We have a new mayor and with the exception of Councillor Melissa De Genova and Councillor Adriane Carr, an entirely new council in Vancouver.
A lot of focus is on the new mayor. At the moment mine is on council.
Last night as I watched the make up of council unfold I said to someone “I’m scared” and then immediately regretted my choice of word. This isn’t Trump – the new yardstick for measuring how bad election results can be. The truth is there is no one word to describe how I feel but anxious might be closest.
The bulk of the council is Green and NPA. NPA is right wing and pro business. In fact their candidate for mayor who has yet to concede despite losing by almost 1,000 votes said he would run this city like a business. (If you want to know why that’s a terrible idea read this or this or this or this – for starters.) After which you should read this followed by this.
One assumes that since they chose Sim as their leader, the new NPA council members share that view. That worries me for all the reasons outlined in the links I shared.
That said, in the council meetings I watched last year I often found myself appreciating Councillor DeGenova’s points.
This brings us to the Greens. Let me begin by saying that despite how I feel about Councillor Carr’s enthusiastic support for the **straw ban, (read this if you don’t understand why the straw ban is bad for disabled people), she was clearly a hard working and important voice on council. I respect both her and Councillor DeGenova, even though I strongly disagree with their support for the straw ban and the final version of Pearson development plan (the Vision council members also voted in favour of the straw ban and Pearson).
What worries me is the mixture of NPA and Green. NPA is right wing. The Greens lean right or are some version of the elusive, ill-defined west coast ‘progressive’ depending on who you ask.
In my experience, which granted is limited and a far cry from anything scientific or sufficient to base a truly informed judgment upon, Green supporters generally care a lot more about whales than they do about the rights of poor and disabled people. Some of them seem to take the ‘green’ quite literally and oppose making pathways accessible to everyone in favour of the ‘rewilding’ presence of grass in the city. The Greens I’ve met are homeowners with lovely yards and bountiful gardens. They drive their consciously chosen vehicles to shop for organic local produce which they serve with good wine. One Green I know (friend of a friend) is an heiress whose love of the outdoors has translated into donations of her time and finances. These people are considerate to their neighbours, generous to ‘worthy’ causes and will send handwritten thank you cards on recycled paper in the appropriate amount of time – and will judge you if you don’t. Aside from specific environmental issues they are ‘not very political.’ They certainly don’t hate poor people but they do believe we make poor lifestyle choices and an influx of us would destroy their neighbourhood.
For me, these two parties represent different sides of a term I use with reluctance – privilege. (I realize that word suffers from overuse and misuse. I am also aware that I benefit from privilege of my own. I may be disabled and poor but I am also white, English is my first language, I am university educated and possess the type of skills, abilities and experience that can demand some measure of respect even as a poor person in our society. And the gender I wanted to marry was never something I had to campaign for the right to do so.)
The NPA is the brand of currently comfortable people that I can almost sort of respect for their lack of pretence. This is the party of ‘hey, we got ours and we are determined to make sure we keep it to ourselves and get more. We know who we are and we know who backs us.’
The Greens are the brand of currently comfortable people who aspire to be both comfortable and make the world better for everyone – on their terms. They just need the rest of us to be more like them and value what they do.
If given a choice between currently comfortable people who know they are particularly comfortable and don’t even pretend to care about anything but their own interests and currently comfortable people who are certain they understand the interests of people who aren’t – better than they themselves do – I will always pick the former. Partly because I believe I may have a chance of convincing them that respecting my interests is in their interests. I can’t convince the person who (thinks they) have all the answers. We can’t have a conversation or even a debate. I can only listen while they tell me what to do.
There are two other members of the new council. One is Jean Swanson a longtime anti-poverty advocate. I know of her but I don’t know her. I don’t live in the DTES – contrary to media coverage, poor people are found elsewhere in Vancouver too. I think DTES deserves and needs an advocate on council. (This is a good example of why we need wards. As journalists have noted repeatedly, Vancouver is a divided city. People in that area, and others, should have the right to make sure the person at council representing them is chosen by them and not be forced to hope that the rest of the city agrees.) But whether it is Swanson now or someone else in the future, I am not sure that advocacy can or will extend to poverty in other areas of the city.
The other council member is One City’s Christine Boyle. Boyle seems nice and genuine. Given the numbers on council and given the division in this city I am hoping she is not a nice as she seems.
These are the thoughts at the root of my anxiety, and they are admittedly not based on the council members themselves. Rather they’re drawn from my personal experiences with, and broad characterizations of, their support base. I look forward to getting to know these councilors as elected represented, and I hope they will prove my fears to be unfounded. But right now, for reasons that this post only begins to hint at, I feel more set apart and alone than I did before (was there some temporary sense of unity in our shared dissatisfaction that was lost in this election victory?) and I am not sure the future Vancouver will include me.
*To be clear climate change affects us all and minimizing the harmful impacts and mitigating existing harm on the environment is all our concern. The issues I raise here have to do with environmentalism not the environmental issues.
**As people who follow my Twitter account know I did not share my choice of candidates publicly but I did share that as a result of the straw ban and handling of Pearson lands I would not be voting for any of the members of the previous council who were running for reelection. Not the Green, not the NPA and not the Vision candidate.