Who says politics can’t be fun? Vancouver’s civic candidates let loose at the Creative City Cabaret on Saturday evening – singing, dancing, and making their political points.
Local arts management group Left Right Minds hosted the event at the Roundhouse Community Centre. They were hoping to address issues in the arts community and collect donations for a new theatre production centre.
“It’s about awareness. It’s about seeing the other side of these candidates, and it’s about fun,” said Chris May, production manager for Left Right Minds.
The cabaret featured several independent candidates as well as representatives from Vision Vancouver, NPA, COPE, the Work Less Party and the Nude Garden Party. Even the mayoral frontrunners, NPA candidate Peter Ladner and Vision’s Gregor Robertson, took time to make an appearance.
Organizers wanted to showcase Vancouver as the “creative city” by focusing on the arts in the upcoming election. They drew from the success of October’s Wrecking Ball cabaret and debate on federal arts and culture policy, which was held in nine different cities from coast to coast.
The arts have been a hot topic in Canadian politics this season, after the Conservatives’ proposal to cut arts funding spurred angry responses from voters across the country.
However, arts issues didn’t take centre stage at Saturday’s event. Though all candidates entertained the audience, some could not resist the opportunity to bring politics into the mix.
Independent mayoral candidate Marc Emery chose to abandon the “performance” altogether.
“I didn’t want to make it seem like I was trying to take advantage of this as a politician,” said Emery, after a lengthy speech about crime, the Olympics and the city’s financial problems. He emphasized the need to prioritize, suggesting that issues in arts and entertainment need not be a primary focus.
Participants were each allowed to answer two questions from the audience. Organizers tried to keep the questions light-hearted, but conversation drifted back to key election issues: housing, the environment, and the Olympics.
Members of various parties spoke out about City Hall’s recent decision to lend $100 million to Olympic developers. The NPA’s Peter Ladner was the main target.
Onstage with his guitar, he performed a song he wrote about homelessness. His second song dealt with the blame that comes with being in politics. He called it “Because of You”.
Betty Krawczyk, of the Work Less Party, used Ladner’s tune to segue into a passionate confrontation.
“Yes, Mr Ladner, because of you, none of that $100 million went to the homeless. It went to a private corporation… and as a taxpayer and a citizen, I really object,” said Krawczyk.
When asked why he did “such a stupid thing”, Ladner defended the council’s decision.
“I think you’re going to have to ask everybody on the council who was in on that vote. We did it because it was the best thing for the city,” Ladner said.
Apart from Ladner’s serenade, there were a few other noteworthy performances.
Vision’s Gregor Robertson played guitar and sang along with council candidates Heather Deal and Geoff Meggs. Eighty-year-old Krawczyk presented a Louisiana-style tap dancing number, and COPE’s sketch advertising itself as a cure for ED (“Electile Dysfunction”) drew a lot of laughs from the crowd.
Some of the performances had less success with the audience. Stand-up comedy routines turned into a series of offensive sexual jokes and one candidate was asked to leave the stage.
After the show, Left Right Minds’ Allyson McGrane said that she was satisfied with how the event went, despite the shift away from cultural issues.
“We didn’t know how it was going to go. All you can do is lay all the groundwork, invite the people, invite the audience, and see what happens. Because that’s what theatre and the arts are all about,” said McGrane.