The Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?” (image from Wikipedia)
Civic politics generally deals with maintaining roads and sewers, reviewing development applications and a vast range of close-to-the-ground issues. But municipal politics has also been a place where a vast range of other issues are discussed. For example, Vancouver city council voted in 1983 to declare the city a “nuclear weapons free zone” and, formally or informally, members of council have felt free to address topics of national and global concern.
During debate around the city’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism – which a majority of council voted to refer to committee, effectively defeating it – critics of the definition warned that it could place limits on the right to criticize Israel, despite that the definition explicitly states that it is legally non-binding. While the condemnation of antisemitism is not an international issue, examples accompanying the definition included several relating to anti-Zionism.
Because of the history of using civic positions as platforms for international issues, the Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?”
Christine Boyle, the incumbent Vancouver city councilor who voted to refer the IHRA issue to committee, said that commenting on international affairs is not generally part of the role of a city councilor.
“And there are so many important issues and struggles locally that continue to be the focus of my attention,” she said. “But my practice on any topic is to listen to and engage with communities most impacted on an issue, always seeking to uphold human rights, peace and justice.
“I have spent much of my adult life actively engaged in justice work, including opposing and challenging hate and discrimination, and working to strengthen the human rights of all people,” she continued. “I am deeply committed to challenging antisemitism and ensuring that Jewish residents in Vancouver feel safe at home, at worship, and everywhere.
“When a motion came to council asking Vancouver to adopt the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, council received hundreds of emails on the subject, with a diverse range of perspectives on the topic,” said Boyle. “Even my own Jewish family members didn’t all agree on the issue. What I heard clearly from the community was that, while there wasn’t agreement on this definition, there was absolutely a need for the city to do more to address antisemitism and racism. And so council referred the definition to the City of Vancouver’s Racial and Cultural Equity Advisory Committee, with direction for staff to continue working vociferously to address antisemitism and other forms of racism and hate. Since then I have worked hard each budget cycle to ensure our anti-racism and anti-hate efforts are well funded and supported, and will continue that work.”
Vancouver council candidate Ken Charko told the Independent, “Yes, I would use my position as a city councilor as a platform to discuss international affairs [and] yes support of Israel will be part of that platform…. I support Canada moving its embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing it as the capital of Israel. I would use my position as a Vancouver city councilor and federal Conservative member to outline why Canada should do that under the next Conservative government.”
John Irwin, an incumbent member of the Vancouver Park Board, switched from the Coalition of Progressive Electors last election to Vision Vancouver this election because, he said, “There was a disagreement with COPE regarding their lack of acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism (which was accepted by the Canadian government).”
He added: “As a local politician, I generally use my platform to discuss local issues.”
Carla Frenkel, also a candidate for the Vancouver Park Board, said simply: “I have no intention to use the role of park board commissioner as a platform for international affairs.”
Kyla Epstein, who is seeking a seat on the Vancouver School Board, said that, to her knowledge, international affairs do not regularly come up at the school board table, nor is it generally within the scope of the role of a trustee to take a position on international affairs.
“What I do know is that I bring to the role a deep commitment to human rights and an opposition to antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and all forms of discrimination, racism and hatred,” she said. “In addition, my approach to governance is to listen, welcome different perspectives and reduce barriers for public and stakeholder participation – on any issue. I will fight to uphold a public education system that is a place of learning, curiosity and questioning. I will, no matter the issue that comes to the school board table, reach out to communities, listen and learn, and make my decisions to uphold human rights and equality.”
Ellison Mallin, running for council in the District of North Vancouver, said, “I am always discussing international issues with people, as, in this increasingly connected world, events that happen anywhere can affect us here.
“I do not intend to use any municipal specific platforms, or my position, to bring up Israel and Palestine, and will keep discussions on the subject to appropriate venues. I do recognize that, given my religion, there will likely be comments and questions directed to me, which I will not shy away from,” he said. “I strongly believe in Israel’s right to exist. A safe place for Jewish people to live and to foster Jewish identity and culture is needed. Perhaps, sadly, it is needed now more than ever, as we do see a rise in antisemitism in many areas. On that note, I do not deny Palestine’s right to exist, and believe a two-state solution is needed. I would also like to see Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank, as this further creates divides and hostilities.”
Jonathan Lerner, council candidate in Lantzville, said he does not see Middle Eastern affairs coming into play in Lantzville politics. But, he added: “Everyone familiar with my work will know that I am a strong advocate for respectful dialogue on these issues.
“Where I think municipal governments can play a larger role is in diversity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives,” said Lerner. “Many communities, including the Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities, have been targeted by an increase in hate crimes in Canada. Municipalities have a key role to play in addressing this issue. For example, governments of all levels are considering adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, as well as other racism classifications that help to define and address discrimination.”