Best of Vancouver 2017: News & Politics

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      Best relocation by a cannabis event

      This year’s annual 4/20 event took place at Sunset Beach for the second year in a row, and although it certainly made the news for all the wrong reasons (excessive spending on policing by the city and unfortunate damage to a patch of grass), another cannabis event was talked about for all the right ones.

      Moving from its original location at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Cannabis Day was held at Thornton Park this year despite the park board’s lack of interest in providing organizers like Dana Larsen with a permit. The park, located next to Main Street–Science World SkyTrain Station, provided an accessible, shaded outdoor area for cannabis users to celebrate peacefully.

      And wouldn’t the park board know it: the event went off without a hitch (or a single incident of police involvement)—a welcome surprise, given the past few years of Cannabis Day–related antics.


      Best news for Qmunity

      At Qmunity’s 13th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia breakfast in May, Mayor Gregor Robertson announced that city council had voted unanimously to provide Qmunity—B.C.’s queer resource centre, based in Vancouver—a new 10,000-square-foot home in a building to be built at the corner of Burrard and Davie streets.

      The announcement ended more than two decades of searching for a new location, as the centre has long outgrown the inadequate, aging, and wheelchair-inaccessible second-floor premises at Bute and Davie streets where it has resided since 1985. The new space, a combination of ground-floor and upper-floor offices, will be ready in three to five years and will provide greater LGBT visibility, something important in countering historical and ongoing discrimination.


      Best punk-rock credentials from a politician

      Perhaps sensing that she desperately needed to score some cool points ahead of this past spring’s provincial election, former B.C. premier Christy Clark decided to reveal a side of herself few knew. Agreeing to an interview with Vancouver’s legen­dary Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the then Liberal party leader showed herself to be not only human but also a fan of the Subhumans. And D.O.A. and Pointed Sticks.

      Over the course of 16 minutes, Clark reminisced about sneaking out of her Burnaby home to attend Vancouver punk shows, earned bragging rights for catching the Replacements at the Town Pump, and talked about buying Clash records on vinyl (back when vinyl wasn’t cool but the sensible alternative to 8-track tapes). Who cares if the gig where she’s convinced she saw D.O.A. headlining the Italian Cultural Centre on Halloween actually consisted of the Pointed Sticks, Young Canadians, and B-Sides—at least she wasn’t strutting around the Lower Mainland in the ’80s wearing red leather pants and a terrycloth headband while listening to Loverboy.

      Clark, of course, went on to lose the election—but it’s cool to imagine her drowning her sorrows on the night of her defeat by cranking Death Sentence’s “In Flames”.


      Best (last) legal public place to enjoy a cigarette and a drink at the same time

      New Westminster was the last Lower Mainland city to ban smoking on patios, but there’s still one venue in the riverside town where you can get away with hacking a dart. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of taking a Vancouver Paddlewheeler tour from the docks at Westminster Quay, you’ll know that the upper deck of the M.V. Native, a replica of a 19th-century paddlewheeler, is the last legal public place in the Lower Mainland where you can simultaneously indulge in a cigarette and a cocktail.


      Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (right) showed his love for Sher Vancouver at the Pride parade.
      Sher Vancouver

      Best dance performance by a Canadian politician

      Saturday Night Live once lampooned a former U.S. attorney general with “Janet Reno’s Dance Party” sketches, but a Canadian politician was not shy about actually joining in a local dance party. At this year’s Pride parade, Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, jumped on to Sher Vancouver’s float to show off his best Bollywood moves.

      Showing he’s no stranger to screen industries, the badass Sajjan also later met with Vancouver badass Ryan Reynolds on the badass set of Deadpool 2. Could “Harjit Sajjan’s Badass Bollywood Dance Party” be next on CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes? Let’s hope so.


      Best evidence that welfare rates in B.C. are way behind the times

      A report to the Vancouver police board in July this year stated that panhandlers in South Granville have refused offers of welfare support from the government. According to the document, panhandlers were not interested because they can make $1,000 a month from begging, which was more than the $610 income-assistance rate at that time. The new B.C. NDP government raised welfare rates by $100 starting September 20.


