Is the future Green? Adriane Carr thinks so

Published in the Vancouver Observer news site  |  November 22, 2011  |  Circulation: 100,000 average monthly readers.

Adriane Carr in her campaign office. Photo by David P. Ball.

Representing the newest party on Vancouver City Council, Adriane Carr culminated 30 years of vying for office with a surprise win on Saturday.

The veteran Green Party leader squeaked into the last council seat by only 91 votes late on election night, pushing out veteran Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) councillor Ellen Woodsworth. The eight-time candidate did it with only $15,000, a handful of volunteers, and sheer thrift — such as re-using a decade of her provincial and federal campaign signs.

“It was a nail-biter of an evening,” she told the Vancouver Observer in her Downtown Eastside campaign office. “The adrenaline was rushing.”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about the experience of the election and what’s next,” she added, revealing she could not sleep for a full day after the election, and has been fielding non-stop requests from media and constituents hoping she will champion their issues.

In fact, Carr’s phone rang nearly continuously during our interview – at one point, the co-founder of the provincial and federal green parties juggled two separate calls at once, a phone in both ears. Nonetheless, she maintained unwavering eye contact the entire time.

While COPE supporters are nursing their election night wounds, and Vision celebrates its landslide majority, Carr said she is undaunted by holding a single seat on City Council. The maverick Green is not only the same age as outgoing councillor Suzanne Anton, of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), but inherits the latter’s single-seat status at City Hall – a fact Anton cited as frustrating, because no motion can be discussed without a seconder.

“My hope is there would be a spirit of cooperation across party lines and that I wouldn’t be in the same situation,” she says. “I have a background in a collaborative style of politics – I’m not anticipating it’s going to be a problem.”

“Knowing I’ve been elected — at least in part — with the hope that I will hold Vision accountable, it would be unwise if my motions didn’t get seconded.”

Her first priority on council?

“The process of involving people at the civic level in determining their neighbourhood plans, their community plans — and then council respecting that involvement and the wishes of people, and not steam-rolling over them – is critical,” she said. “We saw the rise of a whole new party in this election – Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver – basically because of the feeling that people were not being listened to by council.”

“No matter how many came out to a public hearing and unanimously stating an opinion against a project, council was pushing it through. That has to stop. You don’t have democracy when that takes place.”

As a member of a Vancouver minority – homeowners, 48 per cent of the city – Carr and her husband Paul George own a condominium in the West End, as well as a house on the Sunshine Coast. Yet she staked an election platform critical of developer influence at City Hall, and even addressed Occupy Vancouver directly through a speech and workshop at the Vancouver Art Gallery. What is her relationship with developers?

“I think it’s got to be a good relationship, but it can’t be one where City Hall caters to developers over citizens,” she said. “It’s citizens first.”

Criticizing spot rezoning requests, frequently approved by City Council this past term – and the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) programme to encourage expansion in the rental market — Carr said that developers must understand the rules and limits on their influence.

“The rules are made in the plans that people at the grassroots level – the citizens of this city – are engaged in producing,” she said. “The one-off deals just aren’t in the cards.”

Receiving the endorsement of the Vancouver firefighters union during the election campaign was a “tipping point,” Carr recalled – as well as support from several Chinatown associations. She also took inspiration from the Green Party’s first federal Member of Parliament, Elizabeth May, who Carr lists as a mentor despite recruiting her to the party herself. Carr co-founded the provincial Green in 1983, followed shortly by the federal party in 1984.

“She’s been strong, forceful – even if she’s been the single voice on issues,” Carr said of May. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders in terms of how to be effective within government.”

When the Vancouver Observer caught up with May, she was equally excited about the civic Greens’ victory.

“Adriane is incredibly hard-working and committed to a healthy, liveable city,” May said. “What some do not know is that her academic background is in urban geography.”

“Her impact will be felt.”

Carr’s husband and campaign advisor, Western Canada Wilderness Committee founder Paul George, has been helping her electoral campaigns since the 1980s. He recycled lawn signs from Carr’s provincial and federal campaigns, even re-using the old screws, he said, adding that after her last federal campaign saw several signs stolen, he made sure to hammer them into the ground “extra hard.”

“Actually, I’ve never seen her so happy – finally!” he reflected. “She really wants to serve.”

“If you’re on the outside telling them how to do it better, it gets tiresome after a while. You want to go in and play in the Majors. It’s going to be a whole new ball game.”

George said Carr is up to the challenge – being used to 70 to 80 hour work weeks – but that being a lone party voice on council will likely be frustrating. But he said her collaborative style will make alliances easier — “Adriane never plays negative politics,” he says. “She doesn’t have too many enemies – only a few internally within the Green Party.”

One of those critics is Carr’s predecessor – Stuart Parker, the B.C. Greens’ leader from 1993-2000. He told the Vancouver Observer that Carr will be “highly effective in the role of lone opposition voice,” but will need to soften what he alleged were her “autocratic, slash-and-burn politics” in the Green Party.

“I think that Adriane has been elected at the right time, given her skill set and style,” he said. “Because Vision enjoys an eight-to-three majority on council, she can focus on tenaciously fighting for what she believes in, without having to foster any long-term alliances on council.”

But he said he hopes Carr’s “tendency to harshly deal with critics” have changed if the Greens are to grow their municipal support base and increase their foothold on City Council.

“I’m very determined and sometimes I don’t change my mind,” Carr admits. “Everybody can improve by being open to criticism and incorporating good ideas. If I don’t accept an idea it’s not because I don’t listen to it.”

Another criticism comes from the Left, some of whom see the Greens as having moved in a conservative direction under Carr’s leadership.

“She’s someone who doesn’t have a clear platform on social issues, their platform is pretty much a green agenda,” said COPE’s Ellen Woodsworth, who lost to Carr by 91 votes. “The social agenda changes from election to election. Adriane Carr really had done nothing on city issues, but got elected.”

But Carr insists she has been involved in campaigns for affordable housing, mental health support, and social justice at many levels, and that party principles never changed – it’s campaign language simply reached out to new audiences.

“People have to look at my record of attendance at public events, at rallies, the stands I’ve taken and the work that I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve been a staunch advocate for social justice.”

“I come from the Left — I come from the NDP. I don’t think that anyone looking at who I am will doubt my commitment to social justice and resolving the inequities in society.”

After multiple attempts to get into government at federal, provincial and civic levels – as well as working on May’s winning federal campaign on Vancouver Island – Carr breathes a sigh of relief and laughs all at once.

“This was my eighth election. That’s almost 30 years that I’ve been at it, so I’m pretty happy to be elected,” she said, chuckling. “Certainly, if I hadn’t been elected, it would have been smart to take a good hard look at whether or not this was the right way to spend my energy.”

“I am absolutely dedicated to public service and to seeing if, in whatever way possible, we can achieve a shift off the current path we’re on. For 30 years I’ve maintained that a shift in politics is what’s needed the most, that’s why I’ve been involved in Green politics.”
Whole wheat pita wedges and munchies still sit out from Carr’s election night party, held in the Greens’ single-room Cambie and Hastings office. The walls are adorned with posters from movements of decades past. The victory champagne bottles have been sent to recycling.

“You gotta have perseverance, you really do,” she said. “I honestly believe that there is a shift waiting to happen. The Occupy movement is just one expression of that right now.”

“Eventually, change will happen. I mean, I’m proof in the pudding.”

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