Well, we did it. An analysis of polling stations makes it clear that West End gays came out to vote this municipal election as surely as others did across the city. In fact, they should take a bow: attendance at West End polling stations reached 43 percent, a huge increase from the 27 percent average West End turnout for the 1999 civic election; in some parts of the West End only 18 percent showed in 1999.
We’ve come a long way in three years, almost matching the 50 percent city-wide turnout. And the election results should convince even the deepest cynic: your vote really can count and lead to substantial changes in those who represent us. Let’s make it a point to remember our power; our community is big enough to have real influence when, and only when, we back it up by voting.
Poll analysis also makes it clear that West End gays voted overwhelmingly for the COPE ticket.
What can we expect from a city hall run by COPE? We can demand that they live up to their election promises. For our community, that includes a move to a comprehensive and democratic vision of community policing, rather than the blue-wash version we now suffer. It also includes implementing a ward system before the next election, so that our West End and Commercial Drive communities can have our own representatives at city hall, people to champion our dreams of building a city that profoundly recognizes our emerging culture.
Larry Campbell’s Dec 2 inaugural address raises hopes that a new day is dawning for our community in its relationship with city hall. He specifically mentioned the need for changes to the way our community is policed. He is determined to implement the much-needed four-pillar approach to drugs and raised the issue of affordable housing. It’s good that he’s sticking to his guns on these controversial matters. COPE should run as far and as fast as they can with implementing their promises and shy away from the temptation to over consult. They were elected to make real changes, not surface ones, and they have a profound mandate, one even more profound than that experienced last year by the provincial Liberals. As Gordon Campbell did, Larry Campbell and COPE should seize their moment and not be sidetracked by Vancouver Sun editorials or cries to go slower emanating from those who didn’t even vote for them.
Larry Campbell must remember his promises to our community. They include funding the Bashline and The Centre; making permanent the licenses of Davie St bars; allowing bars to stay open to 4 am; reviewing city hall’s legal and staff harassment of video sex arcades and sex-toy retailers; community policing that profoundly involves minority communities; expanding transit to include a connection between Commercial Dr and the West End, and late-night service to take intoxicated bar patrons home; and subsidizing the Pride Parade in some way.
Many of the issues closest to the hearts of those elected are difficult to make substantial headway on, particularly drugs, housing and poverty. COPE councillors need to avoid appearing too dour and prove that they appreciate their supporters who like to have a good time. They should make a particular effort to address issues that would make this city more Fun. How about starting with a bylaw that immediately amends all liquor licenses so that the liquor capacity is the same as the fire capacity? And allowing all bars and pubs to be open to 4 am starting June 1, 2003?
How about telling city staff and inspectors to lay off our bars, our play parties and the sex arcades? (I’m thinking of Paul Teichroeb and Guy Gusdal in particular because they’ve been the focus of some news reports, but there are no doubt others.)?
COPE’s candidates met with Davie bar-owners during this election. They know our entrepreneurs have been picked on by city hall. They know our community has a special relationship with our bar owners that includes tithing them to fund our charities. They know our bars are our de-facto community centres.
It is unfortunate that some of our bar owners, exercising their rights but naïve as hell, climbed aboard the Funcouver campaign and neglected backing any COPE candidates. But COPE councillors need to remember this: our community needs successful bars. This is not about making the owners rich; it’s about serving our community’s needs. Vancouver’s citizens did not vote against the legal changes promoted by the Funcouver campaign; they voted for addressing the serious and neglected issues raised by the COPE campaign. Both can be accomplished. Remember, COPE pledged to make the changes that the Funcouver campaign promoted and should do so, regardless of the hospitality industry twits behind the Funcouver campaign. (Those twits need to give their heads a shake for not endorsing any COPE candidates.)
COPE has a mandate for change. Serious change. This paper will be aggressive in pushing for a substantial momentum in implementing those changes that were promised to our community. Of course, policing is top priority. But we will also be vigorous in demanding bylaw, policy and enforcement changes that benefit the patrons of our bars, restaurants, sex shops, arcades, and play parties.
Let’s build a fairer and more fun Vancouver.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.