March 12, 2020

Ahead of the Curve, On the Leading Edge, at the Next Frontier, Marc Lee Is Looking There

Marc Lee has a sort of duality imbued in him that gives him a unique perspective on the world. Raised by a single mother who put him through private school at the prestigious Upper Canada College, Marc developed a perspective on both sides of the spectrum. His work as Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives has taken him from the trade agreements, Globalization and Neoliberalism of the 90s, to today’s housing crisis, and on to looking at the growing precarity of the gig economy. In this episode Gord talk’s with Marc about his research at CCPA, the need for more social housing, climate justice, the shifting Overton Window, complete communities, political will, and more.

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Recently retired from federal politics, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has had a distinguished career; from grassroots local politics, to helping improve the peace and security of women on a global scale. Gord and Pamela talk about densification, reconciliation, the reason she got into federal politics, being a good neighbour, and more.

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Director of government relations for the Homebuilders Association Vancouver and 4th generation Japanese-Canadian Mark Sakai talks internment, immigration, growing up in Steveston and housing.

Housing. What’s important? Mark asks: can you find the housing you want at your stage of life? Single family housing? Spoiler, it still dominates, but you’re probably going to look in Maple Ridge or Abbotsford, or Brandon, Manitoba for that matter, unless your pockets have depth and breadth. Two-thirds of the residential land in Metro Vancouver is primarily reserved for a “certain type of housing” that is unaffordable to most people. Is it time to re-think the grand bargain?

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While the majority of the 27 million practitioners of Sikhism live in India — most living in the state of Punjab — half a million Sikhs reside in Canada.

In fact, 1 in 20 British Columbians is Sikh. And according to Gian Singh Sandhu, founding president of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), so is 1 in 4 Surrey residents.

Sikhism is one of the (if not the) fastest-growing religion in Metro Vancouver. As the Vancouver Sun noted a few years ago, “B.C. is the only province in Canada, and one of the few jurisdictions in the world, in which Sikhism can claim the status of being the second largest religion.”

Yet, what do we really know about Sikhs — in India, in Canada, and particularly in Metro Vancouver? (By “we”, we’re implicating anyone who hasn’t done anything more than skim Wikipedia. Sorry.) What is your understanding of the massacre at Darbār Sahib, aka ‘the Golden Temple’, and the loss of thousands of Sikh lives at the hands of the Indian military? If you consider the phrase Air India, does your brain immediately implicate Sikhs as a whole, instead of a small number of radical extremists? Time to peel back the layers.

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If you needed more evidence that environmental issues are no longer fringe issues, all you have to do is look at Vancouver Greens’ Adriane Carr.

Her 74,000 votes in the 2014 municipal election was the most by a Vancouver council candidate since 1996…and perhaps ever? Had she run for mayor in 2018, she might have won, and by as many as 20,000 votes.

Born at VGH and raised in east Van, Carr’s future political life began auspiciously — a Master’s degree in Geography under the tutelage of UBC’s David Ley and Walter Hardwick. Her thesis? On the role individuals play in community, specifically entitled, “The Development of Neighbourhood in Kitsilano : Ideas, Actors and the Landscape.”

Such fertile ground for our ‘meat and sizzle’ interlocutors Gord and Rob. And oh yes, they go there — the question of the role of individuals in shaping the community, the city, and city-wide planning.

But first, a few dozen questions…about such matters as what got her into politics? (Desperation….about wilderness protection.) How did she translate that ambition into the role of power broker? (By founding a provincial political party, of course.) What does she wish she had more of? (Power.) And once she made it into City Hall in 2011, who censured her, told her she wasn’t allowed to speak to staff? (Two people, and you’ll have to listen for that nugget.)

Perhaps the question of the decade for Carr, though, is whether she would like to be mayor. It’s also likely both the city’s worst kept secret, and best maintained electoral strategy — yes and no. (Sorry Hector, but you know the drill.)

Over the course of the discussion, the trio get into the big issues, like dealing with density, taxes, character, and tree cover, plus the distractions of public life in the digital era.

And if you thought age and authority would mellow out this green, wilderness warrior, think again. Carr still espouses civil disobedience — non-violent, mind you — as a key tactic to get people to acknowledge the kind of change we’re going to have to undertake to avert, or cope with, the climate emergency.

But do we really need to take another three years, and $16 million, to talk about it? Have a listen, and let us know what you think.

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Sarah Blyth first started to see the spike in drug overdoses in the Downtown Eastside community in 2016.

From her vantage point as manager of the DTES Market, she couldn’t help but see it. People were literally dying in the street.

So she decided to do something about it. Rob sums it up: “You saw the need, set up a tent, and tried to save lives”. Yup.

Blyth’s role as founder and Executive Director of the Overdose Prevention Society is the latest in a series of contributions to the city by a person who, as much as anyone here, can speak to having lived a life of privilege, marginalization, social entrepreneurship, leadership, selflessness, and grace under extreme pressure. (And she’s not even halfway through.)

