A positive new direction for HandyDART

As co-chair of the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance, since last October I’ve been sitting on a task force set up by TransLink. Our mandate is to advise TransLink on HandyDART issues. The creation of this task force and the appointment of many individuals from the HandyDART community to it is another indicator of the positive working relationship that’s developed between TransLink and the HandyDART community since the arrival about a year ago of Kevin Desmond as TransLink’s new CEO.

For many years, up to and including 2016, HandyDART service levels have remained constant. Now, as part of the first phase of TransLink’s new plan, HandyDART service levels will finally be increased. TransLink has committed to raise HandyDART service levels by 15% during Phase 1, which runs three years, 2017-19 inclusive. This compares very favourably with the 10% increase in service levels for conventional public transit during the same period.

For once, HandyDART service levels will be increasing faster than the rest of the system. This is definitely needed as demand for HandyDART services is also increasing. Demographic changes already underway will mean a very significant increase in the number of seniors living in Metro Vancouver over the next decade. Also, more and more people with mobility restrictions are entering the workforce. And the increased accessibility of the built environment means more and more of these same people need services like HandyDART since they finally can access things like stores and malls that were formerly out of reach.

On Friday, February 10, I’ll be joining TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond at a press conference at the Scott Road SkyTrain station to announce this positive news.

The HandyDART Riders’ Alliance recognizes the fact that while the 15% increase is very good news, it’s only a down payment on what is needed. If TransLink is to address the ongoing, significant increase in HandyDART demand and make up for years of neglect, HandyDART service levels must be significantly increased again in Phase 2.

One of the ideas the task force is considering recommending to TransLink is a no-trip-turndown policy. This means as long as a HandyDART user calls in a minimum number of days in advance, his/her trip request would be accommodated even if it means putting more HandyDART buses on the road. The fact that such a policy is even being considered is another good sign of the progress being made due to the new partnership between TransLink and the HandyDART community.

Posted in accessibility, equality, events, HandyDART, social justice, TransLink, transportation, Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Inspiration in the face of oppression

As I have watched with horror over the last week or so south of the border, I am not just outraged — I’m also inspired!

There’s no denying the fact that President Trump is a racist, a misogynist and an outright liar. Nor can there be any denying that he is narcissistic. His executive orders issued in a flurry over the last week or so are counter to all the values I hold. Why, then, am I inspired?

Two nights ago I watched Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez’ independent global news show, Democracy Now!. They had extensive film footage of the demonstrations at airports that manifested almost instantaneously upon news of President Trump’s executive order banning entry by citizens and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations. These were not small demonstrations!

The American Civil Liberties Union jumped into the fray immediately. Membership applications to the ACLU spiked and donations soared. The rule of law was brought to bear. Judges issued orders overturning important aspects of Trump’s executive order. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump for refusing to defend the travel ban.

Corporate America, rarely a friend of progressive movements, spoke strongly against this anti-immigration order. Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees. Google, Nike, Airbnb, Lyft, Coca-Cola, Facebook and others all denounced Trump’s executive order and/or issued statements about the important contributions immigrants make. Trump’s first presidential approval ratings are the lowest of any president since Gallup started doing such surveys in 1953 when Eisenhower was president.

Senior Republican leaders, including senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham have spoken strongly against President Trump’s immigration order. It’s unheard of for senior Republican senators to speak against their president.

I am strongly convinced that there is a silver lining to this very dark cloud.

A massive progressive movement is taking shape. I predict it will sweep Trump from office. He is a fool and a petty tyrant. The people are wise. Wisdom will prevail.

And in the aftermath, we will have the opportunity to construct a much more humane and democratic system than the one that brought this petty tyrant to power. One step backward, two steps forward — for the people are always inspiring.

Posted in feminism, People Power, social justice, Trumpism, US politics | Leave a comment

The power of progressive consciousness

With greater and greater frequency lately, the right wing is using one-offs to move public opinion. They are using stories and anecdotes appealing to our emotions and focused on a single person or incident in an effort to stop us from making higher and better choices for all of us.

