Eight surprising facts about B.C.’s civic elections

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to supporters after being elected for a third term during a civic election in Vancouver on Nov. 15. (JIMMY JEONG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to supporters after being elected for a third term during a civic election in Vancouver on Nov. 15. (JIMMY JEONG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Surrey was not nearly the “close three-way race” many polls and pundits said it would be. Insights West, for example, released a poll early in the week putting Linda Hepner and Doug McCallum tied at 33 per cent and Barinder Rasode at 30 per cent. But from early on Saturday evening, results showed that Ms. Hepner held a huge lead over the other two. By night’s end, Ms. Hepner, an ally of popular outgoing Mayor Dianne Watts, had 46,901 votes – more than Mr. McCallum (25,539) and Ms. Rasode (19,784) combined.

New Squamish councillor Peter Kent will have to set himself on fire. In a video posted to YouTube, Mr. Kent, a professional stuntman who worked as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stunt double in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall and Predator, pledged that if voter turnout in 2014 was higher than in 2011 (41.2 per cent), “I as a professional stuntman will set myself on fire in the centre of this street.” According to CivicInfoBC, this year’s turnout was 44.5. Reached by email the morning after his election, Mr. Kent showed no signs of backing down, saying he is now looking into getting a district permit to set himself afire in accordance with city laws. “I would be remiss to break my first campaign promise, wouldn’t I?” he wrote.

Vision Vancouver was decimated on Park Board. Vision, which previously controlled the Park Board with five of seven commissioners, was on Saturday night reduced to just one: former Vancouver Public Library chair Catherine Evans. This raises the question of how Vision’s handling of hot-button issues – like keeping cetaceans in captivity and the battle with resident groups over control of community centres – factored in. Of the other six commissioners, four are NPA and two are Green.

Voter turnout in Vancouver climbed to 44 per cent, according to preliminary numbers, up from 35 per cent in 2011. This was seen in long wait times that at some polling stations reached an hour. The Britannia Community Centre even ran out of ballots mid-afternoon, with staff telling voters it would be at least half an hour before they could restock.

Nearly 3,000 people voted to make Obi Canuel – a self professed “Pastafarian” who wears a colander on his head as religious headgear – a Surrey city councillor. Mr. Canuel – an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, made headlines in recent months for his battle with the Insurance Corp. of B.C., which refused to issue him a driver’s licence unless he removed his holy headgear for his photo. He ended up placing second-to-last in the race for city council, but he still received more than 2,800 votes.

Green councillor Adriane Carr has gotten a lot more popular. In 2011, Ms. Carr just barely made it on to Vancouver city council with 48,648 votes – just 90 more than 11th place finisher Ellen Woodsworth of COPE. This year, she was by far the most popular councillor, taking in 74,077 votes – 5,658 more than second place finisher George Affleck of the NPA.

For the first time, municipal elections candidates – as well as staff on the parties’ payrolls – were prohibited from promoting themselves, or their parties, on social media on Election Day. This rule has existed for provincial elections and byelections for some time, but is new for municipal elections under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act, which came into effect on May 29. Under the rules of the Act, a candidate can use social media on Election Day to post about something completely unrelated to the election – Gregor Robertson could Instagram his breakfast, for example – but he cannot use it to say “Get out and vote,” even if he does not mention his party, Vision Vancouver. A campaign volunteer can use a personal account to post about the campaign as long as he or she is not being paid to do so. Those who violate these rules could face a penalty of up to $5,000 or one year in jail, if convicted.

The District of Stewart, with its population of about 500, had a voter turnout of 83.2 per cent. Results were hand-written on a sheet and posted online. Incumbent mayor Galina Durant was re-elected with 199 votes; competitor Steve Howe had 92.

My latest in the Globe and Mail.

