Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Lively mayoral housing debate visited by Occupy Vancouver

The rainy front steps of St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church were packed tight with an Occupy Vancouver delegation Monday evening. The group marched to the church to voice their concerns at a mayoral candidates' debate that took place inside that night between Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton and Vision Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson. 

"Everyone deserves to occupy a home," read one of the signs held by a person on the steps. Using the Occupy movement's call-and-response 'human mic' to broadcast statements from individuals across the crowd, Occupy participants held court on the steps until St. Andrew's-Wesley Reverend Gary Paterson appeared near the doors to offer a compromise: everyone was welcome inside the church as long as signs and placards were kept at the back.

Amidst clusters of police officers stationed on the sidewalk and inside the church, the large crowd pushed in to the sanctuary, stretching the limits of its 1,200-person capacity.

Compared to a similar mayoral housing debate held at the same location in 2008 between Robertson and then-NPA councillor Peter Ladner, Monday's proceedings were much more intense, with a far larger audience alive with loud shouts and jeers throughout the night.

Rev. Paterson and CBC journalist and moderator Stephen Quinn routinely attempted to reign in the crowd with repeated calls for peace. During a particularly heated moment in the evening, the reverend sang the first verses of "We are Gentle, Angry People," a protest hymn above the noise. 

Moderator Quinn was joined by three panelists. Vancouver Courier reporter Mike Howell, freelance civic-issues journalist Frances Bula, and Patrick Stewart, chair of Metro Vancouver's Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee asked candidates a wide range of housing-related questions. They touched on housing affordability, neighbourhood concerns around density, mental health, the Olympic Village, and Aboriginal housing.

The candidates' key points on housing at the debate were:


    Push the provincial government to continue funding low-barrier shelters as an 'emergency measure' to temporarily house the city's homeless through another winter.
  • Build capacity around renters' rights and build more rental housing.
  • Establish culturally appropriate housing for growing populations like Chinese seniors and Aboriginal communities.
  • Establish a 24/7 womens' shelter in the Downtown Eastside.
  • Explore more affordable home ownership initiatives in the tradition of 60 West Cordova.


    Cut red tape around housing construction to fast-track housing construction.
  • Encourage predictable zoning so housing supply will be built in appropriate locations.
  • Partner with senior levels of government on matters related to housing.
  • Rebuild former NPA mayor Philip Owen's Four Pillars drug strategy.
  • Respond to the missing women's inquiry.
  • Establish a mental health commission to explore issues around housing and mental health.

Anton emphasized her party's common-sense approach to civic governance throughout the evening. "I like to dream big, but I like to dream realistically," she said.

She emphasized what she and her party perceive as the importance of permanent housing over temporary shelters. 

"A person living in a shelter is not living in a home," she said. "For Gregor Robertson, shelters are a solution. For me, it is not. For the NPA, it is not."

She distinguished herself from her opponent with her declarations that Vancouver taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for the all the city's housing needs. Senior governments need to be involved, she said, and she's ready to work with them. "I'm a very collaborative person," she said.

Robertson, meanwhile, pushed Vision's argument that the NPA has had what he called an "unconscionable attitude to not opening emergency shelters." Moving people off the street into low-barrier shelters like the HEAT shelters opened under his administration is an emergency measure, he said.

Robertson distanced himself from Anton by highlighting his beliefs on the lack of market solutions to Vancouver's housing crisis. "I don't frankly believe we can rely on the market to solve affordable housing needs."

People packed the lineup for the microphone to ask audience questions. When moderators told the audience that the next question would be the last, a final Occupy 'mic check' erupted from the crowd. "As a public servant, it's your public duty to hear everyone's concerns," they yelled. "If you tell us to go home, you might be responsible for another public riot."

An Occupy representative asked the final question of the night. He asked that both candidates to symbolically endorse a list of demands for the city from the Occupy movement. Chief among the demands, as mentioned loudly several times before and after the debate, was to prevent real-estate developers from donating money to civic election campaigns.

Anton's concluding remarks included respectfully disagreeing with some audience members, who called the police officers in attendance "thugs." "They're doing a great job," Anton said.

She also praised the members of the Occupy movement who she'd met personally at the Vancouver Art Gallery. "As an occupier of peace, people I've visited down there have been most hospitable," she said.

Robertson thanked the audience for putting up with disruption throughout the evening, which was greeted with a round of the chant: "This is what democracy looks like."

"We welcome the protest continuing at the Vancouver Art Gallery," Robertson said amidst the noise. "It's essential to our democracy."

Occupy representatives invited everyone at the debate to attend an Occupy Vancouver housing rally starting at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sat., Nov. 12 at 12 p.m., an event that takes place precisely one week before the Vancouver municipal election on Nov. 19.

Jackie Wong is a widely published Vancouver-based journalist.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus