Monday, October 24, 2011

Meet Your Metro Electoral Area A Candidates

The past week I took some time to try and meet with each of the five candidates running for the position of Electoral Area A Director.  Sadly I’ve only been able to meet with three  candidates, Mischa Makortoff, Scott Andrews, and Maria Harris.  I have a meeting with Alexandria Mitchell on the dock for next week.  No luck so far with connecting with Vancouver resident Colin Dejarlais.

I’ve been meeting at the Beans Around the World coffee shop in the Old Barn Community Centre in Hawthorn Place within the University Town.  It gives us a chance to talk and visit in a place that is arguably the centre of non-student resident activities – at least for those of us not living in the UEL. 

Part of my desire to meet with each candidate is to try and make up my own mind about who to support in this election.  I am also interested in presenting a perspective on the candidates that is lacking in a more general sense.  Our local area may well be a playground for non-resident vested interests from developers to ecologists, but aside from that sort of unwanted attention our little election gets precious little media coverage.  I will make a choice about whom I will personally support, but in the meantime I intend to use this blog as a site for engaged commentary on the Electoral Area A and the Vancouver School Board elections.

As with any election the candidates demonstrate a range of different levels of knowledge about local and regional issues.  They live in different places and come from a range of divergent political and social backgrounds.  My conversations with the candidates focused on their familiarity with the local area (do they live here and for how long) and their past political experience (including asking each of them who they vote for provincially and federally).  For the two candidates I haven’t been able to speak with I’ve pieced together a profile from what I can glean online.

I present my summaries in order of our meetings.

Mischa Makortoff is a relative newcomer to the UBC-UEL area – he’s lived here on Toronto Road for about two years.  He is, however, no stranger to university life or the politics and dynamics of the Vancouver Region.  Born and raised in the lower mainland, Mischa completed a BA in Political Science at Simon Fraser.  He is currently a UBC staff member working in classroom services. 

Mischa has a clarity of purpose and exudes a sense of dedication and the capacity to get a job done and to do it at a high level.  He’s not afraid to pause to reflect on a new idea or to carefully consider a question that I frame in an unexpected way.  When asked about governance issues in the University Town and UEL areas he began his response by noting the difference between the two areas and the legal constraints that structure just what Metro can do.  Rather than hide behind that legal framework as has been the case with other candidates, Mischa pointed to the real problems that local area residents experience in terms of inconsistencies in local bylaw enforcement.  “What is needed is more accountability and direct involvement in the decisions that affect us a residents living here,” he said.

When asked about his partisan political affiliations he declined to comment noting that in the context of Metro Vancouver Board federal or provincial party membership should be less important than being a person “who is able to work together with others to get the job done.”  If I were to hazard a guess as to his partisan leanings I would peg him as a progressive centrist.

Scott Andrews is an energetic young man with a passionate desire to make our world a better place.  He has solid Green credentials and would be well placed to address ecological issues related to the overall region.  Scott completed his BA at UBC and, while he lived on campus, was a member of a local fraternity.  He was actually the fraternity president during his last year as a student.  I hope that Scott will excuse the surprise that I expressed upon learning this –
            “is that a common outlook for a frat boy? Being Green, that is?” 
            “While, maybe not,” Scott allowed.  “But as I continued in my studies I came to see that our world faces ecological issues of critical importance.  We need to take action and positions such as the Electoral Area A Director can be important in these regional issues.”
            Scott's membership in COPE, he left the municipal Greens when they refused to form a municipal alliance with Vision Vancouver and COPE, is a matter of public record (GeorgiaStraight).

This is Maria Harris’ election to loose.  Last time around she won by just ten votes over her closest opponent, Ben West.  West mounted a hard campaign popular with student and green voters propelled on by the dynamic of the UBC Farm debates of three years ago.  I also ran against Harris last time (I polled third in the five candidate field). In the spirit of disclosure I did say to the Ubbessy that my second vote on a preferential ballot would have gone to Harris.

Harris is clearly the old hand in the election.  She was trained as an economist.  She used to work for BC Hydro prior to moving with her husband and her two children to the UEL in the mid-1990s when she dedicated herself more to raising her family then paid employment.  As Harris points out she is fortunate to be freed from having to work long hours to make a living and consequently has lots of time to give to her community. 

Harris was part of the UEL Ratepayers Association that dealt with the necessity to find a way to be more inclusive and to include resident renters into the advisory structure of the UEL.  The resulting four area advisory committee was an outcome of that mid-1990s work. 

Harris has also been a long time advocate for UEL interests on a variety of UBC advisory planning committees.  Finding common cause with the Wreck Beach Preservation Society and the Friends of Pacific Spirit Park, Harris see’s her role as one of making connections between people to ensure that critical regional issues like solid waste management, water supply, and sewage are dealt with. 

When I asked Maria who she voted for provincially and federally she exclaimed that that is totally “irrelevant here!  It’s irrelevant to the effectiveness of the director.”   My guess would be that her politics would best be described as fiscally conservative and socially center-right. 

For Harris the role of Director has it’s greatest promise in building connections between people.  She believes that as the incumbent her insider knowledge will be useful in helping other people make connections through her.

I’ll be meeting with Alexandria Mitchell later this week.  She’s actively involved in university student politics and has actively supported federal Liberal Party candidates.  She’s a special member of the SUB rebuilding design committee and Fraser Valley rural boards and associations of various sorts.  Her personal web page is breathless in its self-coverage and leaves one marveling at all the meetings and events and causes that she contributes to.  [Update Oct. 30 - read report on my meeting with Alexandria here.]

Colin Desjarlais.  I really don’t understand his motivation for running for the position of director.  I can understand why he may have wanted to run for Vancouvercity council as a member of COPE.  But there is nothing in the little one can find online or in his brief candidate statement that explains why he is running for Director.

Updated Oct. 24.

I was able to speak with Colin Desjarlais by phone this morning.  Our conversation was brief but the crux of the matter for me was why should I vote for a candidate who doesn't live in this area.  
"We have a right to do it," he stated.  "It is constitutionally open.  We live in a democratic society and there is no residency requirement for running for elected office in Metro Vancouver."

When pushed to discuss local issues his response was there is a "broader picture then just local life.  This is a  voice on a regional level.  I have lots of  experience in the past.  I see this position as a regional voice, not a parochial one.  There are bigger issues than just UBC."

One example of a bigger issue for Mr. Desjarlais is commuting - "there's a lot more traffic now going out to UBC," he claimed.  [Single occupant car trips have in fact gone down while bus ridership has gone up.] 

I asked him why should local residents vote for a person who came up last choice for COPE Vancouver City Council candidates.  "I don't support the COPE-Vision party or the NPA.  We need to get rid of that old style political parties.  It's a whole new world out there.  I wanted to get a taste for what it was like on the inside."  Desarlais' experience campaigning for a COPE nomination and loosing left an obvious bitter taste for him and he now says that he is no supporter of any political party.

1 comment:

ScottAndrews said...

Thanks for all your great work on this Charles! Efforts like this will raise the profile of this election and bring greater representation to Electoral Area A. Best regards,

Scott Andrews