAs to sit with children two years old and younger. “MLAs voted to change the rules to make the Legislature more friendly for MLAs with babies today,” Chandra Herbert wrote on Facebook alongside a photo of Dev looking slightly confused by the whole affair. “Infants under two in the care of their parent are now welcome on the floor and committee rooms of the legislature.”


      Best political civil war

      The NPA bloodbath was a sight to behold this year. First, former Conservative MP Wai Young declared that she had no faith in the process, so she didn’t even seek the party’s mayoral nomination. Coun. Hector Bremner jumped in, only to be told that he hadn’t been green-lit to put his name before the membership.

      The eventual winner of the NPA mayoral nomination, businessman Ken Sim, now risks going down to defeat because traditional NPA voters have migrated to Bremner’s Yes Vancouver and Young’s Coalition Vancouver. Neither party would have existed had these candidates been persuaded to remain inside the NPA tent by the party board.

      At the start of the year, it looked like the NPA directors had this election in the bag. By October 20, we’ll know if they’ve blown it big-time. If so, it will be the NPA’s fourth straight loss since 2008. And you thought the Canucks were bad.


      Best double-dog dare ya

      Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner made a first-class dare in this year’s election season. Rejected by the Non-Partisan Association as an applicant for the NPA’s mayoral contest, Bremner left and formed his own party, Yes Vancouver. Asked if there was a chance he would go back and run for city council with NPA mayoral pick Ken Sim’s team, Bremner didn’t hesitate with an answer. “If Ken [Sim] would face a [NPA] runoff against us,” Bremner said. “You know, we were unfairly excluded from the race.” Sim would not comment on that issue.


      Best sign that Vancouver’s next mayor might be a nerd

      These days, nerds have become hip. It’s evident all over the place, and not just on The Big Bang Theory. The Storm Crow Alehouse brags that it’s the city’s hottest nerd bar. Later this month, Fan Expo Vancouver will bring hordes of geeks to the Vancouver Convention Centre, some in costumes, in a celebration of sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica. But the biggest test of the city’s nerdiness will come on October 20, when an SFU electoral-system researcher and former MP, Kennedy Stewart, will find out if he’ll replace Gregor Robertson as Vancouver’s next mayor.

      Last year, Stewart coedited a book with Conservative MP Michael Chong and Scott Simms called Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy. Stewart’s chapter is entitled “Empowering the Backbench: The Story of Electronic Petitions”. In politics, things don’t get any nerdier than this. In light of the current mania around nerds, it’s surprising that Stewart’s campaign isn’t capitalizing on this with T-shirts proclaiming that Vancouver needs a geeky mayor to solve its most wrenching social problems.

      Enough of those pretty-boy politicians. Justin, Gregor, and Barack are so passé. And everyone knows that Trump is plain obnoxious. But Kennedy Stewart: hey, that’s someone who’s a little different from the norm.



      Second-Best sign that Vancouver’s next mayor might be a nerd

      Shauna Sylvester is another bookish SFU policy wonk running to replace Gregor Robertson. The professor of public practice is not quite as nerdy as Stewart, and it’s inconceivable to think of her showing up looking like an X-Files character at Fan Expo Vancouver. But she still has a geeky side when it comes to researching solutions to the climate crisis. And she once supervised a group of students who compiled a “Green History of Vancouver Timeline” using Time­glider software.

      It highlighted everything from the creation of Harland Bartholomew’s original town plan to the establishment of the Agricultural Land Reserve and Greenpeace to the protection of Metro Vancouver’s watersheds from logging interests. That’s kind of nerdy.


      Best sign that the next mayor might anthropomorphize infrastructure

      Coalition Vancouver candidate Wai Young is waging a war on “ideological bike lanes”. Hmmm… We never knew that civic infrastructure had a political disposition until now. What’s next? Ideological community centres? Ideological sewers? Or our favourite: ideological heating and ventilation systems? Don’t you just love it when political candidates ascribe human characteristics to concrete barriers? Thanks, Wai.


      Best example of city hall fighting city hall

      The City of Vancouver cannot always be taken at its word. It says one thing and does the other. It claims to support building new rental homes but acts like it does not. The circumstances surrounding a rental development in Marpole may be the best example. On account of lot frontage that was 42 inches short of qualifying for a certain floor-space ratio, city hall took its own board of variance to court to stop the development of a four-storey rental building at 308 West 62nd Avenue. Never mind that the board of variance has the authority under the Vancouver Charter to decide appeals to decisions by the city’s planning department. Fortunately for the property owner, the court ruled against the city, allowing the rental project to proceed.


