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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