Former Vancouver mayor hosts public salons

Issues include drugs, crime
By Andrew Fleming, Contributing Writer, Source: Vancouver Courier
November 15, 2011

Three years after being kicked to the curb by his own party, former NPA mayor Sam Sullivan is still active in Vancouver. Ironically, he said he finds it easier to get things done now that he’s no longer in power or even politics.

“I have a theory that I can actually get more done outside city hall than inside it,” said Sullivan, who now heads up the Global Civic Policy Society, a non-profit think tank. “I can’t say I’ve ever felt any tug of wanting to get back into politics. I’m just having too much fun right now.”

One of his pet projects involves hosting public salons where diverse lineups of some of the city’s movers and shakers give presentations lasting just seven minutes long.

“I’ve come to believe that people really can say the essence of what they mean in a pretty short amount of time. If you give them more time, they’ll just say it in a longer way. Academics in particular, it’s almost in their DNA that as soon as they start talking, they’ll continue for 54 minutes, the length of a class.”

Last week, several hundred people at the Vancouver Playhouse were treated to the various projects and passions belonging to professionals from very different walks of life. The eclectic lineup included a kickboxing master chef (Dale MacKay) who survived a stint working under the notorious Gordon Ramsay, a former 60 Minutes producer (Peter Klein) who explained how the war on drugs is starving developing countries of medical morphine, a UBC brain researcher (Judy Illes) who says new studies suggest that punishing criminal behaviour isn’t always as ethical as we might think, and a celebrated urban planner (Setty Pendakur) who suggested the well-heeled crowd might want to go visit Occupy Vancouver afterward because the movement “could use some more suits and ties.”

The parade of big ideas was also spiced up with a little music, including four dueling trombonists connected with the Hard Rubber Orchestra and an a capella performance from four fiery Ghanaian women who also spoke about the importance of educating African school girls.

Sullivan said he hosted similar such evenings at private gatherings for years before going public with them. “I believe very strongly that one of the problems of society is that we all kind of live in silos and that we don’t communicate enough with people in other sectors of society,” he told the Courier. “My goal is always to invite people that don’t have anything to do with each other normally. We are really pleased about how it has developed. It seems like there is a real hunger for ideas about how communities can be improved and also to have a window into the minds of people who are really doing some wonderful work.”

In order to help spread these ideas to as many people as possible while also giving added incentive for potential volunteer speakers, Sullivan hooked up with Shaw TV to broadcast the salons several times a week on Channel 4. “That’s really helping to put us on the map because all our speakers know they will be reach a larger audience and be played at least 20 times in the year coming,” he said. Video clips can also be watched on the group’s website.

The next salon is Feb. 8.

Twitter: @flematic
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