This week, my colleague Travis Lupick reported on how the City of Vancouver is paying tribute to LGBT community leader Jim Deva.
A public plaza in Davie Village will be named after him in recognition of his efforts to promote equal rights and create a safer city for gays, lesbians, and transgender people.
This led me to think about who else in Vancouver has distinguished himself or herself for tirelessly working on behalf of a marginalized community.
The obvious answer is Jean Swanson. With quiet dignity, keen intelligence, and an often wry sense of humour, she has relentlessly advocated on behalf of the poorest residents of the province for more than three decades.
Swanson has been a beacon in the Downtown Eastside, inspiring a generation of activists to fight for the retention of affordable housing.
In her years as chair of the National Anti-Poverty Organization, she laid bare the brutality of former finance minister Paul Martin's 1995 budget. It eliminated national social-assistance standards, which triggered an unrelenting slide into greater inequality and the growth in homelessness that plagues us today.
Swanson was also in the front lines fighting the NDP government's subsequent race to the bottom in the 1990s after the elimination of national welfare standards. It culminated in an illegal decision to cut benefits to those who hadn't lived in the province for three months, which was struck down in court.
After the B.C. Liberals took power in 2001, then premier Gordon Campbell imposed some of the most vicious cuts to social assistance imaginable. He clawed back family-maintenance payments and imposed a two-year independence test on young claimants.
In addition, the B.C. Liberal government declared single parents "employable"—which meant sharply lower benefits—when their children turned three rather than seven. Campbell, himself the son of a single mother, did this even though there was no affordable childcare for these parents.
One of the most obnoxious aspects of his welfare package was the elimination of earnings exemptions. It meant that those collecting social assistance would have all part-time earned income clawed back dollar-for-dollar.
It truly was legislated poverty. And Swanson rose up time and again to try to educate the community about its effects.
In recent years, she's played a pivotal role in the Raise the Rates campaign, which helped persuade former finance minister Carole Taylor to give the poorest among us a meagre raise.
Swanson also pushed the province to reinstate an earnings exemption and scrap the clawback on child support. And she campaigned for increases to the minimum wage, which occurred shortly after Christy Clark became premier.
Things aren't nearly as bad as they might be for the poor had Swanson not been living in B.C.
As a writer and community activist, Swanson has also repeatedly fought negative characterizations of low-income people in the media. She's helped educate the community about the links between growing inequality and poorer health outcomes.
Vancouverites shouldn't have to wait until she passes away before naming a social-housing project or a community centre after her.
And given her commitment to the poor, Swanson would probably rather have any benefits from her work flow to the most needy among us than merely sticking her name on something.
So why not do something innovative to honour this champion for the poor? Why not reverse the B.C. Liberals' recent tax cut for people earning over $150,000 per year, which will cost the treasury $236 million per year?
Why not take these funds and put them into social housing in the Downtown Eastside and name one of the new buildings after her?
The Opposition New Democrats could call this the Swanson Pledge. It would go a long way toward repairing relationships with antipoverty activists who were so deeply disappointed in the party's 2013 election platform.
One reason why Swanson hasn't received sufficient recognition is because politicians at all levels of government have such difficulty responding to her well-reasoned arguments. Elected officials will never feel as warmly about her as they did about Deva, who was a cheerful small businessman.
Swanson is like a mirror, reminding politicians of their shortcomings in serving the entire community. And that irritates some of them because they don't like this being reflected back in their face.
But it doesn't mean that her contributions should go unrecognized. There are many single parents in B.C. whose lives have been immeasurably improved by Jean Swanson.
It's time for the wider community, including MLAs in the legislature, to acknowledge this.