I’m sure many of you curious what city council would decide on that controversial 12-storey condo proposal for Chinatown were a little surprised when Coun. Raymond Louie wandered from the Vision Vancouver flock to join with some members of the NPA farm to support the project.
I know at least one person who was.
Fred Mah of the Chinese Society Heritage Building Association: “I was quite surprised because he’s supposed to be heading the policy for the city. So I’m not sure what he’s thinking about.”
That’s what Mah told me minutes after council voted 8-3 on June 13 to reject Beedie’s proposal. I could hardly hear him over the cheers and applause in the lobby outside the council chambers. I didn’t quite understand what he meant by “heading the policy,” but Mah was clearly miffed.
Mah was among a large group of Chinese leaders, young and old, who campaigned against the proposal. They said the building would be too tall, too bulky, didn’t offer enough low-cost housing and wasn’t a good fit for an area heavy in culture (Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Chinese Cultural Centre, Memorial Square).
Mah and Louie have known each other for a long time. I spoke to Louie a couple days after the vote and told him how surprised Mah was that he sided with NPA councillors Elizabeth Ball and Melissa De Genova on the project.
“I’m sure I’ll have a long conversation with Fred, if he wants one,” said Louie, before I made a groaner of a television sit-com reference and said that everybody usually loves Raymond, but that probably can’t be said this time around.
“You know, I think that’s OK,” he replied. “Hopefully, they love me for other reasons.”
As I reported after the vote, Louie’s argument to support the project was that it fell in line with policy that council earlier approved and that it would bring 25 units of social housing for seniors to a community in need of such housing.
As he mentioned during his turn to speak at council, and repeated in a telephone conversation with me, Louie didn’t think it was fair for people to hang all their dreams on the future of Chinatown on one building.
He made that quite clear.
What I wanted to hear more from Louie was this: When was the last time the Vision flock had someone wander off on a vote of such great importance to the community and vote with opposition parties?
In my experience, it’s rare. I don’t cover every meeting, or spend my weekends reviewing video or reading minutes of meetings to keep a scorecard on how council votes, but like-minded people of the same political party usually vote the same way.
That’s what Louie told me.
For some inexplicable reason, the only real split I can remember with Vision is when Mayor Gregor Robertson voted in 2009 to support a mixed martial arts fight at Rogers Arena. Louie and Reimer, along with then-COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth, voted against.
Louie and Robertson also knocked heads when they ran against each other for the right to be Vision’s mayoral candidate in the 2008 civic election. The main issue that divided them was Louie promising not to shift taxes from businesses to property owners, whereas Robertson supported the shift.
For those interested in history, Robertson won 3,495 votes to Louie’s 2,244 in that contest way back in June 2008.
When I asked Louie to name other major decisions where he split from Vision, he said he voted against “the procurement of the design professionals for the road infrastructure for the taking down of the viaducts.” He then brought up Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer’s vote against changing the density for a waterfront restaurant. That occurred the same day as the vote on Beedie’s proposal.
“We are free to have our opinions,” he said, explaining further that “if you were a federal Conservative, I don’t think you would join the federal NDP, and vice-versa. So I would expect those people in those types of party systems would generally vote in fairly close alignment with their colleagues.”
But doesn’t voting against the wishes of thousands of people in Chinatown, including many key leaders who have supported Vision over the years, hurt your chances of re-election – never mind running for mayor, as has been rumoured and you’ve repeatedly denied?
Louie gave me a long answer that included a list of the work he has led in Chinatown since he was elected in 2002 (as a member of COPE before jumping to the newly created Vision in the mid-2000s). Dusting off the Chinatown plan, developing grant programs for clan associations, spearheading the Chinatown legacy program, refurbishing street lamps…
“I could go on in terms of the things I’ve done over the years to support Chinatown, the Chinese population,” he said. “My hope is that they understand that we will not always agree -- and that they would want somebody that doesn’t always just agree with them. I have a deep passion for Chinatown and I want it to be better.”