For the Georgia Straight’s 19th 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 2014.
Best words to be remembered by
The Downtown Eastside and all of Vancouver lost a hero when poet-activist Bud Osborn passed away in May of this year. At a public memorial that closed off the 100 block of East Hastings, Osborn was remembered for the compassion he showed to the poor and addicted and for his take-no-prisoners style of political activism. Among Osborn’s best-known victories is the founding of Insite, North America’s only sanctioned supervised injection facility. But he had countless others, many of which will remain secrets with the people to whom he offered a helping hand. As friends spoke at Osborn’s memorial, people scribbled their memories of him on a wall across the street from Insite. Months later, his war cry—“Raise shit!”—still appears there unblemished.
Best political strategy in the Vancouver election
The Vancouver Greens have cleverly run just three candidates for city council, opening up the possibility that they could hold the balance of power after the November civic election. Incumbent Adriane Carr will be joined by Cleta Brown and Pete Fry, whose mothers had tremendous political success in the city. Brown’s mother, Rosemary, nearly won the federal NDP leadership; Fry’s mother, Hedy, has been unbeaten in eight elections, making her the longest-serving Liberal MP in B.C. history. If the NPA takes just three seats and all three Greens are elected, Vision Vancouver will no longer be able to control the agenda—even if the Coalition of Progressive Electors, the Vancouver Cedar Party, Vancouver First, and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver are shut out.
Best mayoral race
It’s not Gregor Robertson versus Kirk LaPointe versus Meena Wong versus Glen Chernen. Nor is it the battle to replace Dianne Watts in Surrey. The most fascinating mayoral contest in the region pits youthful New Westminster councillor Jonathan X. Cote against four-term mayor and senior citizen Wayne Wright. There’s something faintly Oedipal in Cote’s sudden move to try to slay Wright politically after the two have worked cooperatively for so many years to revive the downtown.
Best long shot to sack the Harper government
Former Vancouver newspaper columnist Greg Felton isn’t daunted by odds. His online petition asks Governor General David Johnston to can Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Felton relies on a 1947 decree signed by King George VI constituting the Governor General’s office, with the power “to remove…any person exercising any office within Canada”. A House report on the role of the monarch’s representative states that although the Governor General has vast powers, “many of the most important conventions in the Canadian Constitution provide that these powers are, in practice, exercised individually by the Prime Minister and collectively by Cabinet.”
Best fishy flip-flop
The Vancouver Aquarium was on the defensive though 2014, increasingly at odds with a park board concerned about the well-being of whales and dolphins kept in captivity. For months, CEO John Nightingale argued that the organization only cared for rescued animals and didn’t participate in captive-breeding programs. But he began to sing a different tune after the Straight revealed that the aquarium was involved in a cross-continent breeding program that had resulted in the births of a number of beluga calves. Suddenly the aquarium was arguing it had to breed whales as a means of sustaining research programs. Supporters followed suit, and arguments shifted from “Why bother the aquarium? They don’t breed” to “Don’t bother the aquarium. They need to breed.”
Best reason to smoke 500 fresh-caught salmon
One month had passed since the City of Vancouver served campers in Oppenheimer Park with eviction notices. The protest calling for affordable housing had grown substantially in those four weeks. But with little attention coming from the city and even less from the province, campers reported they were feeling forgotten. Enter Joshua Duncan, a First Nations commercial fisherman who arrived with a plan to buoy spirits. Duncan donated 500 sockeye salmon to the protest to make for a Friday-night feast like few the neighbourhood had ever seen.
Best praise for political testicular fortitude
Through the summer of 2014, the number of storefronts selling “medicinal” marijuana in Vancouver had ballooned to more than 45. Because they are technically illegal, the proliferation of the dispensaries has, understandably, left some politicians confused about where they stand on the issue. But one elected official has made his position clear and, in doing so, has attracted the praise of the public. “As a non user I would like to personally thank you for your commitment to these patients and their right to their medicine,” one voter took the time to write in a letter to Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang. “Thank you for having a set of balls counsellor [sic], they are much needed and appreciated.”
Best suggestion to end the B.C. teachers’ strike
By mid-September, the B.C teachers’ strike had dragged on for months. Negotiations had hit a brick wall and the provincial government and the B.C. Teachers Federation were barely on speaking terms, instead concentrating their efforts in a PR war for public support. Everyone wondered how negotiations could ever regain momentum. Then came Dana Larsen, one of Canada’s leading advocates for marijuana reform. On August 11, the Sensible B.C. campaign director revealed he had mailed Premier Christy Clark a special bag of purple kush. “I thought if she could get together with Peter Fassbender, Jim Iker, and their negotiating teams to share a joint, it would help break down some barriers and give the BCTF negotiations a fresh start,” Larsen explained.
Best announcement to launch a comeback
“Marc Emery is in the house!” With those words sparking a mid-August rally at Victory Square, Marc Emery had officially returned to Vancouver. The advocate for marijuana reform spent almost five years in a U.S. prison for selling seeds via mail order. But he’s back now and not wasting any time. Days earlier, after crossing the border to enter Windsor, Ontario, Emery used the occasion of his first post-prison news conference to make his ambitions clear. “Canadian politicians are the most gutless group of people I have ever seen,” he said. “We are going to have to reclaim our democracy and get marijuana legalized next election.”
