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David Driscoll Interview Transcript

Oct. 4
David Driscoll
Executive Director
Van City Community Foundation
950-1050 W. Pender St.
Mail to
PO Box 2120, Station Terminal
Vancouver, BC V6B 5R8
(W) 604-877-7553
(fax) 604-709-6909
(H) 604-469-1990
email -

Dave Beckwith:

Anyway, so you have the advantage on some of the people, in that you've heard the questions and some of the answers. You may have had some time to think about it. Even so, start wherever you want, the opening questions are what do you do and why do you do it. Wherever you would like.

David Driscoll:

Okay. What I do now? In terms of work? Okay. Well, I'm in the fortunate position of being executive director of the Van City community foundation. And I say fortunate because it's mandate fits where I feel a great deal of comfort in terms of working. It's commitment to the issues of economic equities, affordable housing, job creation, and the enterprising of non-profit initiatives. It's all based upon community economic development. And community economic development for me is a field that gives you access to some of the levers of change in the economy but it's constant presence and requirement is to connect to community. The only enduring development change is that which generates of our own making. Embracing the assets of our community and recognizing through inclusiveness the ability and giftedness of every person to contribute to that. And it's that sense of inclusiveness and giftedness that I find really moving. So it's the right place for me to be. I think the other thing is I have been just fortunate in most of my life to be doing things that have an explicit and clearly enfused social content. So there's not simply a unit of production or a unit of consumption in an economy that didn't have meaning. I did with a friend, one time, a series of word choices that you go through those questions choosing words and at the end of it you end up with seven or eight words of reference and something about your notion of their relationship. In my case the words ended up, the last four words of which was your servant needs meaning. And I think that's the driver for me, is I need meaning in what I do. And that's a constant search, whether it's in the land forms of an urban environment in my political life, I say, what's the meaning of that, what are those particular trees connected to the history of the people that live there, and you know, does that landscape mean anything in terms of where those people have come from and what they hope for for the future and in that particular configuration of land or development how will the parents explain to their children why that's there. So meaning is important in the land forms, it's important, obviously in the symbolic forms, you know, painting, sculpting, things like that, because that's ultimately what you're struggling with. One of the things that I think both the arts and community development do, and I said to a friend one time, being an artist means never averting your eyes, never averting your eyes. And I think that that's a blessing of some of the work I do that you can't avert your eyes. So you can't turn from poverty and all the ills that afflict some communities, seriously disinvested and the addictions and personal abuse that people subject themselves to and when you avert your eyes when you're a part of that, you feel distant from it and you feel afraid of it. When you don't avert your eyes, you see the giftedness of the people that are there and the kinds of humanity that people experience every day in their communities who have nothing in terms of material well being. And they continue to build community. I told the story on the way home yesterday of a man walking down the street on the east side and taking one of the street receptacles that contains litter that people throw in, dumping it out, taking the bottle and can that he was looking for, for cashing in. And then putting everything back in the container and putting the lid back on and I was thinking what huge dignity, I mean the indignity that no one wants this for their son or daughter, no one wants them to be going along the streets picking through litter containers, trying to find a few cents. To make sense of their life, either to support an addiction or to find some other things to do or, deal with the hurt and injury. So if you don't want that for your children here's an individual who is carrying a huge amount of dignity, putting it back and it is as clean as he found it. And I wrote a little thing on that, and it sent off to SPARC (the Social Planning Arts Review). And I said, you know, if we carried ourselves with that sense of personal dignity into our corporations, imagine what the environment would look like when mining companies left. If they put it back into perspective that way. Not because they were required to. This man had no requirement to behave in a civilized way, but because that signifies he saw his relationship to community and he saw his own dignity and that changed what he was doing. So not averting your eyes means that you have to deal with people who, as they say, there but for the grace of God go I. You know, any of our children for addictions or illness in another circumstance, could be this man, and not averting your eyes and then what you do is you start to see the good in the Samaritan, you start to see the story of the Samaritan. The Samaritans you know, were not people who were liked. And in telling the story of the good Samaritan, the parable, is meant to I think show that we need to be prepared to see godliness in everyone, including those who are 'other'. I think this is very good for me in doing that. When I was young, starting out, it used to be so depressing for me. I made it very clear I wasn't going to work with social work, I never did social work, I did a sociology degree and I always tried to stay on the economic side of it, because I found the personal circumstance really depressing. And that was my understanding of it as an 18, 19 year old. My understanding of it now is just to see huge nobility, character, struggle, destitution, despair sometimes, but those are all the different animals on the carousel, they all come around, but what you hope is of course that the very fact of people's continued attempts to create a future for themselves is a testament to their strength and their capacity to overcome the immediate damaging effects that are so destructive personally, and to take care of themselves. So, that's where I'm fortunate today. I don't see those people, I can now give you names of people who I care about who I know about, who are faced with the challenges of their own addictions every day and every day have to make a decision if they are going to take the self punitive drug numbing and anesthetic, analgesic effects of the easy route and instead choose to take a more difficult route of a conscious awareness and deliberateness of working with their communities. It's very moving; it's very moving.

The executive director of the Van city community foundation would not necessarily have to be engaged with realities on the streets or the issues. What is the way that you have found to stay engaged in community organizing?

