edited by Stanley Lee
interviewed by Stanley Lee and Yi Fang
We interviewed George Chow at the Vancouver City Hall in late March. Given his age and the results of the last campaign he ran in 2013, few thought he would drum up the resources to run for office again. That said, he is determined to not let go until he has accomplished his long-term political goal, which you can learn from reading our interview.
Before then, here are the links relevant to his campaign:
First question is that we do know that you were a two-term city councilor in the City of Vancouver, you ran as a candidate in 2013. So, the first question is why do you want to run for office again this time for Vancouver?
Well, I think it’s to carry on my mission because I was city councilor from 2005 to 2011, so that was 6 years, and I ran in 2013 because I want to actually help to implement political donation reform. That was my main objective whether that is at the city level or to the provincial government level, that really is one of my objective when I ran in 2013, and of course I didn’t get elected, so I am in 2017 I’m running again with the same objective, except now it’s more apparent we do need political donation reform.
How long have you been working on political donation reform?
When we were in city council, I was on this all-party committee and we drafted a letter to the provincial government because we don’t have any power ourselves at the city to do that that kind of legislation, so we drafted a letter, and it was signed by all the three parties that were at city hall at the time. That was to eliminate donations from corporations and big business and then put a limit on spending and put a limit on the donation amount that individual could make.
Also the other thing at the city level, we institute that kind of reforms we also needed to make it a level playing field with the provincial government because at the city level, when we donate money to political parties, it’s not tax deductible, so it’s unfair in terms of level playing field between politics at the city level and politics at the federal and provincial government because at the provincial and the federal level, both of that level have a tax deduction for your political donation, but of course at the federal level, there are limits as to how much you can give. At the provincial level, right now there is nothing.
Right, so in terms of let’s say political donation at the city level, the province controls that as well as the political donations for the province itself, right?
Yes. Because under the Vancouver Charter, there isn’t such a power for the city to ‑ I mean yes, the city could come to some kind of an agreement, but then really you need to ‑
Is the trouble that it’s non-binding.
Yes, nonbinding and also it probably can be challenging for the city to implement it, so that is one of the problem. You also want to be involved at the provincial level with election BC so that you have an independent body to administer that, so that’s very important. Right now, donations, when I ran for city councilor, you just appeared in court how much you spend, but there’s no limit right? You could spend $50,000 or you spend $100,000. There’s no limit on that, and there’s no receiving donations as well. Of course, at the provincial level, there is a limit on spending in your campaign but there’s no limit on giving or receiving donations.
Yes. Because under the Vancouver Charter, there isn’t such a power for the city to ‑ I mean yes, the city could come to some kind of an agreement, but then really you need to ‑
Is it fair to say that actually both major parties, the BC Liberals and the NDP, potentially they’re all being influenced by big corporation money or union donations?
Well, I think it depends on what you mean by influence. Certainly, both parties receive donations from companies. Of course, for the NDP the unions give also to other than NDP party as well. It’s really their decision, but we are advocating that we should not take donations from corporation and entities such as unions. We are saying that the donations should come from individuals, so that is basically decision and we believe that there should be a limit on how much money an individual could donate at any given time.
Okay. How familiar are you with the major development projects in the Riverview. I believe that’s in your district, right?
No, not the Riverview. The Riverview is not in my area – Riverview, yes. Sorry. I was thinking about, when I was in council, they were starting on that development, and it’s slowly being built up. I was down there, door knocking, and there are new houses, townhouses that were there, not 4 years ago, but they were there for the federal elections, so that means when I ran in 2013, those houses were not there and they were there for the 2015 federal elections, so there are new residents in that area.
I don’t know is all of this fall into provincial jurisdiction, but how do you feel about the province’s performance for that community whether it’s providing healthcare services, or infrastructure, or schools, or even flood control?
Yeah, I think all of those are inadequately provided in that area. The schools, the transportation was a challenge. The people have to rely on a car right now if you live in the River district.