      Best power for rent control the city doesn’t use

      When it comes to landlords and renters, have you ever wondered on whose side the City of Vancouver really stands? Nathalie Baker, a litigator specializing in municipal law, seems to have a spot-on example. According to her, the city has the authority under the Vancouver Charter to enter into housing agreements with developers of rental housing. Section 565.2 of the charter provides that these agreements can include terms on “rents that may be charged and the rates at which rents may be increased over time”. But Baker notes that the city doesn’t use this particular section. The result is that developers get to charge practically whatever they want.



      Best reason not to consume cannabis before getting behind the wheel

      At the Georgia Straight’s recent Grassroots Expo, former traffic cop (and court-recognized expert in police radar) Grant Gottgetreu was asked about drug-impaired driving. He boldly predicted that the B.C. government will eventually allow officers to dish out immediate roadside prohibitions to those suspected of being high on cannabis while behind the wheel. That will avoid the hassle of having to drag people back to police stations to determine if they’re truly stoned.

      But there’s a problem with IRPs, as they’re also called. They’re attached to people’s driving records, which means this information is available to law-enforcement officers who merely punch licence-plate information into a database. Gottgetreu explained at the conference that U.S. border agents have access to these types of databases. That means anyone with an IRP for driving high could be prevented from entering the United States for life without even being convicted in a court of law. Ouch!


      Best place to observe the speed limit

      The West Vancouver Police Department has one of the lightest workloads of any law-enforcement agency in Canada. Sure, there’s the occasional fraud case and sometimes they have to respond to domestic disputes in Canada’s richest community (average household net worth: $4.5 million). But what really keeps the West Van cops busy is impounding speeding vehicles on the Upper Levels Highway. On one Monday night in February, three of them were hauled away, including one that was clocked at 187 kilometres per hour.

      Incidents like this get the happy drops flowing in TV newsrooms because they attract larger audiences. Who doesn’t love seeing some young punk losing his Lamborghini for a while after disrespecting the rules of the road? Especially when the cops are so eager to show the offending vehicle in the impound lot. But the lesson is clear to motorists. Don’t put your pedal to the metal in the region’s sleepiest burgh unless you want to rely on TransLink to help get you around in the future.


      Best B.C. cannabis tweeter

      The honour goes to Kirk Tousaw. The lawyer for all things cannabis understands that Twitter has become an ideal public forum for responding in a concise way to the news of the day. And there’s no shortage of cannabis news as the country heads toward legalization on October 17. Follow him @kirktousaw. You’ll learn a great deal, and not just about cannabis.


      Most amusing cannabis tweeter who used to live in Vancouver

      That’s easy. It’s Tommy Chong. The world-famous stoner, comedian, and director regularly skewers Donald Trump, to the delight of his 480,000 followers. “I do enjoy trolling the Donald,” Chong declared in May. “So obvious and so evil.” Follow him @tommychong and find out why he thinks Agent Orange is going to end up in the crowbar hotel.



      Best reason to hope our history can change America

      The dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl arrived in B.C. in 2013. Since then, fatal overdoses have soared, from 333 across the province that year to more than 1,450 in 2017. Vancouver experienced an epidemic like this once before. Though not as severe, a drug crisis in the 1990s killed thousands in Vancouver.

      The city responded in incredible ways, establishing North America’s first sanctioned supervised-injection facility, Insite, and successfully reducing overdose deaths. The Georgia Straight’s Travis Lupick asked himself what lessons from that crisis of the ’90s could be applied to save lives today as he wrote the book Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle With Addiction. It shares the stories of Downtown Eastside activists like the Portland Hotel Society’s Liz Evans and Mark Townsend, and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users’ Bud Osborn, Ann Livingston, and Dean Wilson, recounting how they marched in the streets to demand that the government respond with the urgency that was required.

      Lupick won the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature and has gone on to tour parts of the United States where harm-reduction advocates are being inspired by Vancouver’s experience.


      Best unexpected local bestseller

      Who would have guessed that a primer on 19th-century legislation could become one of B.C.’s most popular local books of the year? Educator Bob Joseph wrote 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality to help Canadians better understand what led to cultural genocide, the residential-school system, and other horrors inflicted on First Nations. Joseph, a member of the Gwawaenuk Nation, lays it out in crisp, clear prose in a small book that can fit in someone’s back pocket. According to the Read Local B.C. website, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act has remained a B.C. bestseller for 24 weeks.

      Perhaps this will encourage publishers to produce similar books on laws that kept South Asians and Chinese from moving to Canada, as well as other legislated acts of white supremacy in Canadian history. “The legacy of the residential school system continues to impact Indigenous people, families, and communities,” Joseph writes in his book. “On its doorstep we can lay the responsibility for the high poverty rates, the large number of Indigenous children in foster care, the disproportionate number of Incarcerated Indigenous people, and the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women.”


