New city councillor Pete Fry finds him­self the only per­son of colour in an oth­er­wise all-white cham­ber.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - By Car­l­ito Pablo

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.

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