“They were protesting in peace and being removed in violence”

Hong Kong's "Umbrella Revolution" underway, Sept. 29, 2014, in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. (Kelvin Chui photo)

Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” underway, Sept. 29, 2014, in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. (Kelvin Chui photo)

I spent the past 24 hours talking to former Vancouverites at Hong Kong’s Occupy Central protests for a piece that ran in The Globe and Mail. They had many thoughtful and insightful things to say, but with limited room in the paper, their accounts, unfortunately, had to be edited down. So, here are the full-length versions:

It was the first time Maggie Lee ever recalls the MTR skipping a station. (Maggie Lee photo)

It was the first time Maggie Lee ever recalls the MTR skipping a station. (Maggie Lee photo)

Maggie Lee, 31, was born in Hong Kong but moved to Canada as a child. She attended the University of B.C., majoring in food science, and in 2006 returned to her place of birth, where she now works as a scientist. Ms. Lee said that while she supported the Occupy Central movement, she initially did not feel compelled to action – until she saw that Joshua Wong, the baby-faced 17-year-old leader of a student movement, had been arrested.

In the beginning, we didn’t know what to do. These kids were being grabbed off the street by policemen. They’re only kids, in high school or in university. [My friends and I were] on the fence at that point because we don’t really feel like we belong here in Hong Kong – because we grew up abroad – but we feel for them because we know that this is not right. They were protesting in peace and being removed in violence. We were feeling for them. All of a sudden, we learned tear gas had been released. That was the breaking point when most Hong Kong people took to the streets. I think a lot of the people just couldn’t stand it anymore. When they heard that, they couldn’t take it anymore. They realized the government had gone too far. A lot of people started walking the streets with cling wrap and lab goggles and disposable raincoats. They didn’t know how to protect themselves against tear gas.

We didn’t have any protective clothing on; we just ran home, put on some comfortable clothing, grabbed a backpack, took some bottles of water and whatever we could find – supplies for the people who were there. That’s what we all did; we didn’t know what else we could do. We grabbed everything and ran there. We knew something had to be done and we had to show our distaste for the government. This is not what we want in Hong Kong.

We stayed until very late at night. It was like a war zone. There was a lot of tear gas, people running around trying to dodge the police. They (the protesters) didn’t even do anything in the first place; they were just standing there with their umbrellas. Sometimes we heard people screaming at the police, and that was ill advised. We actually tried to calm people down when they were screaming. We want this to be peaceful. We want them to know that we’re standing together against something we don’t believe in – and that’s it. That’s the only message we wanted to bring across.

Sometimes when we participate in these things, we get fingers pointed at us. They say, “You guys have a ticket out already; why are you so still so worried about this place? It’s not your war to fight.” But the people who participated in the protest with me, we don’t think that way. We think that as long as we’re here, we’re responsible. It’s our duty to protect this place. We know that our freedom is being taken away, bit by bit.

(Jackie Chan photo)

(Jackie Chan photo)

Jackie Chan, 36, was born in Hong Kong and lived in Vancouver from the late 1980s until the early 2000s. A Simon Fraser University graduate, Mr. Chan has since moved back to Hong Kong, where he works in sales and marketing. After seeing news footage of riot police firing tear gas at protesters, he ventured out around midnight, wanting both to support the student protesters and see if what he saw on television reflected the reality of the situation.

From what I saw [in Mong Kok], police were calm. They didn’t use any violence at all. Unfortunately, some of the crowd was taking advantage of it. I think they were being quite aggressive, trying to intimidate police in a couple of cases. There was one incident – I didn’t see the whole thing develop, but I saw part of it – where three or four police officers were trying to direct traffic and people would keep storming in. The police were asking the crowd to move away, so the cars and motorbikes could pass, and people were jumping on the opportunity and just storming them, saying “Why don’t you just shoot me” and making crazy statements like that. There were probably 100 people surrounding the three or four police officers.

I was quite impressed by a couple of things, though. There were a couple of students making announcements, managing the crowds quite well. On the other side of the road, there was a parked police car and a couple of guys had climbed up and were sitting on top of it. People saw it and were yelling at them: “Get off the police car!” The student organizers told them to get down, and they did. Which was good. We didn’t want any trouble. They managed the crowds quite well. There were also water and supply stations managed, again, by the kids, which I thought were quite well organized.

