New city councillor Pete Fry finds himself the only person of colour in an otherwise all-white chamber.
As an activist, Pete Fry has focused mostly on environmental and urbanplanning issues.
As a newly elected city councillor, Fry now finds himself someone who will be representing Vancouver’s racial diversity as well.
In a place where more than half the residents are visible minorities (meaning persons other than whites and Indigenous), the Green Party politician will be the closest embodiment of a person of colour at City Hall.
In the October 20 civic election, voters chose eight women and two men for council. Except for Fry, who describes himself as a “person of mixed race”, all of them are white.
“I do see myself in a position where I’m obviously more responsible,” Fry told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview Tuesday (October 23).
Fry knows that he’s expected to be a voice for the city’s diverse cultures.
“I’ve already had people from communities reach out to me and say, ‘You have to speak for us now. You have to be our representative, in many respects. We want you to remember us,’ ” Fry said.
Fry is also acutely aware of limitations that were shaped by his personal circumstances.
“I can appreciate how my mixed heritage bestows me with the role and responsibility of the councillor to represent the diversity of our city,” he said.
However, Fry also noted that his light-brown skin, “very white Anglosaxon name”, and “ethnic ambiguity” don’t place him in a situation to “share the same lived experience as someone with darker skin or a name not native to the English tongue”.
Fry was born in Ireland. His father is British, and his mother is originally from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. His parents met in Dublin, where they were studying at the time.
He was a toddler when the family came to Canada, and the prime minister then was Pierre Trudeau.
“This is why my mom is such a hard-core Liberal,” Fry said, referring to Hedy Fry, the longest-serving female member of Parliament and the representative for Vancouver Centre.
As Fry put it, he grew up in Canada as an English-speaking and “able-bodied cis[gender] male” who was “imbued with the cultural norms and contexts of the West Coast”.
“I can’t speak to the lived experience of a queer black man or a Muslim woman or an Indigenous elder,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that our framing of diversity reflects actual diversity and intersectionality.”
According to Fry, he intends to ensure that this approach is reflected as the new council looks at policies and renews advisory committees.
The city currently has a volunteerbased cultural-communities advisory committee whose mandate is to inform council about ways of enhancing the inclusion of such communities in the city’s life.
Based on the 2016 census, Vancouver has the largest number of visible-minority members in B.C.
A total of 319,005 Vancouverites identify as members of ethnic groups, representing 51.6 percent of the population. Of these, the biggest communities are Chinese, at 167,180; South Asians, at 37,130; and Filipinos, at 36,460.
As to why the results of the last election did not mirror the city’s diversity, Fry has his own opinion.
“I do want to think that Vancouverites in general are progressive enough that it wasn’t just…[that] they weren’t voting for ethnic candidates,” Fry said. “I think it was largely luck of the draw and how the campaigns ran.”
It doesn’t give Ken Charko any pleasure to say he told us so.
But what the Dunbar Theatre owner said about a likely outcome of the Vancouver municipal election looks to have been proven right.
“That’s really what it was,” Charko told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview Monday (October 22).
His former party, the Non-partisan Association, neither won the mayoral race nor secured majority control of city council, the park board, or the school board.
Charko told this paper back in March that the NPA should “bring everyone in the tent” to solidify its chances of winning the election. If needed, he suggested, the NPA had to “bend over backwards to make sure that everyone feels welcome”.
Charko is a known maverick. He was removed from the NPA board in 2014 for questioning how the party is governed. He made a point of saying in March that if Wai Young ran outside the NPA as a mayoral candidate, the NPA might lose the election.
“If she runs as an independent, that hurts the NPA,” Charko noted.
Young eventually abandoned her intention of seeking the NPA mayoral nomination because of what Charko described as “artificial barriers” that the party put up against her. Moreover, the party blocked NPA
“This was a right-of-centre victory that they gave to the left-of-centre,” Charko said. He added that Young should have been allowed to seek the NPA’S mayoral nomination.
“If Wai [Young] was given every opportunity to be able to run with the NPA and she lost, she wouldn’t have had the moral ground to run independently,” he said.
Charko said the same could have
It takes a two-thirds vote of council to reconsider a policy. If the three other NPA councillors-elect agree with Hardwick and De Genova, they will need to secure the support of three other councillors to reverse the Making Room policy.
Carr has two Green colleagues elected to council: Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe.
So, theoretically, there could be enough votes around the table for an Npa-green alliance to undo one of the most significant moves advanced by Mayor Gregor Robertson’s party to increase the supply of housing in the city.
One of the city’s most vocal tenant advocates, Jean Swanson, was also elected as the sole COPE member of council.
In an interview with the Straight during the campaign, Swanson pointed out that it wasn’t that long ago—in the 1960s—that tenants weren’t even allowed to vote in municipal elections. She wants renters to receive more respect at Vancouver City Hall.
“I think a lot of that feeling toward renters is still kind of embedded in the bureaucracy and the politics of the city, where renters are seen as somehow less than owners,” Swanson said. “We have to change that.”
There’s a perception in the media that Swanson might prove to be the most difficult councillor for Stewart to work with, given her long history of activism. However, Swanson has remained close to former NDP MP Libby Davies for decades—and Davies is a mentor and adviser to Stewart. And both Stewart and Swanson are tenants.
It’s conceivable that the most pitched battles in the council chamber could turn out to be between those who favour increasing the supply of housing in single-family areas and those who oppose this.
On this front, Swanson would likely be an ally of Stewart’s if it involved the city buying houses with the objective of creating nonprofit rental housing. But she may not be as keen to support for-profit development in single-family zones.
When it comes to any attempt to overturn Making Room, the Greens will hold the swing votes.
To date, with Carr as their sole representative, the Greens have been most inclined to side with neighbourhood associations opposed to new developments. According to Mayor Gregor Robertson’s chief of staff, Kevin Quinlan, Carr voted against 32 percent of all the housing units that went to a public hearing in this council’s term of office. That exceeded the total of every other councillor “by a significant margin”.
The public and the media often view Vancouver politics through the lens of whether a party is “progressive”—i.e., Greens, Onecity, and COPE—OR “conservative” or “centre-right”, i.e., the NPA.
The reality is that there are different political schisms with regard to housing.
The Greens and the NPA have been “preservationist” with regard to single-family neighbourhoods.
COPE has been “preservationist” about retaining single-roomoccupancy hotels and development sites for social housing in the Downtown Eastside.
And Onecity, Vision Vancouver, and Stewart have been more bullish about increasing housing choices in areas zoned for single-family homes. COPE’S Swanson would be thrilled to see publicly owned nonprofit, affordable rental housing built in areas like Dunbar and West Point Grey.
Yet Onecity, Stewart, Swanson, and the Greens are all “preservationist” concerning purpose-built rental housing across the city.
Perhaps it’s time we came up with new labels to describe the ideological dispositions of the various members of Vancouver city council.
With nobody of Chinese, Philippine, or South Asian ancestry elected to Vancouver council, some people of colour are looking to Green councillor-elect Pete Fry to be their voice at city hall.