Hmm. [laughs] One of the ways, it's sounds silly I know, but we do an annual business plan, in the context of a five year strategic plan. So given that we're connected to the credit union as a financial institution we do a lot of quantifiable analysis of what we're doing and how we're doing it. And business planning means that whatever you did the last quarter is the baseline of the next quarter and so it's a constant gearing up of capacity. What I've found is that the business reporting and the business methods have made me so much more technically efficient that it's given me more room to be engaged in community stuff. So the business efficiency has not led to a moving away from, but a greater opportunity for engagement. And I'm thinking more now, September was the third time I've had my annual planning. In May the committee went to the board and was rejected, saying this plan was too ambitious and in September they said this is too ambitious, we want stuff taken out of it. It's an unusual situation, usually the board, the management is saying do more do more. I think one of the reasons I've stayed connected is because I've so overloaded our annual plan that it can't be done unless I do continue to engage in the community, doing technical assistance and working directly. What I've done is found very efficient ways of looking after the administrative technical side of running a shop and the organizational side and that greater business efficiency has given me the opportunities to engage. I think if I was only doing the business efficiency, I would want to leave. I would consider my work there done. I have so isolated myself from what was, what keeps my heart open, that I might as well be administering stuff, I'm only doing administration, I might as well be doing administration for something that pays a lot.


If I'm good at it and it pays a lot to administrate I might as well be doing something that pays a lot.

Say a little more if you would about the program, about the Van City foundation.

Do you want me to tell some stories of some of my, some of the community partners?

Yah. When, these are the magic moment stories, if you would. When what you do, when it works, what does it look like? What does it feel like, what are some stories of success?

There are two, one story I'll tell you is the dumpster diver story. This is Ken who you met the other night. Ken had no, I'll just tell you the story and tell you where the epiphanies and strength and validations for me. If I'd said, I was asked to represent this story to a business group next February and what I was going to ask them was I was going to turn the story around instead of telling it from Ken's perspective, ask them to accomplish the following things. And what I would like you to accomplish in the business community is I'd like you to create enough people who have alcohol and drug addictions, I'd like you to create a condition where they're going to work for a year and maintain their sobriety. I'd like you to create a situation where they're going to put, where you're going to put as a business community 450,000 dollars back into the community. And I want you to create a condition where you're going to provide supplemental income for people on social assistance for about 200 people and where you're going to make a contribution to a daycare center across the street. And where you're going to provide 365 day a year service and I want you to do that with no grants, you're getting no money. However I'll make a loan for you that you have to pay back at the end of the year. And you could talk to a group of businessmen like that and they'll declare that situation hopeless, they can't do it, because they're trying from their position of power to do something in a community of which they are not a part. And they're trying to do it with their resources. Now Ken did exactly that. And here's the story. So I was going to turn it around and say this is what I want you to accomplish. This is a business plan; specific achievable, quarterly reported, tell me how you're going to do it. Well Ken came to see us in 1996 and said we're four drunks without jobs and we need 25,000 dollars unsecured and we want to build, we have a business plan and we want you to lend the money on the basis of that business plan.

Do you know how they came to have a business plan?

No, I don't, I don't. I know Ken was in business before he, before his, he knew what a business plan was, before his derailment. And he knew that we worked on a business basis so I presume that he was gearing his presentation knowing that we were looking for business partner in that sense. But I don't know. Anyway, the business plan said this, we will set up a recycling depot, we think there are 5 million containers in the waste stream that we can collect in the course of a year. We can put 350,000 dollars back into the community in terms of handling fees and deposits that we're returning to people. We can supplement the income of 150, 200 people. The four of us who are working on this can maintain our sobriety, can maintain our four jobs and we can pay you your money back at the end of the year. At the end of the year, the day the check was due, where is your money, the year is up? They didn't put 350,000, they put 450,000 dollars back in the community, they did better on a number of other things they were looking for, they maintained their sobriety, maintained their jobs, provided support for up to 150 people, 200 people. At Christmas time they had opened a box in the corner and said we're adults and there is a daycare across the street and this is the poorest postal code in the country, and so the daycare children had very low expectations of what their Christmas would be. So we said to the guys, and they're predominantly guys, put a few empties when you come in in the morning, in the box, you take it, cashed it out, and take it across and it was a Christmas party for the kids. And so these guys have got nothing, they were collecting bottles and cans out of dumpsters in the middle of the night.

Bottles and cans, the return deposit would it go to them, or to the kids.

That's right. So they told us to put a few empties in and when they cashed out at 5 cents a bottle or a can, they had 197 dollars. And it started to make sense. Took the 197 across to the daycare and the kids had a Christmas. Next year they did 500 dollars on the same project. And as they're open 365 days a year, a number of people simply showed up on Christmas day because it was open and it was warm and dry and they let the music play and they left the coffee pot on so that people could come and get out of the cold. And a number of people showed up sober and they said to Ken, part of the reason for their sobriety was because they were able to help kids on Christmas. They said every Christmas we're the object of pity and other people's beneficence and at Christmas time adults are supposed to look after kids and we were able to do that and that's what adults are supposed to do. And that helped make their sobriety more likely. So they delivered that. Now, they didn't collect 5 million containers, they only collect 4.75 million containers the first year. The next year they collected 7 million. They covered 65 percent of all of their costs, so the business plan was good. They covered 65 percent of their costs they had some training money in to do some training. The next year they covered over 85 percent of their costs and last fall Ken came in and said, we think we're closing in on 100 percent of our costs and no need for any supports for training or anything. We're running lane crews, doing clean ups on our own hoof because we're saying we're in this community and we're one of the businesses and if our community looks shoddy that's a reflection on us, so they brought in lane cleaning. They have a wonderful celebration this year called the dumpster diver Olympics, where they have cart races down the alley, and they do bottle stacking, and just a wonderful celebration and just have fun. And he's running his business development center for others who want to start something too. Constantly thinking what capacity they have in that community can be used to make more. Anyway, this spring they came in and said we're 110 percent, we have money, we would like to invest with the foundation and set up a trust fund so that as time goes by it would be easier on others because of the work that we've done and the success that we've had. So in the course of 5 years, they've gone from as Ken said, four guys with serious addictions who thought they could make 4 jobs for themselves and make something work in their community to generate a service entirely of their own activities and treating it as a business. Now Ken was able to do this with four guys who have serious addiction problems. Would I know that the businessmen would toss up their hands and say you can't do it. And the reason he was able to do it and the reason it was successful is because it really starts with a capacity building notion and starting with the giftedness of all people. If we simply see people as bundles of disabilities and bundles of deficits then we just grow round shouldered because it's only us doing to someone else who can't do because they are inadequate. But soon we see those people as bundles of abilities who like us have a need to work, want their sobriety, want to make contributions to their community, value the people around them, care about their streetscape, want to keep it clean and looking good who build community with everything they do. We're seeing very negative resources, suddenly have an opportunity to connect with people with common cause and common values. And that's, I mean, that's such a moving, moving thing. You know, Ken during the first year was laying himself off, he didn't have enough to pay himself, he continued to go to work anyway. He was bound and determined just to make it work. He's one of those literate men who quotes wonderful poetry and is managing to deal with his addiction without relapses and watching something that he's nurtured grow. Just huge personal integrity. And I'm asking, you know, Ken you're talking about 25,000 dollars to do this, not a chance, not a chance, we have the opportunity of offering a very minor gift and I think that's how we have to see our partnerships. The fact that we have some money is a minor gift compared to all the rest of gifts that we're going to need to make that happen. Because I could have given that group of businessmen 25,000 and they would never have been able to generate that result. I was really moved, really moved.

