Meet Vancouver's independent council candidates
Published Friday, November 18, 2011 12:10PM PST Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:37AM PDT
Who is Amy "Evil Genius" Fox, and what nefarious plans does she have for Vancouver City Hall? She and other independent council hopefuls weigh in on the issues facing the city for ctvbc.ca.
It's been 23 years since Vancouverites elected an independent to council, but this year's crop of candidates hope voters will take a chance on some fresh, autonomous voices to represent them.
Four 2011 candidates responded to a ctvbc.ca questionnaire this week, including:
- Grant Fraser, a 50-year-old New Westminster native who has lived in Metro Vancouver since 1969. He ran as a parachute candidate in the 2009 provincial election, and was a strong advocate for proportional representation in the single transferable vote referendum.
- Lauren Gill, a 23-year-old who has lived in Vancouver her whole life. She was homeless as a youth, and now works in mental health and addiction services. She is a co-organizer of Vancouver Action (Van.Act!), an affordable housing advocacy group, and has participated in the Occupy protest.
- Rick Orser, 51, a Vancouver native who lived in Burnaby for 35 years but moved back two years ago. He has worked in marketing and consulting, and is a member of the World Federalist Movement Canada.
- Amy "Evil Genius" Fox, a 31-year-old Kelowna native who moved to Vancouver in 2000. She has a metalwork business, produces videos for non-profit organizations, and spent two years on the board of the Simon Fraser Student Society.
We asked them to name the biggest issue in the city, to weigh in on the successes and failures of the current council, and to explain how they would handle the Occupy Vancouver encampment. Some answers have been edited for spelling, grammar and clarity.
What is the most important issue facing Vancouver?
Fox: Affordable housing. We're not just in a speculation bubble, we now have a higher ratio of housing costs versus income than New York or London. The people who do most of the actual work in Vancouver are leaving the city as it turns into a resort for the rich with a chronic commuter traffic problem. And city council under both Vision and the Non-Partisan Association has let it happen. We need to heap taxes onto speculators, owners of vacant properties and vacation homes until they either desist or we have enough cash for the city to build its own housing.
Fraser: There are so many choices: out of control luxury condo developments, a floundering undemocratic process of electing our representatives and desperate need for public transit expansion to relieve congested buses and trains -- but the biggest thorn in my side is the completely unnecessary and shameful existence of poverty. The poorest postal code in Canada needs to be tended to and healed, not gentrified and bulldozed out of existence. We don't solve a problem like poverty by pushing people out of the area. They will continue to be poor in some other neighborhood unless we can offer them sustained income through employment and, in many cases, real opportunity to recover from substance addiction and other unhealthy habits.
Gill: Affordable social housing and violence against women.
Orser: The economy, along with housing affordability, which is holding us back. I have a number of ideas on how to solve this problem in a way that will support increased property values for existing owners while at the same time enabling new owners to buy in. Increased revenues for the city and reduced taxes for residents would also be part of this. Green is good but wellness is better; I have plans to turn Vancouver into a wellness mecca that will help to boost our economy.
What is the best decision made by the current council?
Fox: Improving bicycle paths across the city. The improvements are new and already I see more people taking the healthy, green, quiet choice that also reduces traffic congestion. It's almost like people will bicycle more when they're not afraid of being run over. Funny that. What we need now are long roofs to keep the rain off, and "bait bikes" to catch bike thieves.
Fraser: So often I see reactionary rather than proactive solutions. The one time I genuinely supported what they did was during the Wonder Rooms and Palace Hotel hearings. Despite ongoing reports of unsafe living conditions and inaction to rectify these issues quickly, or at all, these hotels were allowed to stay in operation... Because of fear of physical reprisal for complaining about these conditions, [residents] were able to [testify] anonymously. Arrangements were made so they could be heard from the closed balcony and cameras that normally broadcast the hearings were turned off. Unfortunately these hotels have been allowed to remain open but the extraordinary precautions that the city took to ensure the immediate safety of these people was admirable.
Gill: The decision that Ellen Woodsworth made to stop the Chinatown Height review, although it was not passed.
Orser: Carrying through with what the previous council started, which is providing more housing for the homeless (most of whom are drug addicted and mentally ill). Unfortunately, I am concerned that building new apartments for these people is an expensive way to go and may result in attracting even more people like them to the city looking for the same treatment. We need to find more efficient and cost-effective ways of helping these people. Homelessness is caused by the sickness of drug-addiction and mental illness and must be treated as such with the cure being rehabilitation. My TransLink Wellness-Hub proposal can help with this.
What is the worst decision?
Fox: Exacerbating the housing bubble by doing nothing to stop it. They could fine speculators. They could zone for non-luxury apartments or disabled-access housing. They could implement fines (or squatting rights) to long-vacant properties, as has been done elsewhere. They could even speak up on how the provincial and federal governments give tax breaks to condos that they won't give to apartments, while cutting funding to affordable housing. But they've decided to let the crisis play itself out. I'm just glad they're not the fire department -- there wouldn't be a building left standing in the city.
Fraser: It's a tie. There's the structures bylaw: while many protests are permitted to regularly disrupt traffic, the Falun Gong organization demonstrates the epitome of peaceful protest. On the last day of a six-month deadline to rewrite the bylaw (the third such attempt) the current version, to be appealed, was brought in. During eight years of continuous protest, Falun Gong has never blocked anybody from their daily routine.
The other winner was the decision to ignore the bylaw governing their own meetings. Unanimous approval is required to extend their meetings from 10 p.m. for no more than one hour to finish by 11 p.m. I have not returned since being disgusted by a vote of 9-2 to extend their meeting to midnight. Amazingly this passed, as it was declared that the vote was to suspend the bylaw and therefore did not require unanimity.
Gill: To sell off the social housing portion of the Athlete's Village
Orser: Lack of consultation on the development of bike lanes, a noble cause that unfortunately has resulted in unnecessary backlash.
How would you handle the Occupy Vancouver tent city?
Fox: I would close the street in front of an RBC or BMO and ask them if they wanted to move there.
Fraser: First, I would declare my support. I would encourage other councillors also listen to their issues and give honest feedback about what is possible. Outside of basic improvements to living conditions for those on low income, there isn't a lot of positive direct influence that the city can have. But we can be a shining example of a city that unites to stand up to the power behind our governments. We all know that it is corporate influence that defines our city, not impotent leadership by a puppet government. I think it's time to shake up the status quo, bring in people who aren't afraid to make waves to help those who need it most. The wealthy will be able to survive and if they don't think they can within a city that allows all to live in dignity, then I'll be the first to offer assistance packing their bags.
Gill: I would go down to the site and talk with the people down there to learn about the issues, rather than use it as an opportunity to politically grandstand.
Orser: I have visited them and talked to some of their leadership; they know they can not stay there forever and it's going to get pretty uncomfortable during the winter -- predicted to be one of the coldest in 50 years. I asked what they thought about moving the movement indoors at least during the winter months, possibly to one of the empty buildings at the PNE. They seemed to be open to this idea, especially after I said they could maintain one tent or info kiosk at the Vancouver Art Gallery during the winter. The city, and possibly other levels of government, could match funds collected from private donors and they could have a conference sponsored by business donors -- think credit unions, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Adbusters -- to pay for their conference and stay. The city and councillors know about this proposal but no word yet from them on it. I hope everyone knows that continuing to waste city tax dollars on this illegal squat, however noble, is not an option. Either negotiate a peaceful, happy ending, or accept the consequences.
Have your say: Do you save any votes on your ballot for independent councillors?