The organizers want China to revoke its decision [to limit 2017 elections to Beijing-vetted candidates]. I don’t think that will happen. The Chinese government has already made its decision and it’s not going to say, “Okay, let’s change it.” I think people have to realize we are part of China – this is fact – and there are some things that we cannot change. It’s like China is your dad; you can’t change who your dad is. But I think Hong Kong can better define “one country, two systems,” because there are a lot of grey areas. We have to be careful and not give in on those. For example: Do lawyers have to be patriotic? I don’t think so. Can we still have demonstrations at this level without [persecution]? We need to treasure [those freedoms]. I don’t want to lose them, otherwise we become just another city in China.

Volunteers setting up a water station. (Kelvin Chui photo.)

Volunteers setting up a water station. (Kelvin Chui photo.)

Kelvin Chui, 37, is a former Vancouverite and Simon Fraser University graduate who now operates a trading company in Hong Kong and a shoe factory elsewhere in China. After learning about the escalation of the Occupy Central movement, he decided to show his support by joining protesters at the Central Government Offices in Admiralty.

It was impossible to get into the office because there were so many people and people just kept arriving. I gave up on that and went to Admiralty Centre and sat there for about 30 minutes, with what I thought was 400, 500 people. After that the organizers told us they were planning to march to Connaught Road Central [a major thoroughfare in Central] to support people there, so I followed. When I followed, I found out there were not 500 people, but more than 1,000. I don’t know where they came from. We went toward Central and arrived at Cotton Tree Drive, where the organizers told us to stay for a while. That’s where we were met with a lot of police [but] I don’t think they knew what to do to stop us from crossing the street. They were not that aggressive at that moment – no weapons, no pepper spray. They were not riot police. We stayed there for another 30 minutes and then marched to Connaught Road Central to join the main force.

I felt the urgency. It’s really difficult to just sit at home, watching and knowing all this. I’m pretty sure there weren’t enough people to make the movement successful, at that moment, I hope my presence will make some difference. The main reason [I got involved] was because I just couldn’t stand it, watching these students doing all this for us, for adults, for everybody else. They were there for a few days already; they must be tired. It’s difficult to see that.

At the beginning, I didn’t expect a big difference, but after we saw how police reacted to these protests – the unreasonable violence that they used – that will make a difference. Because so many people who were staying at home, watching the news, got involved after they saw tear gas being shot. That crossed the line. The awareness has been aroused. That is the major difference.

As evictions loom, even a landmark court ruling can’t bring certainty on Gitxsan land

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Hazelton, a sleepy, northwestern B.C. town where a dispute involving the Gitxsan First Nation, province and federal government is playing out. It was a challenging story to write, with a lot of important background and a wealth of varying, meaningful opinions. It was tough to compile everything into a cohesive story, giving appropriate space to each element and still fit the word count. Much was ultimately cut; the story could have been twice as long if I had been given the space.

The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs have set an Aug. 4 deadline for an eviction notice sent to sports fishermen, loggers and CN Rail in an escalation of protest over a territorial overlap claim. To the Gitxsan First Nation, this is not a just a story about jobs or land, but the history and future of its people. This will be a story to watch in coming weeks.

A totem pole in the village of Kitwanga, B.C., part of the Gitxsan Nation. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

A totem pole in the village of Kitwanga, B.C., part of the Gitxsan Nation. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

The signs outside Norman Stephens’ Hazelton, B.C., hardware store make clear his stance on pipelines: On one, the letters LNG are crossed out with a red X; on another, two salmon – one dead – face each other, illustrating the potential risks involved.

“Face the future,” the latter reads. “Don’t frack with our salmon!”

Mr. Stephens, a hereditary chief of the Gitxsan First Nation, is adamant there is no place in the sleepy, northwestern B.C. community for such projects. And after a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that underscored aboriginal title and rights, he is confident the Gitxsan will have final say on the matter.