The Van City Community Foundation is related to Van City Credit Union, which was started out of a disinvestment situation.


To what extent would you say the community foundation has a social change strategy and to what extent does it have palliative or social health strategy?

Our position is totally developmental. The credit union started just after the war by a group of mostly 12 women who through in 2 bucks each because the central banks in Canada were doling out money for mortgages. There was only money available to lend on the West Side of Vancouver where the more wealthy and professional people live and the working people lived on the East Side and they couldn't get mortgages because the banks would not lend east of Main Street. That was where lending stopped. And so these 12 people put in 2 dollars each and began a credit union. And it's now about 250,000 members and about between 6 ˝ and 7 billion in assets. And it's the most significant regional banking player in that 1 in 8 people in Vancouver are members. So it came about as very much a self-help, developmental capacity. People with the capacity to figure out how to do this and the foundation is based upon community economic development. So when you look at development base and we're really clear, if it's A it might have to be done and it may be important to be done, but it's not our side of the street, we work this side of the street, it's developmental. The example I'll use there on the differences is Mother Theresa does aid work, so her position is I deal with the people at the front of the line of the sick and the dying as they are sick and dying and I will do that every day and if the line up keeps getting longer that's not my issue because I minister to the sick and needy in front of the line and the length of the line is God's issue. We are not up for sainthood so we think the reason for the line maybe worked on as well. And that our starting point is the folks with whom you are working have a mutual responsibility to address the issues that are affecting their community. What we do is look to what gifts we can bring to the table and partner with others who see their own capacities and their own energies and their own talents and their own giftedness as a significant contributor to the solution of the problem. And it wouldn't be without the motivation without the vision. Without the spirituality in Ken, without the resources, without United We Can, which is the organizing of those assets it's not achievable. So for us, the development based mandate is clearly what we're doing. And we tie it, I think it's a brilliant strategy for credit unions to choose community economic development because they themselves are community based institutions, as coops, credit unions are community based institutions who have chosen to take into their own hands the solution of addressing some of the credit and investment needs they have. They are self-help institutions to start with. They're financial institutions so the economic stuff makes sense and they're developmental based institutions, so you've got the community and the economic base and the developmental based institution, choosing a community based strategy and interface that says we're going to do community economic development. That just seems to me a brilliant gift, a brilliant connection for a credit union to choose in terms of the engaging of the community.

In terms of policy oriented or more action or social change oriented efforts… I would say that in the mix of people that you pulled together on Monday night there were a fair number of those folks who pretty much stay in trouble a lot. Is that something that the foundations is helping, is that something that you see is part of what is happening and needs to happen?

I don't know what you mean by staying in trouble a lot, but, if they're, you mean on the edge?


Yah, they're on the edge. There were a few people there who were members of our board, I said there and I think I will say again, I think the board's perspective is if you're not on the edge you're probably taking up too much room anyway. I think when we said we wanted to use credit as well as grant making, communities need access to capital sometimes. Sometimes it needs a grant, to capitalize a housing project, once it's up and running they can just charge a mortgage, but they can't get access to capital so we said the access to capital was the key capacity for sure. My board struck a business plan, a 5-year plan. They said so go change the federal law that will permit community foundations to do lending. And we did that. And now revenue Canada permits community foundations to do lending. So when our board says, you know, they want to be out there, they do it. I mean that was a pretty aggressive mandate for a community foundation to say go change the federal law. Make sure that people can get access to credit. And we did that. I think the credit union and its subsidiaries are committed to working in disinvested communities. And one of the debates we always have and I think it's a good debate if I might say is in the strategic planning session with the credit union we talked about the connection between marketing initiatives and corporate social roles. How do we relate to the community and the market? And the marketing folks typically would want the marketing budget attached to their product array, so the position is, let me develop a product, give me a marketing budget, let me attach it to the product. Typically we would, from the foundation side, say no, let's make sure that by community economic development the community is healthy and then if the community is healthy then the soil that grows the plant,

feeds the man,

Exactly. The soil is what we're nourishing and if the soil is nourished then the tree will flourish. And you can jokingly say, and we'll have more branches at the credit union! So we've nourished the soil whereas typically marketing doesn't pay attention to nourishing the soil, they nourish the plant. So you pay attention to make a particular product grow. And we were having this debate and so it was all the senior management and I said, I hope it's a debate we don't solve because I hope it's a debate we have to continue to recognize and enjoy because density is in the market place with other banks and financial institutions and it needs to nurture its product range. But we differentiate ourselves by community economic development; as such we look after community. I think it's one of those arguments that in my youth I would have been too aggressive in asserting that I had to win. In this case I think it, I hope it's one that's never won by anyone.