Best reason to throw in the towel on affordable housing
The Burns Block
Rooms at 18 West Hastings Street (at Carrall Street) once rented at the welfare rate of $375 per month. That was before the building was left vacant and later renovated. A tiny personal bathroom was added to each unit, et voilà: SROs became “microlofts”. Between 226 and 291 square feet, they were expected to go for about $850 per month when first floated on the market in 2012. But Vancouver’s housing crunch meant they quickly surpassed that rate. Rooms at the Burns Block now appear on Craigslist for more than $1,000 a month, or between $4 and $5 per square foot.
Best imitation of that asshole from Aliens
In its avaricious determination to get a condo-development price for its thin strip of long-unused city land zoned as a transportation corridor, CP Rail has bulldozed children’s and grandmothers’ garden plots as part of its “negotiations” with the City of Vancouver. Aliens’ Ellen Ripley could have been talking about CP instead of greedhead Carter Burke when she said, comparing him, unfavourably, to the murderous alien monsters outside: “You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage!”
Best tweet on Christy Clark and public education
On February 4, Vancouver school-board chair Patti Bacchus posted on Twitter: “If putting your child in an elite private school & then…putting the boots to the public system is what passes for leadership.” She followed with: “Yes, I went there.” That was the same day that the B.C. Liberal government announced that it was appealing a court decision that found it didn’t negotiate on good faith with public-school teachers. Premier Christy Clark’s son, Hamish, attends an exclusive private school. Teachers went on full strike on June 17, but the two sides reached a tentative agreement on the day the Straight went to the printer.
Best difference between Vancouver and Hogtown city politics
The day the news broke that Toronto mayor Rob Ford had admitted to smoking crack, the mood in the Vancouver city-council chamber was markedly different. As a media circus ensued at Toronto City Hall, Vancouver politicians were in the midst of tripping over themselves thanking one another for a new cultural amenity. “Thank you to Councillor [Heather] Deal for thanking me,” Raymond Louie said, to delighted laughter from his colleagues. The politicians then went on to debate such controversial topics as sidewalks. (No word as to whether or not sidewalk cracks came up in the discussion.)
Best local censure of Harper’s HIV/AIDS “strategy”
Vancouver-based and globally renowned HIV/AIDS expert Julio Montaner is known for not mincing his words when it comes to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. During an interview with the Straight at an event to mark Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, Montaner again spoke out against the feds’ refusal to adopt a national “treatment as prevention” strategy to fight HIV, calling it “mind-boggling” that Canada has not followed the lead of other countries like the U.S. and Brazil. “My position is that if this was H1N1 or the flu or some other infectious disease that doesn’t carry the connotations of sex and drugs that are so problematic for our colleagues in Ottawa, we would be all over it,” he stated. “The opportunity for us to do the right thing, to control the epidemic, would not be passed by.”
Best example of an election going to the birds
In one of the nerdiest things to make the Vancouver politics social-media rounds, #vanpoli followers were all aflutter with the news of a mock election for the city’s next official bird of the year. Multiple city staffers were mobilized to man Twitter accounts for the avian candidates, and the little creatures ended up garnering far more votes than ballots cast in the last municipal election (although there was nothing to stop fans of the varied thrush or pileated woodpecker from clicking multiple times for their preferred candidate). The winner? The black-capped chickadee. If only Vancouver residents were able to muster a similar passion for casting votes for real-life municipal representatives—in 2011, just 35 percent of eligible voters participated in the process.
Best blogging by a politician
You may not agree with the views of NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe, but there’s no disputing how well written the posts are on his “The Vancouver I Want” blog. He slashes Vision Vancouver policies in such an easygoing style that it doesn’t come across as spin, even though it is. LaPointe may not win the election, but he is helping to reinvent political discourse in Vancouver.
Best rebranding of a Lower Mainland neighbourhood
Surrey mayor Dianne Watts often uses the term “Innovation Boulevard” to describe the zone between SFU’s campus beside Surrey Central Station and Surrey Memorial Hospital. Innovation Boulevard conjures visions of medical researchers in white lab coats peering into microscopes. Surrey officials make the case that these researchers need to travel on rapid transit from the university to the hospital to do their vital life-saving work. This rebranding exercise is the perfect foil to UBC’s attempt to claim that it should be first in line for rapid transit so that its researchers can travel from the Point Grey campus to the so-called medical precinct near Vancouver General Hospital. Once upon a time, the stretch of King George Highway south of Surrey Central Station went by far less flattering terms than Innovation Boulevard. One of Watts’s greatest accomplishments has been to banish Whalley from the municipal lexicon.
Best contribution to municipal electoral reform
Surrey voters should thank Doug McCallum if their city eventually gets to elect councillors through wards. The ex-mayor has promised to bring in this alternative to the current at-large model as one of his four priorities in his new campaign to get his old job back. Following McCallum’s lead, independent councillor Barinder Rasode, who is expected to run for mayor, committed to do the same. Councillor Linda Hepner, who has been chosen to succeed outgoing mayor Dianne Watts as standard bearer for the Surrey First party, pledged a referendum on wards in 2018, although she isn’t a huge fan of the neighbourhood-based voting system.
Best proof that community activism makes a difference
The epic battle over a 217.5-hectare Delta property has ended. Last May, Metro Vancouver approved a key requirement to allow residential and commercial development on the Tsawwassen-area farmland known as Southlands. The fight to preserve the former Spetifore farms engaged citizens, including a small group of four who called themselves Southlands the Facts. The developer had initially wanted to build 1,900 homes on one-third of the acreage, with the rest for parkland and a community farm. Because of relentless community pressure, the plan was scaled down to 950 houses, with 80 percent of the land to be transferred to Delta.