A case in point — undocumented immigrants. A higher and better analysis would take into consideration all of the many positives that come from “illegal” immigration, positives such as economic stimulation, better lives for all who flee horrendous situations in their home countries, and the jobs and services performed by a willing migrant workforce that would remain unfilled without these individuals. The right wing counters all of this with one anecdotal account — a violent act, say, such as an assault committed by one migrant — while the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants contributes very positive things to society.

CBC Radio’s The Current recently featured a fascinating interview with Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University. His book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, is all about the need to think and reason clearly about the problems we face, and base our decisions and policies on compassion and, most importantly, facts. We need to rise above empathetic, emotional reactions whenever the right, or anyone, pushes our buttons with simple, one-off stories and narratives.

As we look south of the border to the year about to unfold, let’s hope that popular mass action based on rational thinking and compassion will not just slow Trump down but stop his agenda in its tracks.

I’m already heartened to hear about the sit-in in the office of Trump’s pick for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who has taken action in the past that is obviously racially biased. Dignified in demeanour and dressed in suits, the protestors, who included Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, were determined to sit in Sessions’ office until his nomination was withdrawn or they were arrested. Unfortunately, the latter came first.

I’m equally heartened by the huge march for women’s rights on Washington DC January 21, the day after the president’s inauguration. With women, men and young people signing up daily, it may be the largest inauguration demonstration ever. “Sister” demonstrations are springing up across the US and Canada, including Vancouver.

By coincidence, the march and inauguration happen just days after Martin Luther King Day this year. Already more than 150,000 people are registered. Could it be that the numbers will swell to even more than Martin Luther King’s 1963 march on Washington when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech — the largest demonstration in the nation’s capital so far?

I am not just optimistic — I’m predicting that we will witness in the coming months the awakening of progressive consciousness on a scale not seen in decades.

The silver lining to Trump’s election will be the convergence of the kind of rational compassion Bloom advocates and the activism for justice we’ve been witnessing lately. It will be the North Dakota water protectors, the Black Lives Matter and Idle No More people, and all the environmental activists we’ve been seeing in the streets coalescing times 10.

Posted in Canadian politics, civil disobedience, feminism, Indigenous sovereignty, refugees, social justice, solidarity, tar sands, Trumpism, US politics, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letting the light in for the New Year

As the year has wound down, it’s time to look back on it and forward to 2017.

2016 has seen many dark clouds. The election of Donald Trump was perhaps the darkest one of all. Justin Trudeau appears to have lost his appetite for proportional representation, and climate change is accelerating. No one would blame you if you’re feeling somewhat pessimistic as the year drew to a close.

However, as Leonard Cohen taught us, it is the cracks that let the light in. Perhaps things are not so bleak after all. Let’s take a moment and look forward to what might be possible in 2017.

It’s no secret that mainstream Republicans do not support Trump. It’s also no secret that he has no concern whatsoever for the rule of law in general and conflict of interest in particular. Put all this into the mix and I see the potential for a Trump impeachment in 2017. If it happens, you read it here first!

As we watched and learned from south of the border this past year, Martin Luther King’s dictum of nonviolent resistance is the most powerful weapon by far. The water protectors in North Dakota were up against a force that, on the face of it, was much more powerful than they were. Tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons were just some of the weapons the “more powerful side” had at its disposal, yet the water protectors were victorious. The takeaway for me is that we can and will defeat Kinder Morgan if we follow this inspiring example. We must make it physically impossible for Kinder Morgan to proceed while at the same time demonstrating the utmost respect for any police or security forces turned against us.

Christy Clark’s most recent media interview, by many accounts, was one of her worst ever. By contrast, the NDP’s John Horgan was interviewed on CBC Radio’s Early Edition earlier last week and he was a brand new John Horgan — polished, confident and premier-like. The NDP have a number of issues to go after Christy Clark on, but possibly the biggest one is the $2 billion-plus provincial budget surplus. It’s one thing to campaign on a platform of restraint when there’s no money. It’s quite another to ask the public to continue to say no to much-needed social programs when the money is sitting in the province’s bank account. It’s not too much to hope that the province’s very positive balance sheet becomes an albatross around Christy Clark’s neck, opening up the possibility of an NDP minority government with the Green Party holding the balance of power. No more Site C Dam! An end to Kinder Morgan!