Stays alive.

Stays alive and continues to be debated because the continuance of the debate says that both streams of business success and community engagement are continuing to be alive in the organization. One of the things I think most impressed me when we first moved to Van City was there was this group at the annual major retreat with the board and the vice presidents and I'm part of that planning committee. We talked about equity and capital structure. And so the table that was doing that had their rapporteur reporting back to the group. So this was my first may planning retreat in a major financial institution and so the senior management is reporting to the table and this is what they talked about. The gearing ratio in banks are so much debt to assets and the gearing ratios in banks are this and our core capital in terms of loans is this, our stabilization fund is this, and went through the whole description of the capital structure of our equities and our relationships. They then concluded by saying, but what we've got to remember is that our true equity is the values that we take to the market place because if we don't take those values to the market place we might as well be a bank. And it landed across the room and I felt like I caught a javelin in my chest. This is the senior VP who in a major financial institution is the largest regional player in BC, saying, after describing a capital structure, saying our true equity is our values and if we don't have that we shouldn't be in business, we might as well go back. And that to me I found a really moving thing, on a senior corporate level. Just a really really neat thing. We'd also, just on the corporate side, and it's not without its warts, I mean, we struggle, we've got folks in there that have some really business oriented solutions that they need to make their case and they need to adjust their strategies, but we've developed a product for community investment so you could make a choice to buy any deposit product you wanted, you wanted a three year term deposit, a five year term deposit, a one year term deposit, and what we would guarantee is that we would pay 1 percent or 2 percent less than the posted rates. So you would choose to take a lesser rate of earned income on your term deposit. We would aggregate all those funds and then we would use them initially to do affordable housing, it became later affordable housing and environmental issues. When it came, it was a good idea, where the members could use the financial institution as their vehicle, so we would be a capital aggregator, acting on behalf of our membership to help our membership achieve some other significant community goals. When they came to the board, a board member asked, well how will we know on which projects to spend this? And one member actually said, oh well management will review some options and bring you a recommendation. The board member said no, there are people who have made choices to make less money that they're earning, we'll set up an advisory committee of those who have chosen to make the investment and those people will make the recommendation on how it's to be used, not management. So what I thought was really brilliant there, was both the structure of the product and then the board vision that constantly connects back to membership and says it's the people who make the choices, not a professional group. I was really inspired by that as well. That stuff is really moving to me because it validates what goes on behind closed doors is the same as what goes on publicly. So when we're behind closed doors dealing with the board meetings and all that, the boards' position was community based. And that's really moving stuff.

What is the foundation's appetite for controversy? There are folks who at times have been involved in you know, the Seattle globalization issues, they've been involved in trying to expose and attack public policy and the government, organizing to make changes, defend programs. What's the foundation's appetite for that?

I think I'm blinking in terms of its, there are the federal restrictions again, that are very bad about what advocacy means and the foundations and charitable organizations are precluded from doing advocacy or being political. I think that if that means foundations or charities shouldn't be involved with political parties or making donations this is a very good thing. I think that kind of politics should clearly be kept clear. But our position is that we're not a service delivery agent, we might, you know we do engage with other parties that are development agents that seek to effect change, but in speaking to the issues that generate that change there is an obligation. So, if for example, maybe you're looking to doing a new project on a national scale, for instance, working for people on social assistance to develop assets. We've advocated saying, this must be permitted, but the lack of assets, and inability to aggregate and invest is clearly a continuing impoverishment. And we can't do our job of committing to these disinvested communities unless we speak to those issues. And I think that there's a huge amount of clarity that it doesn't matter what parties or government is in power, we're speaking to the issues of our community. So what we would see in that regard is just a clear definition of what our focus is. Ours is a community focus and no one can tell us we won't speak on behalf of our community. And if that means that is found to be offensive by the powers that be, we've no intent to offend, but we do have an intent to change. The board has a very clear change agenda and says we don't intend to be offensive, we do intend to advocate and make sure the changes come.

Have there been situations where those folks in power have tried to bring pressure on the advocates through the foundation?

No. No. I think that our values are so clear on that regard that that would be, that would be just terminally dumb to go after us, to try and suppress the advocacy we've done somewhere and community partners. No. There are community partners we join with them in the realization of the objectives we have and no one I think as an expression of their good judgment and lack of creativity no one has attempted to influence that.

And what proportion of the grantees were engaged in active advocacy?

Within the limits of the law, I would say all of them. I don't think anyone is off side even with the strict interpretation, the narrow interpretation. We also funded, one group has put together a paper on advocacy and charity law. The guy's name is Richard Bridge and the organization is Impacs. And they are going taking this paper across the country because there appears to be an opportunity at the federal level to get some traction on some of these issues now. So one could argue that the paper on advocacy is itself advocacy. In which case we would say yes that's true and we have a responsibility to address the issues that effect this. The answer is yes we do. Is that advocacy? There needs to be more flexibility in that regard. I think community organizations, charitable organizations should keep the bloody party politics out - politics has enough capacity to corrupt day to day lives without you joining further connections. But you've got to be able to advocate. How can you be, for example, an environmental group and have a law that says that you are not allowed to engage the community on any issues that are of a controversial public nature. The very nature of what you're doing is controversy! I mean clearly that definition of advocacy needs to be limited to political grounds and political parties. But advocacy on behalf of the cause which is regarded as charitable, and to which you enjoin must be allowed. So we're working on it.

I'll get back to my list of questions. You talked some about why you do what you do. Maybe this goes back to some of the story line, what you've done in the past. Talk a little bit about your motivation and your career, how your storyline has carried you into a variety of roles in politics and so on.

