I just got off the phone with Kerry Jang.
You know him, right?
Vision Vancouver’s irascible, I’m-from-East Van, proud-of-my-Chinese-heritage, I-prefer-cars-over-bikes, cream-coloured-suit-wearing city councillor who has never been afraid to speak his mind or call out provincial and federal politicians?
Yes, that Kerry Jang.
No wonder the Vision brass never allowed him to get his own Twitter handle (more on that later).
He won’t seek a fourth term.
He joins pals Mayor Gregor Robertson, Tim Stevenson and Andrea Reimer in saying goodbye to city hall. If you’re doing a head count, that leaves Vision councillors Raymond Louie and Heather Deal as the only members of the old crew to seek re-election; Geoff Meggs resigned last summer to take a job as chief of staff for Premier John Horgan.
Jang is leaving for many reasons, he said, but primarily because he wants to step aside and let other people who drank the Vision Kool-Aid get a taste of running the city, or at least get a chance at running the city.
He promised some of those would-be candidates in the 2014 campaign that he wouldn’t run in 2018. Now, he joked, he’s calling their bluff and expects some competent, passionate people to soon announce their intentions.
“So I’m just keeping my promise to them,” said Jang, who has been a professor of psychiatry at the University of B.C. during his time as a councillor.
Jang began his run as a councillor in 2008, when Robertson and team rolled over the NPA in a huge win for the-then three-year-old party. Jang was re-elected three times and became part of three consecutive majorities at city hall.
That power allowed Jang and Vision to implement an ambitious agenda that saw the development of rental housing programs, new bylaws to regulate marijuana dispensaries, the opening of shelters and temporary housing and the implementation of an ongoing protected bike lane network. Vision also lobbied for progressive drug policy, introduced an empty homes tax and short-term rental regulations and, most recently, approved a housing plan that is supposed to make homes more affordable for people.
But like I asked the mayor recently, why the heck would you want to leave when your buddies have been elected in Ottawa and Victoria and you can see some of these needs through?
After all, I reminded him, you guys made a sport of criticizing the former B.C. Liberal-led government and Harper-led federal government – with Jang being Vision’s attack dog on many fronts, particularly housing and the need for more harm reduction services such as supervised injection sites.
Now, I continued, the party’s decade-long requests for a national housing strategy, more programs and services for people living with a mental illness and addiction and funding for transit seem to align with the governments of Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Heck, Jang even did some consulting work for Horgan’s government.
“The fundamentals are in place, and so how it will evolve over the next 10 years will really be up to the next crew of folk, and I leave it to them,” said Jang, referring to partnerships council forged with the Horgan and Trudeau governments, health services, police and fire departments and community groups. “I’m seeing these relationships grow.”
As any city hall watcher will attest, Jang can get pretty cranked up about an issue and has taken on all comers, particularly former housing minister Rich Coleman. Harper was an easy target for the longtime NDPer, and so was former federal health minister Rona Ambrose, whose opposition to injection sites drove Jang wild.
“It’s who I am and why I signed up for this job in the first place,” he said. “That’s what I teach my students at U.B.C., that is what I write about [in medical journals]. I don’t care about the politics so much, obviously.”
He laughed at his last line.
It was no laughing matter, though, when city hall security had to set up a security plan for him and his family over threats he received from someone associated to the marijuana movement. He also had police investigate a separate death threat incident related to anti-poverty advocates.
Now to some really important stuff…
Just before I get some lunch here, I can’t finish knocking out this piece without a mention of Jang’s love of suits and fedoras. The cream-coloured number he dons in the warmer months – and at an inauguration – has been the source of some good social media entertainment.
Apparently, there’s more fashion to come.
“I did get some new shoes made in my last trip to Hong Kong. I’ve gone 1930s. More vintage than ever. Springtime is coming.”
And finally, yes, he really wasn’t allowed to have a Twitter account.
“It’s true. I was absolutely forbidden to have social media. I think it was very wise [of the party] to make sure I didn’t have Twitter. I agreed with them because after watching myself on TV sometimes, I’m like, ‘Holy **it, did I say that?’”