Blyth, the former skateboard advocate, Park Board Commissioner, and City Council candidate, fields the tough questions from Gord — specifically on the question of safe supply and induced demand. They circle around housing insecurity and authority in Oppenheimer Park, tangle on addiction, and there’s a quick tease about Tyndall’s machine.

And of course, the big question — will she run again? Maybe she should.

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It wasn’t that long ago that British Columbians were saying, “What the hell is going on in Maple Ridge?”

In 2014, voters elected Nicole Read as mayor of the region’s eastern outpost …and then subjected her to a virulent strain of online harassment which, after two years, resulted in threats that prompted an RCMP investigation, and ultimately her decision to not rerun in the 2018 election.

The reason for the harassment? The appearance of a homeless camp in an empty lot at a cul-de-sac on Cliff Avenue within six months of her election, alongside Mayor Read’s apparent desire to project empathy for those occupying it, and efforts (fruitless for some time) to work with the provincial government to house them permanently in the ‘regular city’. While that work was underway, the camp at Cliff Ave begat one at Anita Place and, well…it’s still a work in progress. But this time, despite sustained inner conflict amongst the city’s leadership, Maple Ridge is doing the work in cooperation with Coast Mental Health, BC Housing, and the Province of BC.

The problem with the ‘protest camp’, says councillor Ahmed Yousef in this wide-ranging interview, were the three types of people thwarting progress. First, the ‘sympathy brigade’ in Maple Ridge took it upon themselves “to be so righteous” in providing sympathy for the homeless, many of them “aggressive panhandlers”. Next was the ‘revolutionary brigade‘ — non-residents who came into the city “to do away with capitalism and private property”, and espouse free everything to everyone. Then there were those behind the ‘so-called treatment centres’, who he felt were not there to help individuals, but to go after government contracts for the funding (“as long as you have a body in the bed,” was his view of their motivation).

While homelessness and criminal behaviour in Maple Ridge may reflect the impact of the lack of non-market housing, poverty, and social and health challenges afflicting the most vulnerable of the city’s 80,000-plus residents, Yousef — who experienced hard times and homelessness himself in Maple Ridge, at one point sleeping in his car — is skeptical that housing is a moral right in Canada. A resident since 2010 and a citizen for 3 years, Yousef claims there’s a difference between people who have fallen on hard times and deserve the social safety network (like himself), and those with mental health issues, who legitimately require medical care, but perhaps not a home, and certainly not to be warehoused.

It is perhaps for this reason — the tyranny of being lumped in the same category as those who, for some reason, lacked the bootstraps, or the will to pull them up, or the necessary medical support needed to learn how to pull bootstraps — that he dislikes the term ‘homeless’.

What else do we learn about Yousef? That in his journey from Egypt to Nebraska to Kuwait to Canada, the well-educated, interfaith-curious anywhere person found a home in Maple Ridge, and has slowly become a community-oriented somewhere person. That his initial sense of the community, and eventual inspiration to run for public office, came from a shared, neighbourly love of pick-up trucks. And that more recently, he experienced the weaponization of Twitter against himself, and also for the ugliest of reasons.

But he saves the best for last — something about electric boats serving local transportation needs along the pristine highway of the Fraser River.

Forget Maple Ridge…Yousef may well represent the changing face of politics in Canada.

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What does it mean to change a street name? What does it mean to be able to fish? What does it mean to have title over the land upon which you, and your people, were born?

This line of questioning may not immediately resonate with the majority of Canadians going to the polls today, intent on electing (or re-electing) the next Prime Minister. But it matters a hell of a lot to Indigenous people, to the Musqueam Indian Band, and specifically to Wade Grant.

In this long-awaited discussion with the UBC alumnus, former Musqueam council member, 2018 Vancouver city council candidate, and current Chief of Staff to Musqueam band Chief and Council, Grant entertains some direct questions from the settlers in the room (Gord and Rob) on issues we’re still only beginning to understand in mainstream Canadian society.

Beginning with some essential background — that, first of all, First Nations peoples didn’t even gain the right to vote until 1960, they couldn’t go to university unless they gave up their status as Indian, and the residential school system which has been the source of unimaginable cruelty and injustice was alive and desperately unwell until the 1990s — Grant steps us through some of the key factors that have led Canada, and BC, to this time of reconciliation. Whatever that means.

It’s actually meant different things at different times. Perhaps it started in 1982 with Section 35 in the Constitution. There’s no question the R v Sparrow decision is part of reconciliation. In fact, any measure that has specifically supported the health and welfare of people like the Musqueam — now numbering close to 1,400 people, after the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s reduced their population from 30,000 to just 100 people — could be considered a form of reconciliation.

