Green candidate David Wong woos voters in Vancouver-Hastings with candour and humility

First-time candidate David Wong is learning that politics can get brutish in our province.

In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, the Vancouver-Hastings Green representative said he’s witnessed a great deal of anger on the campaign trail. And it’s taken him by surprise.

“This woman, out of nowhere, jumped out and started attacking me,” Wong recalled. “She said ‘how dare you be so rude to me?’ I just said ‘hello madam.’ She…started screaming at the top of her lungs and making a scene.”

Fortunately for Wong, for every hater he’s encountered, there have been about 100 people of a more loving nature.

But he admitted that people sometimes expect him to have all the answers when that’s just not realistic.

When this has happened, he’s responded that he can share his experiences and then mentioned the Greens’ guiding principles on respect and participatory democracy.

“I have to be very judicious about what I say,” Wong said. “I can’t just be flippant with my remarks.”

In the past as a housing activist and advocate for First Nations people, Wong hasn’t been afraid to raise hackles. In 2013, for example, he didn’t hesitate to rip into city councillors and senior city staff during his fight to save the Ming Sun Benevolent Society building on Powell Street.

Wong also didn’t censor himself when the B.C. Liberal government crafted a plan to apologize for the Chinese head tax while ignoring Chinese Canadians, like him, who traced their B.C. roots back several generations.

Instead, the Christy Clark government seemed more interested in speaking to first-generation immigrants to further its political goals.

“They have no connection to the historic past,” Wong told the Straight in 2013. “That’s wrong. Because a person’s ethnicity is Chinese does not mean that person is a long-time multigenerational Canadian.”

He showed a similar determination and capacity to speak his mind more than two decades ago while trying to stop the Vancouver park board from cutting down hundreds of trees on the Fraserview Golf Course.

But nowadays, as a politician, Wong is decidedly more diplomatic.

“That’s one thing I’ve learned: to be more guarded because it can affect the party adversely,” he acknowledged.

So what are some of the things that Wong has had to address on the campaign trail?

He mentioned the dogmatism of many voters. He said that they look upon politics almost like a team sport, with winners and losers. And for them, he said, it’s often only black and white without a lot of grey.

“It’s very heartbreaking,” Wong said.

It gets personal, too. Because he’s a member of the Greens, he’s been accused of being anti-union.

But Wong pointed out that his father was a union member and he’s even visited B.C. labour hero Ginger Goodwin’s grave.

And he insisted if he’s elected, he will ensure that the voices of working-class people in East Vancouver will be heard.

Wong added that he’s also been accused of being against arts and culture. This occurred even though he’s been involved in arts organizations and magazines, including Rice Paper. He even wrote a well-received graphic history book, Escape to Gold Mountain, on Chinese people in North America.

David Wong’s graphic history book, Escape to Gold Mountain, highlighted the hardship that Chinese people encountered in North America during the 19th and 20th centuries.

He’s also an architect who runs his own business. So that leads some people to assume he’s right wing.

“They can’t see that people can be on both sides of the spectrum and still be a good human being,” Wong said.

Later in the interview, he declared: “We don’t owe anything to any big unions or big corporations.”

After becoming a Green candidate, Wong was appointed as his party’s housing spokesperson. He claimed that ideas he raised at a housing debate with the NDP’s David Eby and the B.C. Liberals’ Rich Coleman were later usurped by other parties.

As an example, he cited his comments on how the government of Singapore encourages home ownership by having people set aside a certain percentage of their income, which is matched by their employers. 

He noted that Singapore also builds complete communities, including housing and community centres and marketplaces, on government-owned land.

“Now I hear others using these ideas, saying they’re quite successful over there and not over here,” Wong said.

He isn’t bothered if other parties embrace ideas advanced by the Green party. But he claimed that people who “don’t have dirt under their fingernails” in delivering affordable housing won’t be knowledgeable enough to make these concepts work.

In his architectural practice, Wong has designed sustainable affordable housing in First Nations communities.

His attachment to indigenous people is so deep that it was the subject of a CBC documentary by indigenous journalist Duncan McCue when Vancouver was hosting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. For Wong, it’s carrying on the friendship and connections that existed between First Nations people and Chinese residents of the region that dated back more than a century.

Near the end of the interview, Wong revealed that he recently visited a homeless camp in Vancouver.

“I brought food, brought blankets, and didn’t tell them that I was a politician,” he recalled.

Wong noted that he wasn’t a politician when visited another homeless camp in the past at Oppenheimer Park. So why should he do it this time?

“I do love these people,” he stated “If I was the housing minister, I would look at ways of accommodating tent cities.”

With that, Wong was on his way to talk to more voters in Vancouver-Hastings.

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