In terms of public transit, there’s only about 100 buses.
Yeas, exactly. We need more frequency. On the whole I think Riverview is not really that well served by public transit. As an example, I was door knocking and the seniors were telling me that say the 49th Avenue bus, you see one down on 1st Street down to 54th in order to drop off people in Champlain Heights, but that was cut. Right now, some of the seniors I asked them, “Do you still come down to Chinatown?” Usually they take the Victoria Drive bus down to Chinatown. They say, “Well, one is our health, and secondly now we have to walk all the way from 54th to 49th.
And there’s a steep hill, too, right?
Yeah, yeah. A little bit. Not very steep, but there’s a hill. Yeah, if you’re down from Marine Drive. I’m talking about a senior who even live on 54th, without the bus service now, you have to walk to 49th Avenue in order to take the bus, so that you can meet up with Victoria Drive and if you want to come down to Chinatown, for example, a lot of seniors don’t do that.
Are there any commitments to improving that situation?
I would think as a candidate if I were even now, I’ll be starting a petition to actually ask council to restore that service, the 49th bus will be coming back to Champlain Heights in order to serve that area because Champlain Heights Mall is very critical for some of the seniors and the people there. It’s a mall where you have all the facilities – the grocery store, bank, doctor’s office, lawyer’s office.
Let’s move on to the next question. How would you differentiate yourself from the incumbent MLA there?
Well, I think I think I’m closer to the people. I know their needs. For example, right now that bus service I’m talking about, the incumbent was there, and she was not interested in fighting for the local residents.
When was that service cut?
That was about 2 years ago. It was about 2 years. That’s certainly one thing. There are a lot of seniors here from that area. One of the issues with seniors here is 4 out of 5 or 8 out of 10 of those are short-staffed in terms of helping the seniors say to take a bath, for example. The seniors are taking a bath every 2 days. Now they may have to forego and take a bath every 4 days, so that’s very inadequately provided in that area. It’s a major sentiment of the population in Fraserview are seniors. There aren’t many senior homes there, so I think that’s certainly something that the incumbent hasn’t really done much.
Many people in the Chinese community, the Chinese immigrant community here feel that the NDP is anti-business. In fact, many people don’t trust the NDP on the economy. Do you have any response to that?
I think that’s basically based on when the NDP was last in power here 12 years ago and more. To me, I think government could only make regulations for the businesses and the government is not actually creator of jobs, right? I mean the economy is created by private businesses, so I think it’s really just a misrepresentation to say the NDP is not a good manager of the economy. I think back in the days when the NDP were in power, the economy actually was performing well. I think we’re now of course is looking ahead in terms of how we could actually create jobs that are better paid and just minimum wage, and sustainable. For example, right now we are exporting logs, whole logs.
You’re talking about raw logs?
Whole logs out of the country. We should actually be thinking about getting investments to set up our own saw mills here and process those logs before you actually export all that stuff out. I mean it’s very convenient to chop the tree down, and –
Sell it away.
Yeah, so I think we really need to put some effort into that. And of course, the other thing we really need to look at and it’s also a job creator is investing in infrastructure, just transportation, transportation infrastructure, which the province will have to make anyway because the federal government, too, with federal budget already now committed a certain amount of money to do transportation. Transportation it’s very important tool that it lessens the greenhouse gas emission certainly. It actually helps the accommodation in terms of people being able to live a bit far away but being able to commute to work using public transport instead of driving because driving increase congestion and also it costs a lot more, and it’s not great for the environment for driving. That certainly is an important consideration, and I think in terms of the high-tech sector, that’s certainly something that we want to look at as well. The film industry is a big industry in Vancouver, so that’s certainly very important.
