Come hell or high water, the Aug 5 Pride parade will go on, promises Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president John Boychuk.
Boychuk says the city strike, now entering its 12th day as Xtra West goes to press, will not stop Vancouver’s 29th Pride parade and festivities.
No such luck for Gender Twist, the Pride in Art Society’s art and performance festival. Due to begin its 16-day run at the Roundhouse Community Centre Jul 30, the art exhibit segment of the event has now been postponed until October as talks between the city and striking workers reached yet another impasse over the weekend.
Now Pride parade organizers are waiting to see how garbage-strewn the Denman St to Sunset Beach parade route will be after Saturday night’s fireworks festival at English Bay.
With garbage collectors among hundreds of outside workers on the picket line for more than a week now, city officials have been urging participants and spectators of traditional summer events like the Celebration of Light and the Pride parade to “pack out” whatever they bring in, as the city’s strike-exempt staff will be “limited in their ability” to clean up once the crowds have gone home.
“We are asking participants and spectators to do the best they can to pack it in and pack it out,” says Tom Timm, the city’s general manager of engineering services.
“We will be doing the best we can with the exempt staff available to both the parks board and the engineering services to clean up after the event,” assures Timm, when asked about a contingency plan to deal with the litter load in the overlap between the Celebration of Light and the Pride parade.
“There are a range of services we provide which includes the signage in advance to clear parking to ensure the event can happen, all the way to cleanup afterwards. I expect it’ll be somewhat awkward in terms of the cleanup, but we’ll do the best that we can.”
Timm also points to the volunteer participation that both the fireworks and Pride organizations marshal to handle post-event cleanup.
“It’s not all done by city staff, so all of those people will still participate and be available,” says Timm.
But with the parade mere days away, the VPS has signed up just 140 volunteers, 100 short of what it requires to supervise the parade and the festival on Sunset Beach — not counting the additional cleanup needs.
“We have two-thirds for the parade and half for the festival,” calculates Boychuk, who issued a call-out to the community for additional volunteers at an information meeting for parade and festival participants last week.
As for garbage containers, Boychuk says the bases should be covered with Wet Lubricants on board as a sponsor.
“They’re going to have 200 boxes lining the parade route to throw garbage into. Now we’re hoping not to have to fill those,” he notes, adding “the chance of getting additional supplies would be really challenging.”
Still, he says, “we feel, based on what we have, that that’s going to take care of it.”
Garbage management aside, the bigger question is how did we get to this point, contends queer parks commissioner Spencer Herbert, even as he reiterates his call to those who have participated and benefited from Pride to make sure that “it comes off without a hitch.”
“I guess I’m very frustrated and quite upset at this point… To have the mayor claiming Pride as a priority, and claiming special events as a priority and then doing everything in his power to push the union into a strike, it just doesn’t square up,” Herbert argues.
Mayor Sam Sullivan issued a press release Jul 20 entitled “City contingency plans” which listed nine priorities the city would “work to maintain” during the strike. The “Pride Parade, downtown fireworks and other special events” made number four on the list.
Herbert is not impressed. “As much as the mayor is saying we’ll have exempt staff doing all the work, there’s only so many exempt staff and so many hours to do the whole work of thousands of workers,” he points out.
City spokesperson Jeff Dobrovolny says the city put five offers on the table with each successive offer addressing the concerns of the union.
“Over that period of time, virtually no issue has been removed from the union’s list of items. We owe a responsibility not only to our employees, but also to our taxpayers. So in order to get us back to the bargaining table, the union is going to have to bring their expectations more in line with the fiscal ability of our taxpayers to fund those demands,” says Dobrovolny.
“Sure there has to be give and take on all sides,” agrees Herbert, “but I can’t see how saying no to negotiating is give and take. I think they should be sitting down overnight, if need be, negotiating through the night to get a deal,” he says, adding that “it really distresses me to hear people saying, ‘oh, this will go on for a couple of weeks, six to eight weeks.’ I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva couldn’t agree more.
“We should be putting pressure on the city and saying we want all our venues open for Pride,” he argues.
“Put pressure on the mayor. He can resolve this in a weekend if he set his mind to it,” Deva suggests, even as he expresses confidence that the parade won’t generate “horrendous garbage.”
“We can certainly look after our own cleanup, and I think we can do it in the future without paying the city to do it,” he adds.
It’s not garbage, but coming to terms with the postponement of their two-week festival that has the Pride in Art Society and its artists “really bummed right now,” says board member Joanne Ursino, who up to Jul 27 was pushing ahead with getting exhibit title cards, event programs and tickets in the event of a resolution to the job action.
Considering another venue, she says, is not an option.
“I have to tell you how disappointed we are,” says Pride in Art president Jeff Gibson three days later, as the strike wears on and the Roundhouse remains closed.
“This event belongs in the Pride festivities. It’s a component we’d like to see for Pride, and this is a setback for us.”
The festival is supposed to showcase the city at large and what this community is about, Gibson continues, adding that the planning has been in the works for a year.
“Angry as a matter of fact,” he says, when asked how he feels about the situation. “I want the city and the union to get back to the bargaining table. I feel that the citizens are losing out in a lot of ways. I don’t think they are protecting the interests of cultural groups affected by the strike.”
While the art exhibit portion of the festival is now scheduled to show two months after Pride, from Oct 15-29 at the Roundhouse Community Centre, Gibson says the Society is working with Jodaiko, a taiko drumming group, and the International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE) to ensure their performances can still coincide with Pride festivities. Jodaiko will now perform at the WISE Hall Aug 1, while an alternative venue for the IDKE troupe is still being confirmed.