Or…does love belong in the process? It’s a meaningful consideration and holds some currency to Grant, in that it allows him to consider himself Canadian, even while working to forgive those who have historically ground down the rights and resolve of First Nations peoples. Love, in fact, could be one of the key factors tempering the natural inability to forget the atrocities settlers committed, or simply endorsed (either way, we’re looking at you, Joseph Trutch).

Land, of course, is the other essential factor. Grant speaks about MST Development Corporation, a partnership between the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and which fully or partially owns many valuable parcels of land in the Lower Mainland: Jericho Lands, Heather Street Lands, and the former Liquor Distribution Branch site on East Broadway in Vancouver, Marine Drive Lands in West Vancouver, and Willingdon Lands in Burnaby.

There’s the promise that all this land might make something greater than the sum of their parts, just as Grant himself represents as a product of many ethnic backgrounds. Such fabric comprises the blanket that is Confederation today.

It’s a conversation that might have promised, as Gord suggests, some quicksand and a land mine or two. Yet, perhaps thanks to Grant’s deft approach to defining and discussing reconciliation, it’s all very Canadian. Have a listen.

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The latest in our Passing the Torch series introduces us to Thomas Bevan, a Millennial who’s already left his mark on Vancouver.

From his youth in Kitchener, Ontario — and a “difficult relationship” with a downtown that wasn’t quite the hotspot it has since become — to his graduate studies at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning (“a dreamland…a beautiful place”) and current work with BC Housing, Bevan stepped into the world of urbanism with a naturally intuitive sense that the economics of the land, as we have historically recognized it, had to change.

More specifically, Bevan was looking for public recuperation of land value, in the form of social purpose real estate. Like 312 Main — the cornerstone of Bevan’s young career, and the focal point of his first collaboration with torch-passer Bob Williams.

How Bevan and Williams met has almost become the origin story of 312 Main itself – Bevan the ideator, Williams the mentor and connector (and Vancity Community Foundation as the project enabler and social purpose rainmaker).

Of course, with Williams, this is hardly the only story to tell. With a 54-year advantage over Bevan, the narrative weight of this podcast tilts conspicuously towards Williams, President and Chair of the Jim Green Foundation.

An east side boy, Williams is our connection to Depression-era Vancouver, and one of the city’s first housing crises, just after WWII. He represents an earlier, simpler time, when connections and character alone could earn you a place in civic bureaucracy (albeit as a draughtsman in City of Vancouver’s sewer department). He speaks to the early days and thin soup of the SCARP program.

And he presents an undeniable legacy — as two-time former MLA, among many other titles and accomplishments — in having established protections for BC’s wilderness, civil service capacity for resource management, and a doubling of the province’s park space. Oh yeah, and a little something called the Agricultural Land Reserve. (There’s so much more; you are hereby dared to review an abbreviated list of Williams’ accomplishments).

Regarding the ALR, he didn’t necessarily want to do it, and he explains why. And in talking about the stark dualism between the unlimited potential of this great province, and the need for people in power to be subject to immense constraints in the exercise of power, there’s a message for Bevan — you can be a Dave Stupich. You could even be a Glen Clark. Or maybe you can just be you.

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One thing is proven without a doubt in this wide-ranging, deep political dive with Gord, Rob, and return guest George Affleck — these guys don’t know their Tolkien.

And while there was no cranky, right-wing guy in Middle Earth, there is a central character whose very rigid way of thinking begins to soften. If that seems to be the case with Affleck, it may be with the benefit of retrospect, especially with an eye to the performance of current council, and specifically in contrast to its predecessor.

That’s because Affleck’s behaviour while serving in opposition to Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver juggernaut was largely the result of him seeing the majority votes walking into the council chamber every day, “knowing exactly what they were going to do”. Idealogical alignment can be like a wall; in the form of a political caucus, it’s a brick wall.

Contrast that with today; by Affleck’s count, there are just two parties in Vancouver Council, the NDP and the BC Liberals (and 1 or 2 predictably dogmatic, even irrelevant votes). So these decisions should be, well, decisive — consistently predictable and relatively quick. But, as he notes, “it’s 100% not working like that.”

Affleck talks about the splintering sound coming from the NPA corner. He talks choo-choo trains. And he talks bike lanes (remember, he’s not anti-bike lanes, just pro-process).

Lastly, Affleck makes a startling admission, perhaps revealing that aforementioned soft spot, one which may represent the rotting core of traditional NPA preservationist ideology — that the current political trend towards framing the decision-making process around community consultation (rather than incorporating and contextualizing it into decision-making) is a great way to give anti-growth, naysay perspectives platform and influence. And that it’s probably incorrect.

He sees it in West Vancouver, in White Rock, in Surrey, and even in PoCo. He sees pragmatism, he sees populism, and it seems he has a pretty clear view of the line to be drawn between the two.

Which leads to some interesting speculation on the nature of political campaigns of our not-too-distant future — those of Kennedy Stewart, the NPA and, yes, Affleck himself.

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