As you said, actually NDP is not anti-business. It has many plans about the economy. Is there a communication problem between the party and the –
No, I think it’s just an opposition perpetuated kind of myth. I mean okay you look at the opposition who won the last election based on a promise in big business starting up like the LNG, so that of course never materialized. You could say they actually were not telling the truth. They actually tell the people that they’re going to be able to help the LNG industry get going within a few years, and that from then on, we didn’t have to worry about income.
Speaking of the LNG and Kinder Morgan and other resource development industries, are you concerned about your party’s position on those projects potentially putting your party into the same rhetoric that you’re anti-economy and anti-jobs?
Well, I think the pipeline particularly is not really a job creator, some jobs but not really a lot of jobs for the Province of BC. The risks outweigh the jobs that were being created because we bear all the risks in terms of the spill, and don’t forget now you’re going to double the tanker traffic in the water and the possibility of spilling is high. For this kind of bitumen, t’s a very heavy oil, and if got spilt, it will just sink to the bottom, so the cleanup is very, very hard to do. I don’t even know if they actually have the technology to do that kind of cleanup, so the environmental risk. Now that risk will actually affect our other economy such as tourism and even our reputation as a great green city to live, so that’s…
When you transport enough volume – It’s an eventually, right?
Yeah, yeah, exactly. The other thing is that you are not able to get guarantees from the pipeline companies that in case of a spill, they could just go bankrupt and the taxpayer will be left with the cleanup costs because the cleanup cost could be like $10 billion for this kind of incident. What is the benefit now? I am not exactly right on the figure, but I read over 10 years, the benefit to British Columbia is only maybe $20 billion, so that’s only $2 billion dollars a year, right? If you have one spill and the spill cost you $10 billion, where’s the benefit?
You mentioned something about the lumber industry and the film industry. Now what can the provincial government do regarding the film industry, given that its prosperity is dependent mostly on the weakness of the Canadian dollar?
Well that’s true, and of course we are giving some kind of tax incentive for these companies to come. But, I think the weakness of the Canadian dollar is now the case, but then I think we would still be okay if the Canadian dollar would go back up to say $0.80, $0.85, and we would still have that advantage. The other big advantage of the film industry is that we actually now the trained personnel and the infrastructure to do this quickly. That’s why I think some of the people are attracted to do filming in BC because you actually have the studio, the staff, and the cooperation of the municipalities such as Vancouver where they want to go on location to film, they could do it quickly, so we have that advantage as well.
What about lumber industries though like you mentioned about getting investments into building value added jobs here. Do you think the major lumber industries are going to go along with it, considering that they’re doing it elsewhere to save money on the labour costs?
I think that the company would have to be basically monitored that it would do actually have the investment to create long-term jobs is to their advantage, too. We could probably give them incentive in order to ‑
How is it to their advantage?
Well, then they would actually have finished product that’s more valuable to export, and it will be in terms of sustainability of the future, it will be better than just chopping down the trees and then exporting it. I mean it’s a finite resource. Even now it takes even now 20 years –
To grow a tree for them to harvest, right?
We should be doing the finishing here and trying to get some value. That’s really where you’re creating jobs. Sure, you created a few jobs chopping down the trees, but then it’s that not very sustainable.
How do you feel about the foreign-buyers tax that’s imposed by the BC Liberal government?
Now, I think the BC Liberal government has not really been monitoring the real estate industry. I think this thing came about because the real estate industry, some of the brokers or salespersons are flipping and avoiding taxes and pushing the prices higher and higher, and that created quite a commotion in the community, and without really kind of foreseeing the problem, I think the government instituted this 15 percent tax. I think it’s really just a kneejerk reaction of not doing the work properly.
For example, the real estate industry, what they have to take over its own professional supervision, right? Normally an organization like this, for example, I’m a professional engineer. My work ethics and code of conduct is governed by my association, which we have that kind of power in the provincial legislation. The real estate industry actually has that, but then of course this was poorly run. The government never really did not –
They don’t really enforce?
Yeah. Of course, if you are talking about my incumbent in the riding that I’m running in…
She’s been the Attorney General, right?
