By Jorge Salazar
Over the past few weeks I’ve read several articles and heard comments—particularly Charlie Smith’s editorial commentary on Squamish Hereditary Chief Ian Campbell’s bid for the mayoralty of Vancouver—and all of them seem to have one pattern in common.
They all conveniently erased Indigenous historical land tenure and fundamentally misunderstand the reason for his campaign. And everything seems to be summarized with saying “but he is running with Vision”.
The democratic process in Vancouver and in Canada needs diverse voices to come onboard in order to change systems and practices in electoral politics.
Diverse people at the table of decisions with new ideas for policies and how to do policy is critically important. I have heard alignment with Smith’s commentary by other progressives, which is why I feel compelled to write this.
Smith’s commentary stumbles over itself to make a case against Campbell, while recognizing that a Campbell victory “would cement Vancouver's global reputation as a bastion of open-minded thinking” and that Ian has “more political and governing experience than anyone in the race”.
However, he mentions nothing on how his candidacy is also engaging Indigenous people whose land Vancouver occupies when reconciliation should be a critical element of anyone’s platform. And it is not only Indigenous people who are adding their voices right now.
Diego Cardona is also running for Vision—and who I am supporting. He is young, a former youth in care, and refugee from Colombia; he is also stepping up to engage more diverse voices and trying to make a crack in a very thick shield that has historically blocked many from political engagement.
The question for many in diverse communities is not just whether or not Vision Vancouver is a good party, but whether or not engaging in electoral politics makes any difference at all. For our communities, it often does not.
In order for this to change we need a combination of bold policy platforms with people from diverse lived experience in leadership. That, combined with strong grassroots organizing in order to hold those elected accountable.
The crux of the commentary essentially dismisses a candidate with the potential to advance a historic attempt to change relations between Indigenous peoples, new migrant voices, and settler Canadians by a narrow view of who or what are politics for—and there's little recognition of the candidate’s own agency and the people who support him because they are not the usual engaged progressives.
The electoral system has been designed to benefit very few, and to be led mostly by white people. I am ready to see an engagement with politics for diverse communities led by diverse communities, that also works with allies.
Vision’s record of governance in the city is far from perfect, but whatever criticism people have of Vision, bring it forward. Let's make some aggressive changes within Vision and politics as a whole!
We want frank criticism, but we also totally reject that we are merely a diverse face being used by the same people and system.
It is of little wonder that racialized communities are so skeptical of electoral politics when their leaders are rejected from the get-go for doing the same thing as white politicians: joining an incumbent party with baggage—after all, I wonder how many of us can name a political party without baggage.
Whether they’ve governed or not, every political party has baggage for positions taken or policies implemented.
Housing is at the centre of the conversation and I am looking forward to what Campbell, Cardona, and everyone from other progressive sectors will offer to address this crisis, particularly after the Vancouver and District Labour Council agreement. That will also help with many other issues.
Much can, should, and will be done. However, I would like to challenge people to make proposals and criticisms with clarity of the issues, and with a commitment to profound transformation of the city and politics as a whole.
When Cardona ran in last year’s by-election, he lost partially due to Vision but also—and this is key—because of racism and ageism, which we observed firsthand.
He did not lose because of his proven track record with communities nor his steadfast commitment to the issues.
Likewise, I would encourage folks to look at Campbell’s record with respect to policy, engaging and consulting communities, and reconciliation. Next time you outright dismiss a black, Indigenous, or person of colour just for running with a team you don’t particularly like, I hope you realize you are telling me and many other racialized folks to leave progressive electoral politics to white people.