September 14, 2018

Questions for Candidates: The Independents (Part III)

Why are they running in a race they can’t possibly win?

It’s the blunter question than was originally posed to our independent council candidates (read on for that). Blunter, and perhaps rooted in the past.

Because, although they may need 60,000 votes to win a seat, this may be the election where voters spurn the party system in Vancouver. It’s a tall order, but if it happens, we can speculate on factors.

Perhaps due to a trend influenced by the strength of the independent mayoral candidates. Maybe a consequence of Millennial distaste for backroom party politics. Or possibly a false equivalency that pays off — confusing social media following and hype, for broader engagement and voter activation…which generates more media coverage, triggering broader engagement and voter activation.

Regardless — here’s Part III on our quartet of independents, and the reasons why they’re running.

Why run for public office WHen you have a thriving career and/or family?

I’ve been focusing on issues of public policy the last few years. It didn’t overtly start out that way; with 5Kids1Condo, I was talking about the reasons why an urban lifestyle with kids is a positive thing, and some of the challenges. In doing so, I waded into a group of people that were my tribe, that I didn’t know were my tribe. City planners and architects, land use specialists, transportation specialists — people that I really started to learn a lot from and feed off of, that then got me further involved.

That’s why we started Abundant Housing, and then Abundant Transit, because then you realize, “Oh, there are things we can do to make life better in the city, very clear policy improvements we can make, and we can push for them in these groups.” And so, you wind up talking directly with politicians and realizing, “Hey wait, this is a way we can bring about these changes.”

I’m happy to go back to being an advocate if this election doesn’t turn out for me the way I hope it does, because that’s often just as effective. With Abundant Housing Vancouver, we’ve successfully advocated for thousands of homes, mostly non-market, like purpose-built rental or social housing. That’s super-gratifying — I feel like we’ve changed the discussion in this city, so now land use reform is actually a thing that gets discussed, almost across party lines. I think there are some parties that don’t discuss it, but certainly you see OneCity, Vision, COPE, and independent candidates making a lot of noise about it. A couple of years ago, even Gordon Price would have described land use reform in the city as the third rail that you just don’t touch. Now it’s something that is being touched.

So I think we can have a lot of impact as advocacy groups, but it’s going to be interesting to see if some of us can make it into government and have more of a direct influence on these sorts of things. And if not, so be it. We continue to do what we’ve been doing. For me it’s been this natural progression toward this, and we’ll see if voters agree.

I think anybody who knew me growing up in Vancouver in the eighties knows that I’ve been an activist, an advocate for social change, my whole life. We used to have these massive peace marches in Vancouver that were 100,000 people. I was the kid at the front of the march leading the chants — it was the highlight of my year.

I always felt really drawn to protest and activism. I remember in ’89 when the Exxon Valdez happened — I was 15, and I went down to a candle-light vigil down at Spanish Banks, and it was really moving. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “Surely people are going to wake up, and we’re going to stop using fossil fuels. They’re non-renewable, this is so insane, why is our economy based on this?” I thought, “Governments can see, they’re going to do something. Just like we took action on the ozone layer — we can do this!” Here we are thirty years later, and still nothing is done. If anything, we’re steps back from where we were back then.

I guess I just got increasingly frustrated that the things I’d been calling for, and the things I’d been asking to do since the eighties, are still not happening. Now I see government as part of the problem. Government has been co-opted by global commerce, and I don’t think it’s just here in Vancouver, I don’t think it’s just in Canada, I think it’s a problem around the world. Every country that I’ve ever been to, when I talk to people about politics — which I do all the time because that’s the kind of person I am — they think I’m right. They say, “The government here doesn’t listen to the little guy, the government is just here for the richest, most powerful people in the country, and me and my family are ignored,” and it’s true around the world.

We’ve just bought into this idea that government has to work on behalf of business interests. And it’s just wrong.

I’m turning 28 this year, and my career trajectory so far is a health policy researcher and teacher in post-secondary education. So I’m currently a PhD candidate at UBC’s Social Justice Institute, and my project is investigating efforts to decolonize Canadian medical and nursing education.

I’ve worked, lived and volunteered in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver for the last ten years, pursuing my passion for teaching with a focus on social and environmental justice. What I find, is that for systemic change to happen in schools, in non-profit organizations and in small businesses, the political system has to be a supportive partner. Across our country and elsewhere, there are a lot of cases where this is not the reality, that the political system is not in fact supportive to the work of teachers and activists and entrepreneurs that are living and working and thriving in our city.

Also, since January of 2018, I’ve been working part-time at the first zero-waste store in Vancouver — the Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples on Main Street. Working for a small business whose mission is to reduce the amount of plastic sent to landfills has given me a lot of motivation to scale the zero-waste idea up to higher living.

So, I’m running for city council so that I can be a mediator for social justice and earth-friendly living.

To be honest, it’s just something I got interested in after organizing for skateboarding, and then learning about bureaucracy and advocacy, and learning how to advocate for some things that are tough.

Skate parks, or youth parks, was a tough one because people don’t always like youth in their neighbourhood. And in the end it always turns out better than everybody thought. Sometimes people are even happy; a lot of people are happy. I realized how much fear there was to do with skateboard parks or BMX parks, and it was just a fear of young people. There always needs to be education. And that also goes for a lot of things.

Even the work that I do now, is it’s just a fear — there’s a lot of stigma in mental health, there’s stigma in homelessness, there’s stigma in drug use, all of those things, that just need education and understanding. Having someone who understands how to communicate on behalf of these marginalized groups of people is really important. I think that’s what I can bring.

And I enjoy it. I enjoy advocacy, and I enjoy helping people understand bureaucracy in how to get through and be successful, and knowing how to bring forward a problem with a solution. Without a solution, it can be difficult, and hard to sell to people who are in office who have so many other things to do.

I like being able to help people to do that.

In Part I, we heard these candidates’ views on housing, and Part II was on transportation. Next, in Part IV, our indie candidates will give their pitch on how they approach issues and policy differently from other candidates. 

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