Aaron Chapman: A Coalition of Dunces

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      The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods is an organization that perhaps many Vancouverites have never heard of. But in matters of civic politics and planning, the group—which counts in its membership 27 community residents associations across the city—is a regular presence and influence at city council meetings.

      The CVN was originally founded to advocate on behalf of residents' concerns to Vancouver City Hall. Typically, its interests regard rezoning matters in letters written to council, with its most vocal members regularly attending council meetings to speak to building development amendments.

      But according to a recent email between CVN members, one is left to wonder just who, and what, the coalition is really advocating for, and on behalf of, these days.

      In an August email with subject line “Bonnie under the bus?”, CVN member Guy Cross, who has been a co-ordinator of the West 4th Community Association, addresses the rise in numbers of COVID-19 transmissions in August 2020. He wildly postulates that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is being overruled by “our political rulers”, and calls for a complete shutdown of the bar and nightclub sector which, he states, is “a relatively limited sector of the economy”.

      As someone who has written about the history of the Vancouver nightclub industry, most recently in my book Vancouver After Dark, this ignorance and disrespect of the nighttime economy of Vancouver is nothing new. Cross joins a long line of “no fun city” Vancouverites who peer out from behind their window curtains, calling for some element of the local nightclub or concert business to be shut down instead of understanding what a significant industry it is to the economy, both locally and nationally. This kind of ignorance and lack of awareness doesn’t help in periods of pandemic, or otherwise.

      If anything, the bar and nightclub industry has led the charge on proper social-distancing initiatives being implemented. Yes, there was some weeks-old reporting of specific venues that had incidents, which in some cases left a small number to choose to temporarily close. But Cross, even with the numbers and graphs he cites, fails to recognize that the recent rise in transmission numbers are not coming from bars or nightclubs, but from house parties and gatherings where no proper measures of social distancing and restrictions are being held.

      Furthermore, Cross’s panicked tone ignores that while there has been a rise of transmission numbers, there have been markedly fewer hospitalizations or deaths. In a time when sagacious, mature analysis is needed more than ever, is this kind of panic and incorrectly targeting of an industry what’s most needed? Especially when Dr. Henry herself has expressed that these recent daily numbers are a call for concern, but not for the kind of panic Cross is offering.

      Does the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods have any idea how bad it currently is for every nightclub, theatre, concert venue, restaurant, and other business involved in the local music, hospitality, and entertainment industry? Venues both large and small are facing permanent closure. These businesses sit on properties long been eyed by developers. It leaves one to think that Cross is playing into the hands of developers and wants to sink the boot in with a suggestion of a complete shutdown.

      Yes, he suggests that if there are closures, there should be some government assistance to maintain these businesses. But he seems oblivious to the fact that federally, provincially, and municipally, no assistance is being tabled or forthcoming beyond the federal wage subsidy and a break on rent should the landlord apply for it. This indicates just how out of touch he is with the current business climate.

      That Guy Cross, and anyone else within the coalition that has the ear of city council, simply seems to ignore that many businesses continue to successfully be able to operate with social distancing guidelines and lesser capacities, leaves one to wonder just who the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods is really speaking for, or helping.

      Cross’s myopic analysis is unfortunately not his alone. It symbolizes a wider, growing attitude in Vancouver that is evidence of another problem. That while one side is viewed strictly obeying provincial guidelines, the other—often depicted as the young and the reckless—doesn’t care about regulations at all. This is a fallacy. Further, it's disrespectful to many young people employed in the venue and nightclub management business who are dedicated to working very seriously to keep their businesses operating, and respecting and operating within health and safety guidelines.

      If Guy Cross and the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods are really concerned over numbers, perhaps they should be be more worried about the record-setting total of illicit drug deaths to date in 2020. But Cross is a long way from Main and Hastings, and presumably doesn’t see those from his perch at the West 4th Community Association.

      Cross ought to resign from the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods. And if this is what the CVN is busying itself with—conspiracy theories of Dr. Henry being controlled or deposed, the poor interpretation of data that promotes panic, or a call to shut down otherwise responsible businesses who despite facing real hurdles are largely operating safely and successfully—Cross and his like-minded associates are more of a hindrance than any real help to Vancouver. And with friends like Guy Cross and the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, who needs enemies?