Vancouver mayoral candidates debate issues of race and discrimination

posted on October 30, 2014

By Matthew Robinson, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

Vancouver’s mayoral candidates tangled over tough issues including discrimination and workforce inclusion in a Thursday afternoon debate in Chinatown.

By Matthew Robinson, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

Vancouver’s mayoral candidates tangled over tough issues including discrimination and workforce inclusion in a Thursday afternoon debate in Chinatown.

A crowd of nearly 200, about two-thirds of whom were visible minorities — many Asian, came to SUCCESS, a multicultural service agency, to hear how candidates from COPE, NPA and Vision, and a trio of independents, would address issues of importance to them.

But as questions came in from audience and panel members, it soon became clear that issues of importance to many in the crowd were identical to those of concern to residents across the city — foremost among them, high levels of homelessness, overcrowding on key transit routes, expensive housing and concerns about job opportunities.

“There is no majority culture here in Vancouver anymore,” said incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson, tapping into a theme that emerged as the debate progressed.

But even in a city with a strong multi-ethnic identity like Vancouver, issues specific to visible minorities remain. The first question posed to candidates was what they would do to address concerns that Chinese immigrants are being excluded from city jobs.

NPA candidate Kirk LaPointe was first to tackle the question, saying he had a history of working on diversity initiatives, noting that he created CTV’s first diversity initiative more than a decade ago. LaPointe said he wants a city that is equitable and fair.

LaPointe told members of the panel — journalists from foreign and English-language news services — that he would ensure information from the city would be translated and made available at the same time as the English version.

Beyond that, he said he would introduce new measures to achieve “the most inclusive and tolerant city that we can have.” LaPointe did not detail what those would be.

Robertson said the city has made “significant progress in being a more inclusive city.

“When we look at our checkered history on this there are lots of challenges and conflicts between races in Vancouver and a lot of that history, we are trying to reconcile now. We’re working hard to address and acknowledge that that history happened (and) learn from that,” he said.

COPE mayoral candidate Meena Wong said from what she’s seen, many immigrants coming to the city from different parts of the world cannot get fair treatment. She said she would push for a fair and transparent employment policy.

“I experienced discrimination at the workplace myself,” she said, adding it is essential to “know your rights.”

Rounding out the list of mayoral candidates who attended the event were independents Mike Hansen, Bob Kasting and Tim Ly.

Other questions the candidates faced included whether the city’s network of bike lanes should remain in place — all candidates but Hansen agreed they should, and most, like Wong and LaPointe, pointedly noted the network should expand, but only if residents want that.

LaPointe was asked about his defence of a proposal by Chevron to donate money to schools, something he has said was wrongly turned down by Vision school board chairwoman Patti Bacchus. He said that as an educator himself he is opposed to advertising in classrooms, but because the program had no strings attached, free money for school equipment had been turned down for ideological, not practical reasons.

Barbed comments were exchanged at times between LaPointe and Robertson, but neither candidate got the better of the other. If applause can be considered a measure of popularity, Robertson had the most fans in chairs Wednesday, many of whom asked him for photographs after the event.

Join us Nov. 4 as four candidates for mayor of Vancouver debate the most important issues facing the city in an evening presented by The Vancouver Sun in partnership with SFU Public Square. The event is free but space is limited and registration is required. Register at

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