The civic election's only three weeks away, and while 12 mayoral candidates stand proud, due to Vancouver's strident party system, only two stand a chance. Last Friday at the Mount Pleasant Community Centre, the Courier staged the first mayoral debate of the campaign starring NPA challenger Coun. Suzanne Anton and Vision Vancouver incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson. It was a good debate. However, like most political campaigns, the issues least discussed often carry the most resonance. Here are a few issues you won't find plastered on any campaign poster or shiny button.
No one campaigns on free heroin. No one's that crazy. But sometime soon, thanks to UBC researchers and their so-called SALOME study, drug users in Vancouver will receive up to three daily doses of government heroin for up to 13 months at a time. It's another harm reduction experiment crafted outside the bounds of democratic accountability by a handful of lab coats. But wouldn't it be nice if at least one reporter, sometime over the next three weeks, asks Anton and Robertson-both parents, both proponents of so-called harm reduction-the following question. If your child, as a young adult, became addicted to heroin, would you support their involvement in SALOME, where they'd receive free dope from health officials?
They talk about it-but not really. Because absent radical policy such as a moratorium on development permits, there's not much any municipal government can do about free market forces in a capitalist democracy. But make no mistake, nothing will shape our city more over the next 10 years than the price of housing. It affects everything. From practical matters (viability of small businesses reliant on consumer spending) to social concerns (the ability of immigrants to settle in Vancouver). Perhaps a hockey analogy is in order. Remember when the Canucks played at the Pacific Coliseum and regular folks filled the seats? Construction workers, teachers, kids. Remember the atmosphere? Fast forward 20 years. Corporate season ticket holders at Rogers Arena wine and dine clients, and the only kids-outside the offspring of the affluent-huddle in seats donated by Kevin Bieksa. Soon, only the rich and real estate savvy will purchase property in Vancouver. Renters will comprise a disgruntled serfdom destined for migration. That's the truth. But you won't hear it from Robertson or Anton. And I don't blame them.
Compared to most of the world, and most everyone throughout history, we live in paradise. Blissed out in Lotusland with our mountains, seawall and restaurant scene. No wars, no famine, no mass injustice. With one glaring exception-prostitution. Whatever your views on the issue, consider this. Prostitution, even where legal, is run mainly by organized crime. Most of the women involved in indoor prostitution in Vancouver are immigrants from Asia. Outdoors, most prostituted women are aboriginal. Abuse, violence and prostitution go hand in hand. So let's see. We have a criminal "industry" reliant on poor women of colour who have no money, social status or political clout. I'd ask, considering these demographics, why politicians pay little attention. But to ask that question is to answer it.
Campaign finance reform:
In the Courier debate, both Anton and Robertson touted transparency and reform. Meanwhile, they collect big bags of cash from individuals and corporations. For the '08 election campaign, all three major political parties-Vision, COPE and the NPA-spent a combined $5 million. Robertson owes his political career to big American donors. Anton hopes to raise $2.5 million this time around. Know this. If they wanted to cut the spigot, they could. They don't, so they won't.
Speaking of campaign donations. Twenty years ago, during a land deal with the province and city hall, Concord Pacific, a mega-development company led by CEO Terry Hui, promised to build a nine-acre park in Northeast False Creek. It's 2011. Still no park. Instead, Concord's made millions leasing the land, known as Creekside Park, to various interests including the Quebec provincial government, which during the Olympics paid $1.3 million to erect its Maison du Quebec on the site. Nearby residents aren't happy. They want their promised park. Incidentally, Hui donates thousands each election cycle to all three major civic parties and enjoys a friendly relationship with Vision Vancouver. So naturally, you won't hear much about Creekside Park.
The Downtown Eastside:
Seriously, it's not a big issue in the campaign. The neighbourhood's gotten so bad, it's radioactive. Remedies require large chunks of political capital with no guarantee of immediate results. For a three-year mayoralty, that's a losing proposition. Instead, barring a mayor of singular courage, the neighbourhood will remain mired in poverty and despair while the can gets kicked down East Hastings.
As mentioned, the Downtown Eastside gets worse every day. Dealers and pimps prey on neighbourhood residents struggling with addiction and mental illness. Yet both Robertson and Anton remain enamored with the Vancouver Police Department and VPD Chief Jim Chu. Even after the Stanley Cup riot, a disaster enabled by police incompetence, the chief got a free pass. Anton blamed everyone but Chu. Robertson, in his weakest moment as mayoral, shrugged like a vaudeville clown when Chu refused to reveal how many cops were deployed downtown for Game 7. Note to Robertson: Chu works for you and you work for us. Get it?
A bike bridge over False Creek. "A what?" you say. Back in July 2009, Robertson floated a $45-million plan for a cyclist/pedestrian bridge running parallel to the Burrard Street Bridge, connecting Vanier Park with Sunset Beach. Robertson beamed. It was another piece of his master plan. Until Arno Schortinghuis, the grey-bearded cycling guru and president emeritus of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, panned the plan, calling it a "non-starter" with commuter cyclists. To my knowledge, Robertson never again mentioned the bridge plan in public. It sank to the bottom of False Creek, torpedoed by his premiere special interest group. Not exactly campaign button material.