I don't know where it comes from, in terms of the motivators and movers, I mean we can all cite the benefit of the historians, the arrogance of the living, to look back and pick what events they want to point to. And so we pick and choose. Here's something we recently discovered. The family farm in Ireland in the 1820's was taken from the family for usurious rates the family was kicked off the farm, the great-grandfather's farm. Somebody borrowed, one pound, and by the time it reached the due date, they were kicked off the land. I guess this would be before my great grand father was born. And so you don't know whether that stuff trickles through family consciousness in terms of a sense of how nasty and pernicious economic power can be.

And the role of credit.

The role of credit, exactly, exactly, even more direct! And we were very credit averse - you didn't get involved in credit at all. So I cannot answer your question directly, very curiously good people were defined as people who were never in debt! And that just had a hell of an effect. So when that trickles through family over the course of 2 or 3 generations, or where the anti-authoritarianism comes from, it just. My father I would say was quite a conservative anti-authoritarian, and so his conservatism was anti-authoritarian as well. Then I was to be a priest for a lot of years. I think that shaped how I see issues of hope and the future and all those sorts of things. And just having grown up in Alberta, seeing it essentially go from a have-not province that received transfer payments from the rest of the country to a very wealthy province as a result of oil blowing in. And then seeing very quickly the sort of cowboy oil mentality of we don't owe anyone and we're rich because we did it ourselves and that sort of collective amnesia of the inter-connectedness of this as a country, with a social credit base. It was essentially one party, I don't remember if there were ever more than 2 or maybe 3 people elected to the Alfred house, so it was literally one party rule, maybe 2 or 3 members of opposition at most. The issues of economic equity or social justice issues of inclusion were always difficult because whoever is in power defines that whatever they're doing is normal, and if you have some objection to that it is clearly you that is abnormal. I accepted that and I think my response was a scrappy response because I felt they were wrong. I did have the good fortune of coming to BC to do a master's degree. I had a department that was very very committed to social change and were hellers and all the usual things. And very committed to community. For example, Strathcona in the Chinese community, we're looking at the city council running a freeway right through the middle of Chinatown, elevating the freeway and turning the city over. They made the connection. We became engaged with community on that issue. And I think one of the reasons why Vancouver is such a walkable wonderful livable city is because we haven't turned it over to cars. We haven't run elevated trains and throughways through our Chinatown. Again it's one of those issues where the Chinese community, they came to live in the inner city area and continued to make Vancouver as a city such a livable place in its inner city areas. And many people are moving into the cities in retirement. So it's not that they like the city it's really choosing to move into the city as a retirement option. So I got a masters of technology and social change. Then when I left, the story goes on from there, I worked with the national film board doing Challenge for Change, which was people representing themselves through the use of video to deal with land use issues. So that for the example the intrusions into agricultural land which is so precious and so little in British Columbia, how do you protect agricultural land and how do you represent yourself. It almost became like adult literacy in teaching people how to make representations about their community, on housing issues, on land use issues. It was very much using the technology and video as an organizing tool in community to make representations about what their needs and wishes and alternatives were as a community. That resulted in a huge amount of water front being saved along the shore down in White Rock, some really disinvested residential communities in Bridgefield, agricultural land and the Valley and just a ton of issues around that. Now at the same time, and it's funny how we did it, I remember thinking, this is going to be a tough sell if we ever get called on it. There was a crippled children's hospital in the area. We got connected with a young woman that had one of the diseases that caused her legs not to function, her name was Cheryl. And what she really wanted to do was ride a pony. She had no personal ability to use her legs. So we were dashing into Vancouver and we said well we're going to try and make this happen, because she was isolated, and we couldn't figure out what the hell we were going to do to start with. And we figured out there were an awful lot of kids in the Fraser valley who had ponies who were well to do kids who didn't have any meaning or social content in their lives.

Now you're saying we at this point, where are you and what are you doing?

This is the film board, this is the film board stuff I was doing, and we were connected to a local community college. So I was teaching a bit at the college and working a bit with film work. So we decided we would go in and do it. I remember driving in one day and thinking how the hell are we going to connect this to land use if anyone challenges taking an east end kid whose legs don't work and figuring out how to connect her with rich kids out in the country so that they could become friends and find ways of helping ride a pony. Anyway, we went into the filming and we concluded that this was such a good thing, that it was celebrated once they knew it was done. We concluded that horses live on land and that was as close as we could get to land use! But what we were really doing was the social inclusion and connecting essentially people who lived in poverty with people who lived in different kinds of poverty. One was material poverty and the other was a poverty of meaning, and we connected the two. It's still going on. And it is now a society and they now connect kids, kids from the east side and kids with physical disabilities who want to ride a pony with kids who have their horses and don't have any social content in their life. It's going on some 20 odd years later. We also set up a child abuse research and education that dealt with the then recently newly emerging stories about the sexual abuse in the residential schools and the regular schools and their families and that was a tough thing to do in the seventies. Again, established the blue ribbon board and got all the stuff done and that society has only recently wrapped up because it's function as effective as we defined it, is done. And we created essentially a salable product of it; we created a kit, and a puppet that had language translation and the books in everything from Inuit, French, and English. It was sold in Australia and the UK and all over the world and the sale of that product financed the operation of the society over here. But, public works turned everything over to the Red Cross.

So you're supposed to be working on land issues with the film board and the community college and building programs and creating connections and forming shows.

