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Vancouver socialists look to shake up the municipal elections

Ryan Schebek

September 12, 2022
I met with Sean Orr, a candidate running for city council, and member of the Democratic Socialists of Vancouver(DSV) to get an inside look at the political landscape leading up to the October municipal election. This year, for the first time, the DSV will be running candidates under the 'Vote Socialist' banner. Along with Sean Orr for city council, the slate includes Dr. Karina Zeidler for school board and Andrea Pinochet-Escudero for park board.
Their platform is to create, “the most livable, equitable, and sustainable city in the world.” A city that is, “fully committed to restitution for the Indigenous nations that have lived in profound connection with this land for millennia.” A city where housing is a human right, and one that is “ready to break every rule in the profiteer’s book to confront the climate crisis.” Vote Socialist vows to “defund, disarm, and de-task the police.”
I had many questions I wanted to ask to better understand where the DSV stands on revolutionary ideas and the future of Vancouver. Sean Orr lives in the heart of Gastown, an area of Vancouver where the contrast of income inequality is most visible and is within the unceded territory of the xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Gastown is situated between wealthy financial districts, high traffic tourist areas and the Downtown Eastside. As we talked, I could hear the chimes from the Steam Clock coming from outside Sean’s window. The Steam Clock is a tourist hotspot. I immediately thought about the hundreds of tourists coming off cruise ships taking photos and dumping money into a city that ignores the needs of its most vulnerable. As the clock chimed, we started to talk about Sean’s reasons for running, movement building on the left and real estate as a flash point for class struggle.
Reasons for running
Sean has been a commentator on all things political in Vancouver for the last 17 years. He describes his reporting as initially absurdist, disruptive, and utilizing humour. However, with the election of Donald Trump, a situation that transcended parody, he began to take a more radical approach to politics. He went back to school to study Marxism to help fill in the gaps in his theoretical understanding.
Sean hopes his strengths as a candidate will help build radical left-wing movements in Vancouver. This includes a strong social media following and fearlessness for debate. We discussed how parties that traditionally supported the working class are moving further and further right and of the need for more radical voices.
“There is this triangulation between left-wing parties to appease right-wing parties”, Sean comments, in reference to Vancouver politics but also extending to provincial and federal level with the failures of the NDP. While other parties are willing to compromise with the needs of capital, the Vote Socialist platform has the sensible, and hence radical, proposals that, ”Tenants can and should write housing policy. Workers can and should run their workplaces. Drug users should write drug policy. Public transit users can and should run our public transit system. Disabled people can and should make decisions about building codes and accessibility.”
When asked about splitting the left vote, with the emergence of a new party, Sean responded that he has huge respect for other left-wing parties, like COPE, who have a strong history defending the rights of the working class in Vancouver.
“We can help each other, we can say things that COPE and OneCity can’t, [we can] demand action” ...“maybe they cannot be calling for defunding the VPD”. Sean hopes to push the conversation in a more radical direction by running for city council.
The Platform
Sean highlighted what he loved about DSV’s platform including how it was formed.
“The beauty of Vote Socialist” Sean says “is it’s a small group of people who got together on zoom every week and crafted out this policy together...It’s a municipal movement that asks for input, it's still’s live , it’s ever changing, it’s not static. Whereas some parties would get their backs up and [say] no this is our position on this... We can be flexible... organic”.
The platform is lengthy, addressing many issues including defunding the VPD, supporting the landback movement, housing, solidarity with striking workers and protection of refugees. There were more issues than we could discuss, however, one point stood out for both of us as renters. Our conversation quickly turned to focus on real estate.
Sean comments that real estate, the power the city gives property development companies and the commodification of housing, “has become the flash point of class war...  fight[ing] for your own suite, in your own building”. Sean supports the grassroots organizations that are on the front line already doing so much good work as one of his missions. For example, using municipal politics to support the Vancouver Tenants Union or front-line workers on the DTES who are already pushing for progressive policies, who understand the needs of the people they serve. Along with active support, city council can implement policy at the municipal level like rent control and vacancy control.
The fight does not end at the ballot box, but there are tools the city can offer to help the fight in the streets and the needs of everyday people.
To learn more about the DSV, Sean Orr and the other Vote Socialist candidates visit:
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