      Best justification for moving to Marpole

      Vancouver’s 2019–22 capital plan includes plenty of goodies for what has traditionally been seen as the city’s only West Side neighbourhood with an East Side feel. If voters approve the capital plan on October 20, the city will spend $23.8 million renewing the library branch near Granville Street and West 67th Avenue. As part of the upgrade, the city is adding social housing and a 69-space childcare centre. There’s also $15 million earmarked for an outdoor pool in Marpole.

      Plus, another $36.7 million will be invested in the Marpole-Oakridge Community Centre in Oak Park. Consider it hush money for those angry NIMBYs who didn’t want temporary modular housing for the homeless in that part of town. Change is coming. And won’t it be wonderful knowing that those formerly homeless people will have spanking new recreational and reading rooms in that part of the neighbourhood?



      Best Vancouver version of Jeremy Corbyn

      This honour goes to Derrick O’Keefe, who is running for city council with the Coalition of Progressive Electors. A tenants’-rights activist and ardent proponent of a rent freeze, O’Keefe shares some of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s views about the Middle East. Think of O’Keefe as the city’s friendly leftist. He smiles more easily than Corbyn and has a quick wit. O’Keefe writes well-researched articles and books. And unlike many politicians, he eagerly picks up a placard and participates in protests against militarism and imperialism.

      If he’s elected to council, the NDP government in Victoria will soon realize that it will be facing new demands for social justice from an elected official. He’s not one to simply ask for what the province is prepared to give. Instead, O’Keefe seeks what he thinks the province ought to provide. So do his fellow COPE candidates for council, Anne Roberts and Jean Swanson, who also have things in common with U.K. politician. But O’Keefe’s the only one of the trio who had lunch with Corbyn in Britain’s parliamentary cafeteria before he entered politics.


      Best way to pester the federal government

      For the duration of 2018, Dan Small has been on a one-man mission. The cofounder of North America’s first supervised-injection facility, Insite, has obstinately pushed the federal government to convene a royal commission for a detailed examination of Canada’s opioid epidemic and the root causes that have contributed to a sharp rise in overdose deaths.

      Small, a medical anthropologist and adjunct professor at UBC, began his efforts with a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office. From there, he was referred to Canada’s health minister. Her office suggested that Small direct his request to the governor general’s office, so he did. If a royal commission is eventually established to investigate the causes of Canada’s opioid epidemic, it will likely focus on the years that former prime minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative party held power in Ottawa.

      “We need a royal commission that accountably investigates our nation’s values as they have impacted, and continue to impact, societal approaches to opioid use,” Small continued. “A royal commission would allow us to look backwards at the mistakes we’ve made.”


      Best reason to go to war with your neighbour

      To children visiting a zoo, peacocks are big, colourful animals that elicit fascination. But to some residents of Surrey, B.C., the bird’s resplendent plumage isn’t so impressive. A number of peacocks have apparently roamed wild in Surrey for some time, creating noise and, in some residents’ yards, a good deal of excrement. In May 2018, one homeowner became so frustrated with the animals that he cut down a tree on his property where peacocks were roosting.

      That attracted the ire of some neighbours, who said they enjoyed having the sizable peafowl around. With more than 100 of the animals occupying the Surrey neighbourhood of Sullivan Heights, tensions simmered among residents. Then, in June, things came to a boil when a city bylaw officer claimed to have been assaulted after responding to a report of someone feeding the peacocks. “It’s a very intense situation on all sides,” Surrey’s public-safety manager told media. “The community is definitely divided on this issue.


      Best name for a new political party

      No, it’s not Yes Vancouver or Coalition Vancouver. This honour goes to Proudly Surrey, which is the brainchild of former B.C. Green party leader Stuart Parker and Fleetwood resident Dean McGee. It unabashedly borrowed British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s slogan, “For the Many, not the Few”, to advance a vision of social justice that’s not been articulated before by politicians south of the Fraser River.

      Corbyn himself modified the final line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem “The Masque of Anarchy”, which included this stanza: “Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number!/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many, they are few!” Proudly Surrey is urging residents to support its vision of becoming “Masters in our Own Domain”, which involves pulling out of TransLink and rejecting provincewide teacher bargaining in favour of negotiating its own contracts.

      Proudly Surrey also pledges to invest in arts “like no previous administration”, making this an economic engine of the city. Imagine that. A political party that puts culture at the top of its agenda. In Surrey, no less.