As of late, Justin Trudeau has been choosing his words very carefully. When talking about proportional representation, he seems to be leaving the door open for a retreat on one of his most significant election campaign promises. However, the PR movement is very well organized and has been doing an excellent of job of putting letters of support on the desks of Liberal MPs. Add to this the fact that the NDP and the Green Party have continued to push vigorously for this very important change to our electoral system. Fingers crossed Justin Trudeau will do the right thing and open the door to proportional representation in the coming year.

Yes, many dark clouds are hovering above us but the cracks between them can let in lots of sunshine in 2017.

Wishing you light and happiness and peace in the New Year.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, Canadian politics, civil disobedience, climate change, economy, Green Party, Liberal Party, NDP, pipelines, proportional representation, sustainability, US politics | 1 Comment

Is Kinder Morgan going to be Justin Trudeau’s Standing Rock?


Standing Rock, August 31st 2016. Photo by Justin Deegan.

I’ve been one part saddened and one part outraged by the video footage coming out of Standing Rock, North Dakota over the last number of weeks as passive, unarmed water protectors are attacked on a daily basis, sometimes by police in riot gear. Police and security forces have not hesitated to use attack dogs, Taser barbs, rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, stun grenades, sound cannons and more. As temperatures dipped to sub-freezing they even increased their use of water hoses, putting thousands of men, women and children at grave risk of hypothermia.

To reduce and possibly eliminate film footage coming out of this peaceful protest, the police imposed a no-fly zone above the demonstrators. This made it very difficult for news media to cover the brutal actions of the police and security. One journalist who decided to document and bear witness is the award-winning broadcast journalist, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!. Her camera crew videoed a guard dog with blood literally dripping from its nose shortly after it had been used to attack one of the protestors. Ms. Goodman was then arrested and charged with criminal trespass. The prosecutor later increased the charge to incitement to riot. Fortunately, for those of us who believe in freedom of the press, the judge threw out the charge.

On December 4, in a victory of enormous magnitude, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that the pipeline company would not be permitted to continue with their plan to place the pipeline under the Missouri River near Standing Rock.

Just a few weeks ago, thousands of citizens took to the streets in Vancouver to protest Justin Trudeau’s recent announcement approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline. By all accounts this was not your run-of-the-mill, humdrum protest. Instead, it was filled with energy and absolute determination to stop this dirty pipeline. Many reminisced about the 1990s War of the Woods in British Columbia when thousands were arrested and convicted of civil disobedience in protest against massive clear-cut logging of old growth forests. The protestors were eventually victorious — the government and forest companies involved agreed to negotiate an end to this type of logging.


Burnaby Mountain, Nov. 17 2014. Photo by Mark Kurtz (CC BY 2.0).

I am convinced that the Kinder Morgan pipeline will never proceed. Either Justin Trudeau will come to his senses or people power, as was the case in the War of the Woods and in North Dakota, will prevail.


Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, civil disobedience, climate change, Indigenous sovereignty, People Power, pipelines, sustainability, tar sands, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The passing of Fidel: A giant who contributed so much to making a better world

On Friday, November 25, the world lost one of history’s most selfless individuals. Fidel Castro passed away at the age of 90.

Born into a very wealthy family, Fidel began standing up for the underdog at a surprisingly young age. His father owned a farm thousands of hectares in size and employed hundreds of poorly paid workers. These workers would line up at a window in the family home on payday to receive their pay. As a young boy, Fidel learned of their terrible income and threatened to organize the workers in rebellion if his father did not immediately increase their pay!

The rest of Fidel’s life story is far too lengthy to even attempt to summarize here, but these are just a handful of the outstanding achievements he realized in his lifetime:

• In the Western Hemisphere (North America, South America, and the
 Caribbean) hundreds of thousands of children will go to sleep tonight on the street. They are homeless. Not one of them is Cuban.

