In 2011, George Chow, a former two-term Vision Vancouver city councillor, lost the NDP MLA nomination in Vancouver-Fraserview to Gabriel Yiu, who two years earlier lost the riding's general election to B.C. Liberal Kash Heed.
However. The party loves Chow, a well-known, Cantonese-speaking politician in a city shaped by mass immigration from Asia. So the Chow candidacy shifted to Vancouver-Langara where, according to the 2006 census, 44 per cent of residents are Chinese.
With no nomination challengers, Chow was acclaimed last Sunday at Marpole Place Neighbourhood House. He'll challenge incumbent B.C. Liberal Moira Stilwell in the May 2013 election.
Vancouver-Langara sits between the Fraser River and 33rd Avenue and includes the Oakridge, Marpole and South Granville neighbourhoods. It's an ESL riding, which gives Chow at edge over his opponent. Right?
"Well, the advantage is, as a councillor for six years, I've been very active in the Chinese community and know a lot of the people," said Chow, during a Courier interview last week.
Chow, 61, has plenty of time to meet people before election day next May. After six years on council and 32 years as a B.C. Hydro engineer, he's unemployed. He frequently travels to Vancouver-Langara from his Fairview home to press flesh or appear on Chinese-language radio call-in shows.
Often "affordability," that pesky Vancouver buzzword, tops the issue list. And according to Chow, those conversations sometimes focus on foreign ownership of real estate, a controversial issue linked to high housing prices and Chinese investors. "Even the Chinese community, when I talk to them, they are very concerned as well that their kids are being driven out of the city."
First, Chow wants to identify the rate of foreign investment. Because foreigners often use local addresses (their lawyer's office, for example) when registering with the provincial land title office, no one knows how many offshore investors own homes in Vancouver. "We really need to get the facts," he said. "We don't know, that's the problem. Everybody talks about this, they talk about adopting rules like Australia, but we need the facts."
On another immigrant-centric issue, if elected, Chow will lobby for greater provincial control over the Provincial Nominee Program, which fast-tracks skilled workers and business people through the federal immigration system. While light on details, Chow says he wants fast-tracked immigrants landing in B.C. to invest in the province.
"You have investor immigrants who are coming here and they are, of course, creating demand on the housing market," he said. "Maybe the money they bring in here should stay in the province where they're going to reside."
In other municipal-politician-turned-wannabe-provincial-politician news.
In two weeks, Constance Barnes, Vision park board commissioner and NDP MLA nomination contender in Vancouver-False Creek, will participate in the so-called Welfare Food Challenge organized by Raise the Rates, an activist organization based in the Downtown Eastside.
Barnes and others will live for one week on $26 of food money while supporting increased welfare rates in British Columbia.
Barnes could not be reached for comment on this story, but Jean Swanson, longtime activist and Raise the Rates spokesperson, spoke to the Courier last week.
"The rates desperately need to go up," said Swanson. "It would make the difference between living a horrible life and living an OK life."
According to Swanson, regular welfare recipients (single people fit to work) should receive a minimum of $1,300 per month-a 113 per cent increase from the current $610 monthly rate. (Incidentally, according to the Ministry of Social Development, due to provincial reforms, over the past 17 years the number of British Columbians on welfare has dropped every year from 367,387 in 1995 to 180,921 in 2011.)
According to Swanson, Welfare Food Challenge participants must avoid food banks and free meals. Yet in the Downtown Eastside, welfare recipients dominate food lines. Free meals are everywhere, all the time.
Which begs the question: If the Welfare Food Challenge is designed to mirror the welfare experience, why place restrictions on free food?
"We don't think people should have to rely on charity," said Swanson, "because food is a basic human right."