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North Vancouver's defender
It’s a crowded lunch hour in Beans on Lonsdale and Coun. Rod Clark is a popular guy amongst the coffee shop’s patrons. Just moments after he sits down to talk, he darts up to say hello to two guys sitting nearby. It’s a quick, friendly chat, Clark’s laughter travelling just above the ubiquitous chatter.
The exchange is typical he explains upon his return, part and parcel of being an active member of the City of North Vancouver for more than 30 years.
“I talk at the barber shop when I’m there too,” he says, proudly.
“I have a great feeling for my community.”
It was a job that first brought Clark to North Van in the mid-70’s. A native of Hamilton, Ont., he studied microbiology at the University of Guelph and landed a gig after graduation with a veterinary pharmaceutical company based in the west.
Not long after settling in his new home, Clark turned his attention to city hall. His first run at a council seat in 1981 proved unsuccessful, but two years later, after a judicial recount that found him only two votes ahead of his competitor, Clark began his first go-round on council.
That was five terms ago — although not all in succession as Clark has lost three bids for the mayor’s seat over the years — and the now-veteran politician shows little sign of slowing down.
Since last November’s election, Clark has been noticeably more active in council chambers. At last week’s meeting, for instance, he was responsible for four notices of motion that included yet another discussion on the amusingly controversial yarn-bombing issue. Clark contends the $7,500 the arts commission will be using to support the guerilla knitting project — think woven street art — is “a stupid expense.”
And just a few weeks ago, Clark wasn’t alone in those sentiments. Council voted against giving that money based on its lukewarm feelings toward the chosen initiative. That decision, however, was undone at the next meeting. The arts commission, it was decided, was the appropriate body to determine where the funding should go and council shouldn’t get in the business of sanctioning one kind of art over another.
“The arts commission should be at an arm’s length, of course,” says Clark.
“This is different. This is money that came back to us because a planned bench in front of Andrew Saxton’s office [a project called A Rest Along the Way] didn’t happen and I was elected to be a defender of the public purse. So, one week it’s out and the next week yarn bombing is back in. Why?”
The short answer, of course, is that council has the right to undo any of its prior decisions. This term, the planned creation of a Harbourside task force also fell victim to council’s reconsideration.
Nor is Clark without his share of about-faces. Last year he changed his mind on two illegal fourplexes — one in the 200-block of West Sixth Street, the other in the 300-block of East 14th Street — voting to allow both buildings to continue housing two illegal secondary suites.
So how does he explain the difference between that rethink and one with more, say, woolly implications?
The difference, he says, is that he received calls from the community letting him know that his vote was taking away some of the few examples of affordable housing in the city. And the tenants of those suites, he adds, didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t deserve being kicked out of their homes.
“I had never thought of it in that light. I thought we were just enforcing the bylaw but I was blinded by my feelings towards the developers of those homes. I just didn’t see it,” he says.
“So, I changed my vote. The facts changed for me. And we are responsible to explain that to the community. Listen, I’m long past thinking I’ll be premier or that I’m going to Ottawa. I’m long past that. I’m in this for the community.”