Lunch with Kirk LaPointe

Kirk LaPointe | BCBusiness

Kirk LaPointe on his plans to oust Mayor Gregor Robertson and instill a culture of transparency at City Hall

My lunch with Kirk LaPointe goes into overtime. The longtime journalist-cum-mayoral-candidate for the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) spends nearly two hours effortlessly articulating how Vancouver would change under his reign—from his hopes for a “transparent” and “family-focused” City Hall with “better management practices,” to initially freezing property and commercial tax increases, to bringing free Wi-Fi to the city.

The 56-year-old publisher and editor-in-chief of Self-Counsel Press has entered municipal politics after a career spent “understanding problems.” Over three decades, he held various media positions in Ottawa (from reporter to news editor at The Canadian Press, host of CBC Newsworld and general manager of Southam News), Hamilton (editor-in-chief of the Spectator), Toronto (executive editor at the National Post and adviser to the publisher at the Star) and Vancouver (managing editor at the Sun and ombudsman for CBC).   

Kirk LaPointe’s favourites

1. “Commercial Drive is my favourite food street and I go to Havana (1212 Commercial Dr., Vancouver; about once a month.”

2. “I’m a fan of the Italian small plates, the fresh pasta and the attention to detail at L’ufficio (3687 W. 4th Ave., Vancouver; and adjacent La Quercia.

3. “I discovered curries in my 20s. Almost anywhere with Indian will draw me. I’m a regular at Mumbai Masala (770—333 Brooks Bank Ave., North Vancouver;”

As per his training, the Ryerson journalism graduate explains he is keen to “follow the money” in Vancouver. “I’ve tried to penetrate the budget books at City Hall and they’re impossible—the generalities are such that you really can’t figure out where the money was spent,” says LaPointe over curry at Sula Restaurant on Commercial Drive. “It’s a bad system and it has to be fixed.”

As much as these confident electioneering soundbites and messages (“Authentic consultation!” “Transparency!”) pepper our conversation, there’s little doubt he’s happy to play the underdog card too—not just in how he positions himself as a political newbie (“Being an outsider is helpful when you need profound change”), but generally throughout his life. Ask about environmental credentials and LaPointe brings up a childhood in Toronto with a mother who worked in a cookie factory (he never knew his father). “I was recycling when the mayor was in diapers, and as someone who has never had much money in his life I know all about conservation and frugality,” he says, adding that he often went hungry to school.

Married to Mary Lynn Young, associate dean of arts at UBC (where they live with her 17-year-old daughter; he also has two grown children), LaPointe says that he’s always had a need to stretch himself. “I feel obliged to the world. I’ve always felt it necessary to have, like, a job-and-a-half throughout my life in order to keep up with the work ethic I think is necessary.” That has included filling spare time with his love of rock ’n’ roll, running a music program on the now-defunct MacLean-Hunter Cable station in Ontario in the ’70s (LaPointe went on to be Canadian editor of Billboard Magazine in the ’80s and still writes a rock blog). He also coaches girls’ softball.

Some critics have alluded to the possible influence of “big business” in the NPA—because of backers such as Vancouver developer Rob Macdonald—but LaPointe is defiant. There will be no quid pro quo for campaign donors, he insists—and when it comes to how the city develops, he wants consultation with residents to establish a less “ad-hoc” city plan. “By no means do I want to be the saviour of the developers, but there is a congruence between saving the community with plans and making it more possible for the developers to at least understand what the rules of the road are. It falls back on those twin pillars of consultation and transparency.”

As for election promises, he understands people’s skepticism: “All I can say is I’ve spent 30 years trying to get this.”