The Pride Festival has become one of Metro Vancouver's largest events
Two weeks ago I called on the City of Vancouver to grant civic status to the annual Pride parade, the largest event in our city's calendar.
For me this was and is a simple question of civic pride, as well as one of fairness and equity. With 640,000 spectators, Pride is not only the largest event in Vancouver, it's the largest parade in all of Western Canada!
Pride also generates millions of dollars for local businesses and is a major driver of tourism. We all benefit from that massive injection of money into our local economy each year.
Other smaller events already enjoy civic status - the privately owned Grey Cup Parade, for instance, and the Celebration of Light fireworks competition, which attracts just one-half the spectators that Pride does on any given night.
So what does civic status mean? In a nutshell, events granted civic status aren't billed for policing and sanitation services.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs the city picked up the bill not just for police and sanitation, but for the entire cost of the fan zones and giant screen broadcasts of the game. If fans hadn't rioted that night, the city was also going to cover costs for a parade as well.
So why all the controversy over my call for civic status for Pride?
The response was all the more surprising when my proposal would actually save the city money. Right now the city spends more than $600,000 a year on "Car Free Days." If my proposal was implemented, we could cut that budget by more than 25% and still provide police and sanitation services for all of the parades and major street festivals around the city.
Police and sanitation are core city services after all. It's the Mayor's job to ensure safe, clean streets, not the job of the Pride Parade. I believe our city would benefit greatly if we focused more on the efficient delivery of core services.
Parades and street festivals are the original 'car-free days' after all. They aren't some government make-work project. They were created by local neighborhood organizations and help increase business for local merchants, unlike the city's ill-conceived "car free days" program that arbitrarily shuts down streets, disrupting traffic and hurting business.
I marched in the early years of the Pride Parade in 1984 and 1985 as VP and then President of Gays and Lesbians of UBC. It was intimidating to march back then. More than a few spectators lined the route to jeer, not cheer participants, and gay-bashing was more common.
What a long way we've traveled since those dark days. Canada is now one of only five nations in the world to grant that most basic of all human rights, the right to love and marry the person of your choice. Because of this, Vancouver's Pride has become an international symbol of hope in a world where many gay men and women are subject to daily discrimination, arrest, violence and even the death penalty, all just for loving the person they choose.
That unique worldwide distinction, taken for granted by those who live here, is why Pride should have civic status. What began as a march for basic rights by a disenfranchised minority thirty years ago has been transformed into a celebration of the enlightened society that now embraces our centrality to the cultural and economic vitality of this great city and nation.
In fact, the reason my partner Tom and I now call Vancouver home is because we were able to marry here. Even after twenty years together in Manhattan, the experience of getting married in 2006 was so magical, and the reaction of so many here so positive, that we moved our home and software business here from New York within months.
However you look at it, Vancouver's unique Pride Parade deserves the same civic status granted other important events. It's a matter of civic pride.
- Post by Sean Bickerton. Sean is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.