Yup. In a variety of sectors. Essentially turning, we were quoted at the board one time, as turning the living rooms of the community into the classrooms of the college and turning the classrooms of the college into the living rooms of the community. Making both the official institutions more responsive and developing education and understanding and a capacity to represent yourself where people were dealing with issues in their day to day lives and in a learning environment. And really enjoyed that. I worked at the college as a teacher, for a while I was the Vice Principal and at the same time I became engaged with the BC association of community living which was then known as the British Columbia association for the mentally retarded. That organization is a family and friend advocacy based movement, it was one of the I think, turning points. In retrospect you think what are turning points in terms of your understanding. It had nothing to do with mentally handicapped that were part of my life. I recall a couple of people in our neighborhood when we were kids that were fairly marginalized but they were part of the neighborhood. One had a big three-wheel bike and he rode around and he was included. Included in football, no one was allowed to tackle him because he couldn't stand up, but he was allowed his position on the field same as anyone else and he was a quarterback, so we were playing just local football and no one would tackle him. But never seen much of that thereafter, after the whole period of institutionalization, the people just disappeared from our community. And so as part of this, a friend asked you know, can you help out for 3 months, it's just a short term thing, it's vocational services, you know about work stuff, you deal with that at the college as an administrator and a teacher, and I said sure three months, not a problem. I stayed there for ten years and on the board and everything else. I really found it a very moving, passionate organization that really cared about people who were institutionalized, cared about other people's children, cared about the community. And I realized that every step of inclusiveness and control over decision making that was won by people who were mentally handicapped increased the control over our own lives by everyone else. Because the grounds for taking away your right to decide was always in your best interest and you're incompetent, incapable and the more we were able to show the capability and capacity and right space, the need for people to be engaged in positions that effected their nutrition, their health, their rights, their community, the more we were making advances for everyone. So the game for me although it was extensively a sectoral interest, working with the poor people who were mentally handicapped, I saw it as a community issue and it really was very much an advocacy on behalf of the whole community. The same time as all this was going on, I got involved in the municipal government in my own municipality and coming out of our community association, I think what a wonderful place to raise a child. Something called Pleasant Side. And just had the good fortune of moving in there when we had been at university and gone on strike and had no money. It was a wonderful, wonderful couple. We found these dead crows in the freezer, and they would bring up chicken for supper and that sort of stuff and then helped us understand what we were going through, they had been at the labor movement themselves. It says more about building community than any man I've ever seen, built their own community hall, we went by it near our place, Pleasant side home, Old Orchard side home. We just fell in love with the area and just said, when we had the opportunity to go back eastward and said, no I will change the work that I do before I change the place that I do it. And so when I left the university as a result of devastating our department I wasn't looking for work as a sociologist and there wasn't much that I was prepared to do in terms of moving. So I went doing carpentering and renovations and built our own house and did all sorts of things. The only thing I didn't do was the gas bidding that you are required for provincial certification, you're putting in the wiring and the framing and everything else. I had done that for a couple of years prior to college and the film board, so I did that for 4 or 5 years, keeping things together, working in construction. And then in public life a huge opportunity, just enormous opportunity to engage community in decision making, one of the young men the other night referenced it, you know, the first environmental protection committee in the country where citizens were sitting on it, where we were dealing with the water shed, as water issues engaging the community in that debate, on transportation issues, on planning issues, and

You were elected mayor of Port Moody?

I'd been an alternate. I'd been an alternate for 4 years in the 70's. I left public life when I was called an administrator for 4 years and I was leaving home before my daughter got up in the morning and the evening meetings and Saturday work, I was getting home after she had gone to bed and those were very bad times for us in terms of relationship. I wasn't seeing her, and missing her, I was getting disconnected and so I stepped down for four years and said I wouldn't run until she was finished high school because we were simply losing our relationship, and connectedness and so that wasn't worth it. And so I stepped away from public office for four years and then we came back in 83 and I ran for mayor and that just opened up a huge world of opportunity. I was invited to the United Nations as part of the 2000 celebration and got our community connected with that and that project was successful to where it's now a community connection that doesn't have any municipal or other connections. It's just the communities have become connected and are doing real good with each other. I've written the constitution and bylaws for a theatre society and was technical director and helped start a number of organizations in our own areas Pleasant side community association, I'd been an executive of that, and we organized beach clean ups 30 years ago that go on today. We built the cook shack that was there. A guy designed the locale and got some stuff and I said I would look after the construction. Everyone showed up and the guy who had done the design had gone on holiday so we went to figure out in a pile of lumber what his intent was. We got that built in a day and had 10 kids in the park in old orchard in 1970 cleaning up the park and stuff so we've always had a strong local neighborhood focus really. We recently rebuilt the community hall and we subscribed to raising funds outside the municipality participating in the second one, the rebuilding, and we did it entirely as a community group. This time around the municipalities subscribed to a portion of the funds and I think we undertook to raise a quarter million as a residential contingent. And so the municipal side was just wonderful because now I had the opportunity to open the doors to all of the community issues that we wanted to deal with.

And mayor was a full time job?

I treated it that way. I did a bit of work around the province on consulting but I treated it as that would occupy the preponderance of my time. I did that for ten years from 1983-93, but in addition to mayor I was deputy sheriff, chair of the greater Vancouver housing corporation, trustee on the municipal finance authority, established a municipal insurance association, did that executive UBCM, the Union of British Colombian municipalities, president of all the mainland municipal associations so there were, just a whole web of interconnectedness of municipal, regional and provincial offices that I held here at that time. So that my time available for other paid work was pretty modest. A bit of consulting.

Then, right after that came the Foundation,

Yup. I left the mayor's chair voluntarily. And we had a wonderful roast in celebration of my leaving. I asked that the funds that were raised be committed to the community connection that was made between Kariba, the Africa Port Moody connection so that whatever funds were raised there would go to support community initiatives in that way. I've been at the Van City community foundation since then. It's been doing a lot of stuff locally to across the country to events, community economic development issues, with other foundations, helping to establish other foundations within the credit union and the coop sector. So, and in addition to that I keep getting asked back to do things in my home community. When there are issues of either high public concern when they are looking for someone to chair it with the confidence that people's voices are going to be heard or tough land use issues are going to be, you know, have an opportunity to have a fair hearing. I'm frequently connected to water front because that's, you know, the pier and the trail and all the things that connected the community back to the water front is so much a part of what I did during my term as mayor, getting the pier built and the trail system and bringing the land under the public domain and those sorts of things. So it's good, it's a place that feels a lot like home.