She just looked at that, and they were obviously flipping, not paying income tax, and engaging in illegal activity in terms of taking somebody’s house and then just selling it to another person at a higher price without letting the owners know that they’re doing that. That created a lot of animosity within the community, and as far as the BC Liberals are concerned, their solution was just to slap on that 15 percent tax, and of course, it was done in such a hasty way. Now they have to backtrack in terms of foreigner who actually come in here to work. You have like high-tech workers that are –
Work permit, right?
Yeah, work permit but they’re foreigners, so they are subject to that 15 percent tax, too. You could see that the BC Liberals government is not really governing for the interests of the people. I think they’re governing in order to get back into power. I think that 15 percent is basic for them. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that they never really spend any time on.
What do you think is the ballot box question this time? Do you think it’s a change election given what happened in 2013?
I think the important question really is the Christy Clark government, what have they done for you as an everyday working person. I think that’s the most important thing because all she has done really were to make sure her friends and the top 2 percent earners are tax-free to the tune of like $1 billion. I think that is the question people are asking.
The political donation scandal is another question on people’s minds because when we knock on doors, people are telling us and some of the traditional Liberal voters are also questioning about is she taking money from the political party to the tune of $300,000.
Even if it’s a pay for play perception?
Yeah, it is a bad perception because people donate to the party to get a tax write off and it’s supposed to be for the party’s political purpose, right? It’s not to line her pocket to the tune of $300,000.
Is that also a message where if you want influence in government policy, you better pay up, that kind of message?
Yeah, yeah. I mean that’s exactly the kind of message that’s coming up, and the fact that she used to look at reforming in terms of political donation until very now when she’s pressed, she said, “No, no, no. There is no need for unlimited donations.” Of course, limits on donations is important because it limits the ability of people with money in terms of their ability to lobby and influence the government just because they have more money to donate to a certain party. I think that’s certainly very, very important.
Final question, young people. Why do you think young people should get involved in politics, considering a lot of them think –: What we just discussed, things really change, or they could get a change that’s even worse like Donald Trump being elected as the U.S. president. Given all the alternatives that they could be doing, whether it’s entrepreneurship or building skills, so that they can make more money or entertainment.
Well, I think basically the regardless of who are you going to vote for? Let’s say if 80 percent of the people comes out to vote, then whatever the result of the elections, you could say, “Hey, this is what the people want,” because right now, you’re only hovering at 50 percent. If the silent majority doesn’t say anything, well it seems to me as a politician it doesn’t do me any comfort to say they’re really believing in the process, and we move the people to participate regardless of who they vote for. I think that’s important and that of course for me to come out to vote, when you take part in the elections in terms of going to town hall meetings meetings, voicing your opinions, that’s all good for the process.
I think the young people are not participating because like what you say they don’t really see that it makes any difference, so I think it’s incumbent on the politician and the leaders to actually make it automatic and it’s not going back on your words such as I mentioned about the system that the federal government was promising to implement proportional representation. After all, when you look at the number, it’s only about 4 percent that determines which party forms the government in BC like. For example, NDP always gets around 40 percent and the Liberal always gets around 40 percent. But the middle 4 percent could decide the outcome by shifting that to the NDP, and I tell you that’s not a healthy thing. You really need more people participating so you have a high margin of victory and that would be a good outcome.
You would rather let’s say lose the election with more people voting rather win with less people voting?
Yeah, well exactly. Because the other people are not participating, they’re either like turned off or really don’t know. The low turnout is always advantageous to the incumbent because that’s the status quo. But then it’s really up to the opposition to rally the troops so to speak with issues that concern them, that matter to them become discussed more and that’s when you have a change in government. That silent majority motivates – I mean it’s a fair game, so we lost the elections, so we lost the elections. It’s really because you didn’t mobilize enough people to vote for you. It’s that simple. Obviously, we are looking for more participation and trying to motivate the people to come out to vote.