Yesterday Vancouver NDP MLA Jenny Kwan announced her intention to run for Libby Davies’ soon to be vacant seat in Parliament. Kwan has a long history in the neighbourhood and was once a member of the Downtown Eastside Resident’s association- a now defunct housing organization partially founded by Davies that died after a financial scandal involving misappropriation of resources.
DERA’s death marked the beginning of a new disaster called the Portland Housing Society. Kwan’s ex-husband Dan Small was an executive at PHS who got caught misusing the non-profit’s funds for luxury travel and hotels in Vienna, London, and Disneyland. Kwan was put in the spotlight when it was discovered she was with her husband on these trips. Claiming she was unaware he was using PHS funds to pay for her accommodations (and not questioning his choices to stay in $800+ per night hotel rooms) Kwan slipped away from the controversy after paying back $35,000 to PHS.
Kwan’s supporters tell us we should forgive her and accept the fact she was clueless of her surroundings. The problem is, if Kwan’s story is true, how is someone so clueless qualified for such an important job?
Kwan cried during her PHS scandal media conference, presenting the viewer the image of a sad and naïve individual whose only sin was to trust too much. In many countries the media would start digging deeper, asking pertinent questions like “why didn’t you realize the perversity of your husband using PHS funds for his part of staying at some of the world’s finest hotels?”.
PHS serves some of the most desperately poor people in the country, every dollar spent on business trips is a dollar that could be spent helping them build new lives. If Kwan and Small stayed at a $200 hotel in London, how many ways could the $600 savings have been used to help? At $5 a pair, they could have handed out 120 pairs of warm socks for each night. Save-On Meat’s sandwich tokens cost $2.25, giving a tasty treat to 265 people. The $65 they spent on fresh flowers could have bought a pair of boots for a down & out unemployed carpenter.
Watching Kwan’s performance during her media conference, one might be misled to assuming she was inexperienced with international travel and had little knowledge about how much things cost. It’s an unlikely assumption, according to the militant union COPE, Kwan, travelled to London in 1999 to investigate the city’s Oyster Card fare gate system (unconfirmed reports say she went twice)- she must have known how much she was spending, right?
Of course, Transport For London didn’t publicly implement the Oyster Card until 2003. I was working in TfL’s offices as a consultant in 2000, had an understanding of their project plan, and and have a difficult time understanding the value Kwan could have got out of her trip. Regardless, the board voted against implementing a card system after making the decision that the cost outweighed potential income- it didn’t take a flight to London to figure that out.
For the record, PHS founder Jim Green was listed as a registered lobbyist for a US based transportation firm at one time. Curiously, considering his anti-war bedfellows, their employer ACS is a subsidiary of Orbital Sciences Corp- a company that specializes in helping build Star Wars style missile defence systems. Kwan was listed as one of his key contacts.
One of the biggest insults Canada’s political system plays on its voters is how it allows people to run outside of the communities where they live- how can a system claim to represent us when our leaders live in different neighbourhoods? Former DTES legal crusader David Eby used the fact he lived in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding to qualify himself as a more valid candidate- Premier Christy Clark has been criticised for living in Point Grey while representing a riding in the Okanogan.
Jenny Kwan won’t be able to make Eby’s claim. In April 2014 she bought herself a swanky Kitsilano joint not too far from David Eby. It sounds like she got a deal, only $1.9 million- twice the price of the average home (which has certainly increased in value by now). When questioned by the Vancouver Sun, Kwan explained “I moved to be close to my brother, who is helping me with my children”. The schools are better there too.
The good news is that not everybody loves Jenny Kwan. On hearing the news she was running for Davies’ seat, one NDP member explained her position on Facebook saying:
“I’m done with her, time for fresh blood .There is a lack of critical assessment of the past. But you have to understand that the current ruling elite is actually the old ruling elite. So they are incapable of a self-critical approach to the past.”
Statements like this give one hope for the NDP. The old system has failed, replacing Libby Davies with Jenny Kwan will only result in the continuation of the suffering. Vancouver’s failure to fix the DTES is killing people, the neighbourhood’s old political ruling elite are no longer effective- it’s time for real change. Voting for Jenny Kwan would be a slap in the face to every person ever carried out of the DTES in a stretcher, or (God forbid) a body bag…