To shift gears a little bit. As you know one of the questions we have is what sustains organizers and activists. So I pose the question to you, what sustains you, what pulls you through the hard days, what gets you through the days when it seems like other things would be a lot easier or more attractive.

3 or 4 things. When the tough days come visiting and they do, you know, you challenge yourself on a scale, you can be very very effective and very engaged in something, it's very transformational and you say, yes but widen your perspective, widen your perspective. Are you working at a scale where it's going to make any damn bit of difference? So some days it can be challenging in a metaphysical sense. Sometimes it's simply a quantitative sense, is there enough being done on this side of the ledger to counteract and bounce the ball down the field so that we're not regressing and losing ground to forces that are destructive of community. And when those days come visiting, if they're an easy day, I have an intellectual trick. And intellectual trick means I only have to convince myself above the shoulders. And that's the old C.S. Lewis trick, or the Jesuit trick of saying if you have difficulty with hope, try living without hope. So you reverse, you know, if hope is in faith and your future is starting to feel as something you can't sustain, if you can't sustain your beliefs, your beliefs will not sustain you. And so I can treat it as an intellectual exercise. On the days where it's not a problem, where it's not very dark, it's just hard to see sometimes. Other days it takes a lot more than that and what I know is when I'm engaged with community, people that care my heart stays open and I can feel the difference in my patience, I can feel the difference in my pulse, I can literally feel it physically that I've become at peace within myself. I found that when I got to First Nations Pow-wows, it's a place where when I go, I can feel my pulse and my sense of peace settling down. When we're isolated, you know what I fear is these demographics. Because of so much wealth and we go to our houses, we don't have good physical structures to engage with each other's community, particularly in diversity, because our housing estates and areas tend to look alike in terms of demographics, either age structure or income structure. So that we can, because of our wealth, be so isolated from people with whom we need to engage to see them struggling with the same issues, to see someone of different colors or incomes caring about community instead of simply starting to stare through the stereotypes of television or our own fears. We have to step away from our fears. Living in community is a way of keeping your heart open and not living with your fears, but living with your collective hopes. I guess I've found that experientially it simply works, I know I feel better and I know I feel healthier, and I know my heart is open and I know when my heart is closed it's very bad for me. So I guess in clinical terms it's good for your health, it's just, it makes you feel better inside and that feeling is a physical feeling, reflected in your pulse, reflected in your blood pressure, reflected in all those things. It works and I know that feeling is there. The third was my daughter. I know the kind of community I want her to live in and what I hope we leave our grandchildren to live in. And I know that every day you're either making change or you're consolidating non-change. You're consolidating things that are going to be destructive. That part of the change agenda is providential. Just as much as a personal transfer of wealth to my daughter so that she can get an education, I see the community work that I'm doing is making a place where her children and their children after that will live somewhere that's a hell of a lot closer to my vision of community than the community I see now. So, that's a very direct connection growing out of the love of my daughter. And some days I think it's very faith based. If you're raised with that, with the knowledge comes the obligation and the obligation is to make community. So,

What do you think it would take to advance community organizing and social justice?

That's a tough question. The last one was a tough one emotionally. I'm really torn, let me just do some intellectual stuff, and I'm not sure what my commitment is on this one but in terms of what the answer is, it might be nothing. Part of the answer is it might be nothing. That people's life experience of the indignities and the injustice are what are going to motivate them and everyone who tries change will always as a front runner endure injury. And it's that part of that injury that doesn't kill you but it does make you good at what you do. Part of that injury that makes you angry that your niece is part Chinese, my niece is going to incur an injury because of that, and that makes me angry and that anger is part of what needs to help cause me to try and make change because this is someone I care about. And it may be that we can't be protective of people having those experiences because what we'll do is blunt the very source of their righteous anger that will cause them to be agents of change, they might have to experience the indignities or the injuries that will be the motivation for them to use their gifts, their talents, their resources, their energies to effect change. So we might not have to do anything. Is it a skills thing? I don't think so. I don't think it's a skills thing at all. I think you can become skilled at doing it and you can help others in terms of skills transfer and we can learn as we do from each other but I think it's the very best of any movement based organization that you recruit to passion and you train to skills. So maybe it's do nothing on the passion side because that's got to come intrinsically from some source, either on the positive or negative side, but on the skill side, there's probably some stuff we can do. I'm not sure how we do that. I think there's a lack of definition of connectedness in the civil sector. So I don't think sports people who work hard to make sure it's inclusive sports, that everyone's included, that it's cooperative sports, that it's excellence sports, I don't think those people who will rail against the absurdity and corruption of the major league franchises in professional sports but seeing the sports as a way of realizing self and a way of engaging with others, I don't think those people see themselves as necessarily connected to the movement, the handicapped people, or the affordable housing people, or the anti-poverty people. But I think you just saw around the table the other night, when those people came together, there was an appreciation of methods, an appreciation of values, an appreciation of the skills, and appreciation of the passion, and a strengthening of the knowledge. You can go back to your own particular substance of issues knowing I can't you know, I can't… I used to think of this in terms of community organizing in my own community. I played old timers hockey and never contributed anything other than my fees to the well-being of my league. And I knew some guys that did that and did nothing on the junior sports or did nothing on the environmental issues. And I guess you have to think about is do you believe that in each of those sectors there are people of like mind who are saying I choose to make my commitments here. And everyone's, every sector, whether it's business sectors, whatever, everyone is going to have that struggle between people with a vision for the future and people who wish to preserve the conditions of the past. What you hope is to do what can you do to nurture those who have a vision for the future, that even those who have a vision from the past will benefit from them. How do you make sure that those conditions are present? I don't think we see across sectors very much so I think that some of the stuff that's being done with the listening project and so on, I think that Lance and Mireille at the summer institute are absolutely right and absolutely moving for this to occur. That's the absolute trust that when people come together when there is a value or a vision base, they will figure out how to get better at doing what they do. There is no school for this, there is no school for this that I know of, you know, it typically comes from communities that have gotta deal with something, that they just never had to deal with before and it transforms people's lives. You know, in Canada, Terry Fox was a great athlete, he didn't know anything about disabilities, loses a leg to cancer. Now there's a huge amount of organizations around dealing with issues of research, hiring professionals, organizing loans. So what was Terry's gift? It wasn't as an athlete, I mean running across the country on one leg is a hell of an athletic venture, but his gift to community was the gift that came out of his disability. His ability to have a vision created huge amounts of wealth, huge amounts of union inclusion, huge amounts of motivation for young people who are afflicted with cancer to see that their struggles have value and are part of the heroic, not a victim kind of image. So when Jean Vanier is asked, why does God, you know, do these things? When he was asked why does God make mentally handicapped people and you're a man of God. His answer was for the same reason that God makes people that can't see the gifts and can't hear the voices and can't see the wonder that these people bring to community. Same reason, God makes both kinds. And I think sometimes we have to ask what's the reason for Terry Fox losing a leg. So I don't know. The question, which I thought an easier one, it turned out otherwise, what can we do to make it stronger, some of it is nothing, some of it is providing a platform for people's voice to be heard and part of it is providing a forum where people can come together and in a common cause gain skills and knowledge and inspiration from each other's words.