• In Cuba everyone has free access to a health care system rated by health experts from all points on the political spectrum as one of the best in the world.

• Cuba’s literacy rate is one of the highest in the world — much higher than almost every nation in the Western Hemisphere.

• Life expectancy in Cuba ranks very favourably. Depending which system is used, Cuba’s life expectancy is often just under America’s by only a month or two. The World Health Organization, for instance, puts Canada’s life expectancy at 82.2 years, America’s at 79.3 years and Cuba’s at 79.1 years.

• It was Nelson Mandela’s opinion that Cuba did more than any other nation to bring about an end to apartheid in South Africa. By the way, Nelson Mandela was only arrested and put on trial for trying to bring apartheid to an end because of a tip from American agents working in South Africa. He then spent 27 years in jail.

• Cuba offers free education, not just K-12, but unlimited post-secondary 
education as well.

• The World Wildlife Fund ranks Cuba as the nation with the smallest environmental footprint, even after taking into consideration the size of the Cuban economy. In other words, based on per unit of economic output, Cuba has the world’s smallest environmental footprint.

Who has the better human rights record — Cuba or the US?

1. In Cuba, after Fidel’s defeat of the hated American backed dictator, Batista, there has not been a single instance of an innocent, unarmed civilian being shot dead by a police officer. In the United States, this happens with great frequency.

2. In Cuba, passive demonstrators are not pepper sprayed, tear gassed, maced, and then shot at with rubber bullets, water cannons and sound cannons. In North Dakota over the past few weeks this has occurred every night.

3. Cuba has never engaged in or been accused of engaging in extrajudicial execution of any citizen of any nation, much less any of its own citizens.
 In contrast, Obama has engaged in the extrajudicial execution of
 American citizens. Obama’s position is that he has a legal opinion that indicates he has this legal authority.

4. Cuba has never engaged in, or been accused of engaging in, waterboarding or any other form of torture.

5. Cuba does not use drones to attack wedding parties. The United States does if it believes that amongst the wedding party is an individual believed likely to commit terrorism in the future. The United States then uses the same drone to come back and strike again once certain that first responders are on scene.

6. One area in which Cuba relatively recently took bold steps in the right direction with regard to Human Rights is in the area of rights for LGBTQ individuals. The movement was championed by Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul Castro.  It was not always so. Fidel, by his own admission, took responsibility for the  fact that his government’s policies for the LGBTQ community were for many years homophobic. Today, a strong and growing LGBTQ community is making great strides and in some areas has put Cuba ahead of the US.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a very moving thought. The first reaction in Cuba to President Kennedy’s assassination was that some people in the streets began to
 celebrate loudly and happily. In response, Fidel Castro came on Cuban TV
 to tell the Cuban people, “We do not celebrate the death of a human being. If US imperialism had died, we would celebrate.” He then sent a letter of condolence to President Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline.

Posted in cuba, social justice | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Making real “dates” for dumping fossil fuels

cybergedeon-no-fracking-no-text-800pxSome great news on the climate change front this week as Canada joins the ranks of a number of other nations in committing to a firm date by which we will no longer be burning coal. The Liberal government announced on Monday that by 2030 coal use in Canada will be a thing of the past. This will make a significant contribution towards reducing Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

What we need now are three more goals.

Number 1: A date by which we’ll phase out oil, or at least drastically reduce its use, including exporting dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands, as the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposes. This date doesn’t need to be as aggressive as the 2030 date for phasing out the burning of coal.

G7 leaders — at the urging of Germany’s Angela Merkel — have already agreed to 2050 as the date to drastically reduce carbon emissions to 70 per cent of 2010 levels, and 2100 as the date for ending all fossil fuel use. Canada has already committed to this goal under Stephen Harper, although he dubbed it as only “aspirational.”

But why not make the goal real and fixed like the one for coal? Such faraway dates give power producers more than enough time to complete the transition to renewables. It’s doable! For instance, Elon Musk recently unveiled a new solar panel concept about to hit the market. These solar panels are visually indistinguishable from regular roof tiles and will be available to the public by summer 2017.