      Wendy Williams Watt Creative

      Best ballsy way to save us

      Wendy Williams Watt’s Big Love Balls—giant, five-foot-diameter inflatable spheres with the four-letter L-word emblazoning them—carry a simple message that’s catching on around the planet. Not only have they been Instagrammed and Pinned from the Netherlands to Japan, the Vancouver artist and interior designer has seen them installed everywhere from New York City’s Ground Zero (where passersby wrote “love notes” on them in black marker) to the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza.

      Watt’s message is an uncomplicated call for human compassion in a divided world, and it’s resonating. Her balls now come in a variety of sizes and colours, from lime green to hot pink (which she bounced onto the VAG site to mark International Women’s Day on March 8 this year).

      The Big Love Balls have been used in everything from a dance work by Noam Gagnon and Ziyian Kwan to rescue-animal charity campaigns to Dîner en Blanc and the Pride parade. As Watt puts it, the project is “an irresistible invitation to connect. In a moment it has become a movement”—a movement that appears to keep rolling along.


      Best measure to prepare neighbourhoods for crisis

      Vancouver city hall recently approved a pilot project to help local communities build the capacity to deal with emergencies and disasters. A staff report cited risks posed by extreme weather and seismic events disrupting everyday life. Grandview-Woodland, Dunbar, Renfrew-Collingwood, and the Downtown Eastside were chosen to participate in the launch of the Resilient Neighbourhoods Program.


      Best NDP gift to stringy, tough old grizzly bears

      The B.C. NDP government is ending the grizzly-bear trophy hunt in the province effective November 30. About 250 grizzly bears are killed by hunters each year in B.C. However, conservationists are worried that although the trophy gathering of such parts as claws, head, and hide is going to be over, hunters are still going to be allowed to kill bears for meat. The government is also stopping the hunting of grizzlies in all of the Great Bear Rainforest.


      Best artistic response to the overdose epidemic

      It’s been a tough few years for the Downtown Eastside. The arrival of the synthetic-opioid fentanyl sent fatal overdoses in the neighbourhood soaring and there’s no end in sight to the epidemic. And so, in early September, it was nice to see some colour added to the place.

      With the support of the Portland Hotel Society, Culture Saves Lives, Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts, and the City of Vancouver, artists Jerry Whitehead, Corey Larocque, and Sharifah Marsden painted a thunderbird with its wings stretched out above a quilt. Titled The Healing Quilt: Blanketing Our Lost Loved Ones, the mural is 10 storeys tall and covers an entire side of PHS’s headquarters at 20 West Hastings Street.

      As a final touch, there’s a quote from Downtown Eastside poet and activist Bud Osborn: “There is no one to care,” it reads, “if you do not care.” 


      George Chow (right) is back in the political saddle, representing the constituency of Vancouver-Fraserview in the legislature.
      Charlie Smith

      Best political comeback by a Vancouver politician

      George Chow is back, big-time. As a B.C. NDP candidate, he pulled an upset in the May 9 provincial election, when he defeated B.C. Liberal MLA and cabinet member Suzanne Anton in Vancouver-Fraserview. It revived Chow’s political career, long thought by some to be over following previous unsuccessful forays into provincial politics.

      In 2011, then a second-term Vancouver city councillor, Chow decided not to run for a third term so he could seek the B.C. NDP nomination for Vancouver-Fraserview. He lost to Gabriel Yiu, who then lost to Anton in the 2013 provincial election. In that same election, Chow ran for the NDP in Vancouver-Langara and lost to B.C. Liberal Moira Stilwell.


      Best sign that the VPD is mending its ways with transgender people

      The Vancouver police used to have no guidelines on how officers should deal with transgender people, but that is changing. Following a 2015 decision by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, the department last year adopted a recommendation directing officers to refer to transgender individuals by their preferred names and pronouns.

      This was followed by more reforms approved in July this year by the police board in connection with searches. These include allowing a transgender person in custody to request the gender of the officer do a search, a practice that is already in place in cities such as Port Moody and Victoria.


      Lon LaClaire has put Vancouver on the map as the top North American city for commuter cyclists.
      Carlito Pablo

      Best bureaucrat for cyclists

      The city’s transportation czar, Lon LaClaire, has been taking pavement away from motorists and giving it to cyclists for years. And it’s not only at high-profile locations like on the Burrard Bridge or along Hornby and Dunsmuir streets. He has also overseen the introduction of intersection changes all over the city—Cypress and Broadway is one, and Burrard and West 7th is another—to prevent cars from turning off main arterials onto cycling routes.