And understand the commonness of the cause.

Exactly. The common cause.

Would you say you're hopeful?


Why? Any evidence, can you defend that position?

No, it's no evidence here (hand goes to heart) that it's based on. It's, if you're looking for evidence you go into the halls of science, if you're looking for faith, if you're looking for hope you go to the ways of faith and I don't have an option. The option is to say, maybe the party's over and I can get there some days. I can say, maybe the party is over. We've burned up the dinosaurs, knocked up the environment, there's not much of a fuss about whether the world's going to survive, the world is going to survive, it's just maybe our term of ascendancy as a species is done. We could equally be hit with a meteorite that could cause darkness for 100 years and we would all perish anyway. I mean what are you gong to do. The most wonderful thing I ever heard that to me speaks to do you have evidence, they said, what would you do if you knew the world was ending tomorrow? He said, plant an apple tree, it's gotta be an act of faith, it's gotta be act as if there is a reason, and there is goodness and there is hope and these are the things that will triumph. I can't stop anything else. I'm done.

There are 2 last questions. One is, what did I forget to ask and the other is do you have questions or observations or issues to raise for others that are a part of this enterprise?

I'm not sure that the breadth is going to add to the depth, I'm not sure three countries are going to make much of a difference. In terms of my suspicions they are going to produce similar sorts of perspectives, the institutional kinds in different countries, there are different kinds of answers. And I'm not sure where the evening goes, but I think we need to find out how people connect across sectors so that people can learn to understand that those issues are going on and the struggle in whichever sector you are in. Between people who see themselves as change agents and vision based and looking to an ideal medium and those who for whatever reasons of personal injury or circumstance they're dream, their belief, their faith it doesn't really change, or don't understand how to do it. I'm not sure where it comes from, there are people who either don't have faith it can be different, or don't believe that they can make a difference or believe that their narrow self interest is the best way of addressing the balance between their needs for self interest and their needs to realize their self interest in some community based form. I think it's a renaissance kind of disposition that's led me to all these different moments from disabilities to the arts and politics and like that. But how if someone hasn't had that benefit of some experience like that, how do we connect across sectors? How do they believe that that's going on now? How do they know it, how do they learn across sectors? And are we essentially so different, so across sectors is interesting to me, because again that's part of breaking down the isolation because I can isolate myself individually and I can isolate myself in one sector and believe that others simply don't value or want to reward us here in the arts, why aren't we celebrated, why aren't we awarded, why aren't we recognized. I see it in the disabilities field; we see it in virtually every field including the business field. You say, dammit we're out there making money all the time and we're not appreciated. So everyone's feeling sat upon and all the occupational jokes reinforce that, you know, name an occupation and you'll get the occupational joke. And I think what we need to do is find ways of validating those practitioners and those sectors where those people are committed to common cause, where they're not, trying to find ways of strengthening and including those who wither don't have a vision, or need help in developing one. So with organizers who are working with a community that wants to realize their objectives, maybe working in solidarity with that community and how do we as organizers think the folks who are anti- that perspective and make them advocates, so what's the transformational process that accompanies advocacy. I think if it's only advocacy I lose heart, because we define people as enemies all the time. When the advocacy has to be accompanied by transformation, where the transformation is to see the adversaries as people who are not yet supporters and to include them and to see their need to change as part of our advocacy and our organizing. It's not simply becoming the meanest damn lawyer to represent and to extract the most for the particular group. When it's the best advocate, you'll find ways of assuring that your opponents become in their turn advocates because of their engagement. To me that's an interesting thing and critical organizing tool. Because if we don't organize in a way that we all win, then we've simply I think bought in to the very worst of everyone for himself. And I think the nature of organizing always means I have to have a vision of inclusiveness. If my argument is a vision of inclusiveness then I have to find ways of including those who don't yet see and do not advocate for or it. So to me that's a key question, how do you embrace advocacy adversaries.

Well, thank you for taking the time.