Number 2: We need a date by which Canada will stop exporting coal. It’s one thing to commit to ending the burning of this dirty fuel. However, as long as we continue to make it possible for coal to be burned elsewhere we are part of the problem, not the solution. Let’s make 2050 our date for this goal, too.

Number 3: We need a date by which Canada will stop, or at least drastically reduce, our use of natural gas, and we’ll stop exporting it, too. The first part of this goal could be easily tied to the 2050 target date. But the second part — exporting natural gas — is much more complex than bringing coal exports to an end.

Many developing countries are relying on natural gas as the bridge from coal to renewables. Developing countries also have much less money available to make the transition to renewables possible. The date for this goal must be coupled with significant financial contributions from Canada and other developed nations to a pool of money available to developing ones for their transition to cleaner energy sources.

We all know “dating” games are fraught in more ways than one, especially with long-term habits. But when it comes to coal and other fossil fuels, we’d be just plain foolish not to set more fixed goals for breaking up with them.

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Bernie Sanders: 2020

nightmareI just woke up from the worst nightmare I’ve ever had — Donald Trump won the U.S. election! But wait. It’s not a nightmare — it really did happen!

We will be debating and analyzing Tuesday’s election results for a generation to come. But for me the No. 1 takeaway is the outright opposition within status quo leftists (known as SQLers) to allow for real change. Let me explain.

In the Democratic Party establishment there was outright hostility to Bernie Sanders winning the party’s nomination. Hostility because Bernie would have brought about real and structural change. The irony is that all of the polling indicated Saunders — tapping into the same vein Trump so successfully tapped into — would have done much better than Hillary Clinton against Trump.

But the SQLers — whom I call pretend leftists or convenient leftists — were so opposed to real change that they preferred the weaker of the two candidates, Clinton, because the stronger one, Sanders, might actually bring about the sort of change longed for by so many people.

So where do we go from here?

For me the next step is not to criticize the right but rather criticize the left. Too often we progressives allow our movement to be held back by a leadership that is not just overly cautious but, in fact, is consciously attempting to thwart real change.

If we are not willing to offer fundamental change to the electorate, there can only ever be one of two outcomes — no progressive, left “change candidate” is ever elected or, worse, the right puts forward a “change candidate” who gets elected and we all end up living a nightmare.

Let’s turn this nightmare into a dream. Bernie Sanders: 2020

Posted in Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Affordable housing: Gregor Robertson still doesn’t get it

affordable-housingIt’s perfectly clear to anyone paying attention that we have a housing crisis in Vancouver today — a crisis that has been with us for quite some time and is only continuing to get much worse. But the only thing more troubling than the crisis itself is the lack of leadership and complete absence of any really solutions offered by our mayor, Gregor Robertson.

Just the other day I heard him interviewed on CBC Radio. He was extolling the benefits of his two recently announced housing strategies — restrictions on rentals like Airbnb in that short-term rentals of less than 30 days are only legal in principal residences, and higher property taxes on vacant properties.

Both of these strategies will only increase supply by a very small amount and have a minor dampening effect on rental rates charged in Vancouver. We’re still going to be left with a situation where the vacancy rate is far too low and market rental costs far too high.

Rather than tweaking the market, the mayor should be taking measures to create non-market housing. For many years, developers were required to set aside 25 per cent of their development for non-market housing — which was tied to income, whereby the tenant paid no more than 30 per cent of his or her income in rent.

The mayor had this definition of affordable housing changed so that now a developer satisfies the requirement for affordable housing provided that the units in question are not sold but rented out at MARKET RENTS. One of the mayor’s fellow Vision Vancouver city councillors, Kerry Jang, recently indicated that if a suite is put on the rental market by a developer at market rates, it’s affordable as long as someone can afford to rent it!

This change has resulted in literally millions of dollars of development cost levies being waived by the city because the developer has complied with the requirement to provide affordable housing. No wonder developers are quite prepared to provide Gregor Robertson with the donations necessary to purchase the election outcome!

