Two-term city councillor Peter Ladner defeated Mayor Sam Sullivan for the Non-Partisan Association’s (NPA) 2008 mayoral nomination back in June, collecting 1,066 votes compared to 986 for Sullivan.
A former publisher of Business in Vancouver, Ladner squares off against Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson for the mayor’s seat in the Nov 15 civic election.
Xtra West recently sat down with Ladner to get his take on the NPA’s record in dealing with the gay community, his critics’ accusations of “benign neglect,” and what role the city can play in maintaining the Davie Village’s gay identity and finding a new home for The Centre.
Here is an excerpt from that interview.
Xtra West: What do you see as the top three needs of the queer community going into this election?
Peter Ladner: I think safety is number one with the gaybashing and the more under-the-radar problems that occur particularly around Davie St. I think The Centre is something else that’s high on people’s minds. And I know there’s some issues around entertainment venues and the rules that enable gay clubs to be… more clubs and entertainment places for the people of the gay community.
XW: As mayor, what will you do to maintain the Davie Village’s gay identity?
PL: Well, I would encourage that identity because it’s such an important part of the city from the point of view of cultural diversity, the celebration and excitement and community building and tourism attraction that comes from the Pride parade. And the importance of a gay community for our economy.
Richard Florida’s Bohemian Index indicates that cities with a prominent, big gay community are more attractive as places to do business and where people like to live. And I think that the Davie Village as a tourism destination —number one tourism destination by one measure in North America —all really important for the city. So I would strongly encourage that and make sure that the city kept out of the way of any initiatives to make that stronger.
XW: Because of the removal of the banners earlier this year, the influence of BIAs on the look and identity of certain areas of the city has been a hot-button topic. What do you think of the business improvement association’s decision to remove those banners?
PL: I think that these issues have to be worked out in the community. I don’t think the mayor’s going to go and intervene in all these issues. I think the BIA and the gay community and the community policing centre and all the other agencies, The Centre —they all have to sit down and figure out the way to make it work. There are conflicting views in the gay community as everywhere else and my approach would be to help people come together and solve this problem. I’m not going to solve it for them.
XW: Both Lyn Hellyar, who’s the executive director of the West End BIA, and their president, Robert Graham, said in the wake of the conflict around the banners that there was an approach made to the current mayor Sam Sullivan about issuing a proclamation that the Davie Village is “the core of the gay neighbourhood in Vancouver.” Are you aware of such a plan?
PL: I haven’t heard about that.
XW: Is this something that you’d be interested in doing?
PL: I’d be happy to do anything that the mayor’s office can do to enhance the Davie Village’s identification and vitality.
XW: A proclamation is part of that?
PL: If the proclamation helps, let’s have a proclamation. I think the power of a proclamation may be overestimated, and typically proclamations are around a day, a certain week. We do a proclamation for gay Pride week and so on. If it would help, sure.
XW: Do you think BIAs have too much power in determining the identity and character of an area?
PL: BIAs are one community association and they have certain powers because they have money and they have resources. That enables them to do things. I think you have to respect the fact that if they’re getting money from somebody that they should have a say in how that money is spent, but they have to work with the community. They have to be onside with the community, and I wouldn’t say they have too much power. I would say they have some power and they should be a voice. They shouldn’t be the only voice.
XW: Turning to the election now, a couple of Vision Vancouver councillors have talked about the NPA having a “benign neglect” when it comes to the queer community and interacting with the queer community. How do you respond to that?
PL: I’m running for mayor to provide change and action and leadership and results. I’d like to get in there and do whatever I feel is necessary, whatever the mayor can do to enhance the strength of the gay community. I’ve personally been involved. I’ve just helped the Odyssey Nightclub get an extension on their lease so that they could have more time before they have to relocate, and I’m happy to continue doing that kind of work.
XW: There’s been additional criticism of the NPA over its commitment to the queer community, for instance voting against Stonewall at city hall, having Pride week at city hall. How do respond to that criticism?
PL: I’ve never voted against Stonewall. Nobody in the NPA [has] that I know of.
XW: In terms of the NPA vote against a Tourism Vancouver proposal to attract lesbian tourism —the figure requested was $25,000 from the city. That was turned down unanimously by the NPA. And then there was $300,000 given to the Junos, which was voted for across party lines.
How do you account for the NPA’s voting down of that $25,000 in light of what you said —the importance of gay tourism to the city and how lucrative that could be for the city?
PL: The issue with that vote is that that vote wasn’t against support for the gay community. That vote was against the city council making a very specific, detailed directive to an outside agency, Tourism Vancouver, about how to spend their money.
If city council starts to meddle in every agency’s particular budget line items, then the city is completely out of control.
We give Tourism Vancouver the taxing power to raise I think it’s $8 million a year. We leave it to them to determine the best place to spend that money. And if every time a councillor has an idea about how they want some agency in the city to spend money, we could not mange this city. It would be unmanageable.
It was very unfortunate that the example that was brought forward was used as a way to be perceived as an attack on the gay community. That was never in anybody’s mind. I thought it was a cheap effort by councillor [Tim] Stevenson to get some publicity and was not at all responsible governance.
XW: There was a sense that there was a scrambling to get a gay nominee within a week of rejecting Jamie Lee Hamilton’s application for nomination. How did the NPA find [council candidate] Sean Bickerton?