A faction of the Gitxsan – one not including Mr. Stephens – is relying on the Supreme Court ruling to back eviction notices issued to Canadian National Railway, forestry companies and some fishing lodges that also operate on land the Gitxsan claim. The eviction deadline is Monday.

“After the Tsilhqot’in decision, the ball is in our court,” Mr. Stephens said. “We have full control over it.”

But while many hailed the Tsilhqot’in court ruling as a game-changer, the future of the Gitxsan territory is anything but clear. Division within the group, stemming from long-standing differences of opinion among some hereditary chiefs, has created uncertainty. The community is now at a crossroads for its future, needing to balance economic goals and environmental concerns while reconciling outward conflicts with governments and within the group itself.

The main issue has nothing to do with liquefied natural gas or pipelines. It’s a touchy territorial overlap claim: The Gitxsan First Nation say that in negotiating treaty agreements with the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum bands, which belong to the Tsimshian First Nation, the B.C. government illegally gave away pieces of Gitxsan land.

The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, a group that represents most but not all of the chiefs, broke off pipeline discussions with the government on June 21 for the same reason. The eviction notice is an escalation of protest to force the government’s hand in resolving the issue, said Gitxsan Treaty Society negotiator Gwaans, whose English name is Beverley Clifton Percival.

But while most of the nation’s hereditary chiefs supported the June decision to end LNG talks, only eight signed last month’s eviction notice – most of whom are directly affected by the overlap issue. Those who oppose the action say sports fishermen and loggers are being caught in the crossfire.

Among non-native locals, the eviction notice sparked mixed responses: anger, uncertainty, confusion, indifference. Martin Knutson, who owns Skeena Meadows Wildlife Preseve with his wife, said it is creating uncertainty in a community that is already economically depressed.

“Uncertainty is what drives away business. What is needed is certainty as to how our provincial and federal governments are going to deal with this and what the rules are going to be going forward. Industry runs away from uncertainty.”

Shannon McPhail, executive director at the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said in the past week she has received e-mails, phone calls and visits from more than 100 people trying to figure out what is happening and why.

“It’s a very confusing and unfortunate situation,” said Ms. McPhail from her office in Hazelton. “I believe it has made enemies out of allies – but it has started a very important conversation that we have to have as a region.”

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

RECIPE: One-pot pasta

photo 1 (1)

Adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups uncooked fusilli (for 2-3 people)
  • 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, halved 
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced 
  • 4 -5 cloves minced garlic 
  • 4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 1 small bunch basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • coarse salt, pepper
  • 2.5 cups water*
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

1. Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until they’re soft – about 20 minutes – and then slice them. (You can omit these, or use fresh mushrooms, but the meaty texture of the reconstituted mushrooms is pretty great in this dish.) Don’t discard the water.

2. Put the first nine things into pot: fusilli, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chopped/reconstituted mushrooms, red pepper flakes, basil, couple swirls of olive oil, salt, pepper. (The original recipe calls for linguine, but I think fusilli works better as it holds more of the sauce and flavours. Easier to eat with the other ingredients, too.)

3. Add about three or 3.5 cups of liquid for 2 cups fusilli. The original recipe calls for water, but I used about 2 cups of the mushroom broth left over from soaking the dried shiitakes, a cup of crushed tomatoes and about half a cup more plain water. I think the crushed tomatoes give it a better texture.

4. Bring to a boil over high heat and carefully stir everything without breaking the tomatoes or pasta. When it’s at a rolling boil, turn it down just a little bit and keep watching and stirring. The thing to note here is that the pasta will be done in 10-12 minutes, and you’re trying to time it so that most of the water is gone by the time the pasta’s done. If 8-9 mins has passed and it looks like you’ve still got a ton of liquid in there, pour a little out. This would also be the time to cook anything else (such as meatballs) you want to add to the final dish.

…and that’s it. I lined a bowl with spinach and served the pasta over it. (Wilted spinach = secret vegetables.) Top with parmesan and more fresh basil. (I added crumbled bacon and meatballs.)

photo 2