Today’s housing crisis will only ever be addressed when government requires developers to provide truly affordable housing — that is, housing rent geared to income. Until then it’s just more tweaking around the edges.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, homelessness, influence peddling, Planning, social justice, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A tale of two school boards: One fiery, one fired

apple-on-fireOne of my fondest political memories is the night when results came in for the by-election of a brand new Vancouver School Board in 1986.

Two years earlier, in 1984, COPE (Coalition of Progressive Electors) had won a bare majority on the school board, electing five of the nine trustees. They had campaigned very heavily on a no-cuts budget.

The Socreds were in power provincially, and the B.C. government had been under-funding the Vancouver School Board for years. (Does this sound familiar?) But the big difference between then and now is the way in which progressive forces in Vancouver responded in the ’80s to the prevailing political climate with a right-wing government.

COPE made very clear throughout the 1984 campaign that they simply would not consider passing anything but a needs budget — a budget that addresses needs, not necessarily a balanced budget — even if this meant passing a deficit budget. Having been elected on this very firm, some might say fiery platform, they took office in January 1985 with a clear mandate to stand up for Vancouver’s students. The gloves came off!

If memory serves me correctly, it was May 1985 when the then-education minister issued an ultimatum — either implement the cuts necessary to balance the budget or be fired. The COPE school trustees, having built a very strong base of support within the education community throughout all of Vancouver, stood firm. The community stood with them. There would be no more cuts even if it meant being fired.

A line in the sand had been drawn. It was not a battle between the provincial education minister and a few lonely, isolated school trustees, but rather a battle between an isolated and lonely minister of education and a school board that was inspiring the community with its daring refusal to implement cuts.

In early 1986, the minister fired the entire school board and appointed a trustee. Within hours, a large demonstration materialized in front of the VSB offices at 10th and Granville. The individual appointed by the minister to administer the school board was challenged every step of the way. If he held a public meeting to get input on an issue, hundreds showed up to denounce him.

Within a matter of months, the appointed trustee found it was not possible to balance the budget without making very severe cuts to an already extremely lean budget, and that the cuts required would be draconian. The minister had no choice but to call a by-election to re-elect the school board.

In those days there were only two municipal parties — COPE and the NPA (Non-Partisan Association). Throughout the by-election, the NPA candidates had very little to offer the electorate. They had not stood up for education. On the other hand, the COPE candidates could point with pride to their unwillingness to kowtow to provincial government dictates.

So now lets get back to where I started this blog — the night of the by-election.

The auditorium where COPE supporters gathered was filled with electricity! What would the outcome be? Would COPE manage to re-elect a majority, five of the nine school trustees? Or would the NPA narrative — “elect us, we’re the only responsible option” — triumph?

The results began to trickle in. One COPE trustee was elected for sure: Dr. Pauline Weinstein, the former chair of the school board. Then a second COPE candidate was declared elected, then a third, and a fourth. Then a fifth, and we had our majority. But it did not stop there! A sixth. Then a seventh. An eighth. Were we all dreaming? Had the media made some sort of mistake in relaying the results? And then it happened — our ninth candidate was elected. It would be a shutout! Nine out of nine!

Not one stay-the-course, do-as-we-are-told trustee was elected. It was an utter vindication of the belief that the left will go nowhere if it simply attempts to be a kinder, gentler version of the right. It must take a firm stand and be unwavering in its commitment to stand up for what is morally good and justified.

Contrast all of the above with what has happened in the last few days. The education minister fires the Vancouver School Board. Hardly a peep of criticism from the public. No spontaneous rally in support of education anywhere. And all of this because the so-called progressives on the VSB had utterly failed to build a partnership between the elected and the community.

In fact, up until just days ago, the school board was intent on closing numerous schools. Even worse, on the very day the school trustees were fired, the chair announced that the school board would pass a balanced budget. This after claiming for almost a year that to pass a balanced budget would mean implementing unacceptably deep cuts. No wonder there is little if any public support for the fired trustees!

So what’s the takeaway? The public is more than willing to stand with progressive politicians if they are willing to stand up for the public.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, COPE, education, NPA, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , | Comments Off on A tale of two school boards: One fiery, one fired