PL: Sean Bickerton found us, many weeks before anything happened with Jamie Lee Hamilton. Because if you know how the NPA screens members, it takes sometimes months to go through the process. You have to raise some money, you have to fill out a questionnaire, you have to get support from all kinds of people, you have to go and meet the board. All these things had happened before Jamie Lee’s incident showed up.
And we were thrilled to have Sean. I think he’s a fantastic candidate, and I don’t why anyone would argue that it’s a bad thing Sean is on the slate. It’s a fantastic thing that he’s on the slate.
XW: The issue of tokenism was brought up with regard to Sean. You told Xtra West, you asked why is our candidate seen as token while other parties’ candidates aren’t. How would you answer your own question?
PL: I don’t know. It’s someone else’s accusation. I don’t even think it deserves an answer.
I think if somebody is a good candidate and they happen to be gay, I think it’s a completely cheap shot to say it’s tokenism if they’re on one slate but if somebody is gay on another slate, they’re not tokenism.
The question should be, ‘Is he qualified in other ways?’ It would be tokenism if we just found somebody who was only on the slate because they were gay. But Sean Bickerton is on the slate because he got involved organizing his community in Tinseltown, and because he has an extensive arts background and a business background, and he’s very, very dedicated to this community.
He’s down at the Union Gospel Mission all the time, and he wanted to contribute to the city, and the fact that he was gay was, for me, a bonus. But it wasn’t in any way a determining factor.
XW: During Larry Campbell’s tenure, there was a city liaison to the gay community. There isn’t now. Would you like to reinstitute that?
PL: City liaison?
XW: Yeah. It was a mayor’s appointment. There was a liaison between…
PL: An appointment?
PL: Who was that?
XW: Tim Stevenson was the person at the time of Larry Campbell. Is that something you’d like to reinstitute as mayor?
PL: First of all, I don’t know that Tim Stevenson had any official capacity as the liaison to the gay community. He was a self-appointed liaison to the gay community, and Larry would have gone along with that, sure. But the same way that I think that you want to take whatever strengths you have from any candidates, and Sean’s got connections in the gay community. By all means, I would listen to him and he would be a first point of contact.
XW: I want to turn to the issue of safety. There isn’t a mayoralty candidate that doesn’t see safety as an important issue for the queer community. What can a city do to curb gaybashings?
PL: It can do a lot of things. A lot has to be the police working with the community, which they have done, and I was thrilled to see Jim Chu getting cheered at the gaybashing rally because of the work he and his community have done.
The mayor can make sure that the community police centres are properly resourced. The mayor can take a personal interest in keeping the streets cleaner, which is something I have pledged to do, which I think improves the safety —getting rid of graffiti quickly.
When I heard about the situation with the tree behind Davie St between Bute and Jervis, I guess it is, I got the city staff down there, they’ve taken that tree out, and it’s no longer a place where people are hanging around and hassling people.
I’ve worked with a friend of mine who was beaten down at Sunset Beach. I’ve talked to the park board. We got some lights put in down there, or one big light anyway, and got the park board’s attention for better lighting along the waterfront walkway there.
So I think the mayor can show that it’s an issue, and be concerned and bring it up and make sure the police through his position as the police board chair are paying attention to it.
XW: Would you lobby Crown to be more proactive in seeking the hate crime designation in cases like Jordan Smith’s? There is a perception that the Crown has been hesitant to use that designation as an aggravating factor at sentencing. What role can a mayor and city play?
PL: The mayor has to lay down the principle that there is zero tolerance for hate crimes, and make that really clear, and work with the police board to carry that out, to enforce that, and that’s something they’ve done in this case. They’ve taken it away from community court and they brought into a place where it can be prosecuted that way. I think it all starts with saying that there’s zero tolerance for hate crimes, and we would do whatever we have to do to enforce that.
XW: Two more questions… The Centre has been searching for a new home for a long time. What would you do to speed up the process and find them a new home?
PL: We have to work with The Centre. We have to work them into the process with the park board, if it’s going to be part of a park board centre or with the neighbourhood housing initiatives. There are neighbourhood houses all over the city that are similar sort of programs. It’s a bit unique and that gives it special challenges but I know I’ve been talking to Sean. He’s been looking for a location.
There are ways that the city can work with the developer somewhere in the Davie St area and say that we want a special amenity bonus that we could apply to The Centre. And we have to, as I think our staff have been doing, work with The Centre to have the capacity to organize themselves and do some fundraising of their own to bring the partnerships to the table that would be necessary to make it happen.
XW: Why do you think queers should vote for you for mayor on Nov 15?
PL: Because I am pledged to change, leadership and results, and I value very much the diversity and importance of particularly the gay community, both as a cultural contributor and as an enrichment of the community, and a great boon to our economy -and the economics of Vancouver are very important to me and I think to many taxpayers right now.
I pledge to continue that support and to deliver those results. I would compare myself to my opponent who has no experience at civic government and will be relying on an uneasy alliance of people with conflicting agendas.
The NPA has a united team. We’ve got an extremely diverse team and we’re there for everybody in the community and we want to make Vancouver the most liveable city in the world. And that means it has to have a strong gay community and safety for everybody.