With two days of advanced voting completed before general voting day on Oct. 14, Green Party candidate Pete Fry is hoping to join Green Party councillor Adriane Carr on Vancouver's city council. rabble.ca spoke with Fry to find out how a second Green Party member would change the dynamics on city council. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Why did you want to run?
I ran in 2014 for city council. I was inspired then to run through frustrations dealing with the city as a local, community advocate, I'd been on the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan, was very frustrated by how that process really unfolded and how disingenuous it was. It wasn't real, collaborative community building, it was really just checking boxes and we didn't really engage the way any of us wanted to so that's why the majority of the committee from all different sectors rejected the LAP.
That's the way I got into it because of issues around the viaduct and how they were going to remove the viaduct and they didn't really have a plan for east of Main, they didn't really have a mitigation plan for how housing and gentrification impacts of the surrounding area, they didn't have a plan for Hogan's Alley and reconciling the systemic, racist displacement policy that actually chose the black community to eradicate from the city of Vancouver and I think that had a lasting legacy on the black community.
I was really interested in solutions for AirBnb and homelessness, stuff that I had actively researched, I'd gone down to Portland and met with city officials there and talked about some of the solutions that they were exploring. That was in 2014 and here we are in 2017 and I feel like every single one of those problems is worse than it was when I ran in 2014, so there's a need to get out there and advocate.
There's a real challenge at city hall right now because we have Adriane Carr who was the top vote getter in the last election, but she's by herself on city council. The way that the political process works is that if she wants to put forward a motion she needs a seconder. So anything she wants to put forward, she needs a seconder. So she needs to literally go to Vision or the NPA and cut deals and compromise in order to get her motions on the table and that really undermines the democratic process and the spirit of the motion.
I think that having another hard working Green, because Adriane Carr works very hard and doesn't really subscribe to the narrow partisan politics that we see in the other two parties, I think having two of us not only broadens the opportunity for democratic participation and broaden the conversation, but actually doubles the impact of the kind of stuff we can do and really adds some new voices to the highly toxic partisan mix that's there now.
Now you've already addressed this a bit, but how would having another Green party member on city council affect council's dynamics?
It would double our power and give the opportunity to second motions. There's another pretty significant dynamic that's at play here and that's the notion that for any finance vote at city hall, it actually requires two-third majority. So any grant allocation, that kind of thing, requires a two-third majority.
This almost became a disaster earlier this year on the fentanyl crisis budget. So they were allocating more money from peer support, part of the fentanyl budget that had already been approved. Geoff Meggs was already off, Kerry Jang was away and the NPA were threatening to block it. And they could've. A lot of hustling and backroom stuff had to happen to make them not pull an obstructionist move.
But given my main competition and chomping at my heels in this election, according to all the polls is the NPA guy. There's a real risk of setting up a scenario where if we had four NPA councillors, they could very easily shut down city hall and use it as a leverage point to move into the 2018 election by paralyzing city hall and proving Vision to be completely ineffective. So there's a real possibility that that might happen. This is really getting into the house of cards kind of politics, but that's unfortunately how things go at city hall.
Coming in as the Greens we're a lot less partisan that way. We're really more interested in putting public interest first. There's this power struggle that reflects a lot of provincial animosity that occurs between Vision and the NPA. I guess it's no secret that the NPA candidate is coming from the Christy Clark camp of the BC Liberals.
As we've seen from how the outcome of the provincial election played out in May, that a small number of Greens can make a pretty significant difference in the outcome and we see that as a real opportunity here.
Broadly speaking, it feels like there's a lot riding on this election. What do you feel is at stake?
This really sets the tone for 2018. I feel like there's a lot at stake if the NPA managed to pull off a finance vote-blocking majority. That's a huge risk at stake.
Vision Vancouver has been in here for 10 years and had ample opportunity to address any of the things they campaigned on in 2008, which included ending homelessness, which included addressing major properties, all those things were in their 2008 campaign and they still haven't really dealt with any of those. And certainly not done much to shift the development narrative and, of course, both the NPA and Vision are heavily indebted to the developer industry because they accept donations from those players. The Green Party, we specifically do not. We are the only elected party that doesn't take developer donations.
I think there is a lot at stake insofar as we're going farther and farther down the rabbit hole and if we don't make some bold moves now, we are going to end up with the kind of city where we're a resort town.
What issues do you feel are being neglected by present city council?
Building the right kind of housing and shifting that development narrative, that's long overdue. I don't even think we see that really happening in a lot of the proposals that the NPA and Vision are both putting forward. They seem to be more supply geared. Supply alone is not the answer. It's building the right kind of supply.
We have quite limited powers at the City of Vancouver. Fundamentally the work of the city council is making land-use decisions. We can't do things like assessment and property taxes and property transfer taxes, rent control, those are all federal or mostly provincial. We can't really affect or make those changes. But what we can do is say what we want built where and we can effectively regulate.
It's no secret that some of Vision Vancouver's biggest donors are building big, luxury condominium towers. We need to regulate that kind of building. There are plenty of smaller developers who are being hung up with red tape and they're not getting the kind of support that they need. Vancouver has the highest wait time for permit approval in the entire GVRD. We need to be re-shifting our focus from building these big, luxury projects and condos into building more of that housing that's going to support the people that live and work here.
Typically that's a gentler gentrification, more of the three-storey walk-up type of apartments, more of the row houses and perimeter housing and it does mean having to have those conversations with the neighbourhoods about how we're going to densify, how we're going to add affordability, how we're going to add housing into neighbourhoods. It has to happen. It's not really an "if you want it to happen," it's how is it going to happen?
Fundamentally, as Greens we're really about the grassroots. We're really about empowering communities to be actually co-creative participants in a planning process; that's one of the main reason for a city-wide plan. A lot of the anxiety, a lot of the tensions, a lot of the things that happen at city hall are a direct result of top-down planning.
Is there anything else you want to add?
One of the things that has really crippled our city is a legacy of Vision Vancouver's management style. Under Penny Ballem a lot of city staffer departments were decimated to the point where we have a lot of city employees that are working on six-month contracts. A lot of senior staff have left. They're not invested in their job because they're only on a six-month contract, they can't get a mortgage, they don't get healthcare benefits, they're denied all these things.
I think we do need to do a better job of resourcing our staff. I think we've seen all sorts of emerging technologies that we need to be on top of. So for instance, the short-term rental situation, here's Airbnb, there's a myriad of other short-term rental platforms in languages other than English that we're not even tracking. There's a Chinese (version of) Uber that is operating in the city of Vancouver for the last year, and they're running about 10,000 trips a month and they're seriously undercutting the taxis. Meanwhile, we're still debating about the merits of Uber, but there's one that's been going on here for a year.
We need to be super on top of changing technologies, we need to really resource and support the kind of staff needs that will address those emerging technologies.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She completed her undergraduate degree at Queen's University and studied journalism at Langara College. Alyse's work has also appeared in The Globe and Mail, Pilcrow Magazine and Vancouver Observer. She was rabble's 2015-16 news intern.