      It’s all in the name of cyclists’ safety, even as it triggers occasional road rage among drivers when they come across the latest of LaClaire’s “improvements”. But, hey, you can’t criticize the results: Vancouver has the highest percentage of commuter cyclists in North America.


      Best proof that corporate and union donations are despised by the public

      Individual donors cracked open their wallets and chequebooks for the B.C. Green Party after it declared in September 2016 that it will not accept donations from corporations and unions. In that year, with most contributions flowing in after the announcement, the provincial Greens set a historic fundraising record, raising 93 percent more money than the previous year.


      Geoff Meggs has gone from being a cycling city councillor to a very powerful chief of staff to the B.C. premier.
      Stephen Hui

      Best political connections

      Geoff Meggs jumped from Vancouver city council to become Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff. As a result, Meggs just might be the second-most powerful person in the province. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t win the provincial NDP nomination in Vancouver-Fairview and who was barely reelected to council in 2014.


      Best predictable political letdown

      The NDP was elected on a promise to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour in its first term in office. Then, shortly after the government was formed, Labour Minister Harry Bains appeared in the media to revoke the promise. How utterly predictable.


      Sarah Blyth knows who will get her vote for school board. Do you?
      Amanda Siebert

      Best way to generate trust with the electorate

      Last year, former park commissioner Sarah Blyth became something of a saint to many drug addicts and their families for launching pop-up supervised-injection sites along with Ann Livingston and other volunteers. So a political endorsement from Blyth should carry some weight, right? That’s the way it usually works: get a respected voice to speak on a candidate’s behalf and the candidate’s esteem grows in the eyes of the public.

      But Blyth doesn’t play the political game like other third-party endorsers. Here’s what she had to say over Twitter about Vision Vancouver school-board candidate Theo Lamb: “I fell in dogshit on the Drive (long story.) and @theolamb saved me…” And for this and many other reasons, Blyth declared that she will vote for Lamb in the election on October 14. Sounds like a good enough reason for us.


      Best political faux pas

      During the provincial election campaign, B.C. Liberal political fixers launched social-media attacks on Linda Higgins after she was brushed off by Christy Clark in a North Vancouver grocery store.

      The smearing backfired when what should have been a forgettable one-day news story turned into the hashtag #IamLinda and an election-campaign fiasco lasting for days.

      The party came across as petty and mean-spirited, reinforcing the worst aspects of the B.C. Liberals’ brand. And this contributed to the party losing control of the B.C. legislature and Clark’s resignation. How dumb was that?


      Andrea Reimer (seen with TaiwanFest cofounder Dr. Charles Yang) gave a lengthy introduction in the Squamish language at this year's TaiwanFest opening ceremony.
      Charlie Smith

      Best effort by a politician to promote reconciliation

      At a TaiwanFest classical-music concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Coun. Andrea Reimer delivered fairly lengthy opening remarks in the language of the Squamish people. Some in the audience—including many of Taiwanese ancestry—might have been confused by what they had heard, because there is the occasional similarity between this Indigenous language and some Chinese dialects.

      This prompted Reimer to quip that she wasn’t speaking really bad Mandarin. She later revealed to the Straight that her teacher is Khelsilem, an Indigenous-languages expert at Simon Fraser University. “I decided to do it because it seemed weird to be able to do a welcome in several other languages to help people from different cultures feel seen and valued in Vancouver but not to be able to acknowledge a welcome from the local First Nations in the language that belongs to the land.”


      Best excuse Vancouver police have for raiding dispensaries

      “The Toronto Police Service told us to.”


      Best response to a civic-design fail

      The City of Vancouver unveiled a new civic logo in February—and boy was it, erm, not pretty. The refreshed emblem did away with the current emblem’s floral motif and instead featured the words City of Vancouver in an uninspiring Gotham font, prompting the local design community to pen an open—and scathing—letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson.

      “Please, spare us from this new logo,” industry experts pleaded after calling the wordmark an “insult to the design and creative sector” and “to Vancouverites and all who love our city”. Hilariously harsh? Yes. Effective? Yes—Robertson announced days later that rollout of the wordmark would be halted immediately. A redesign has yet to be announced.