Vancouver AGM report

By Ian Howarth
PWAC Quebec chapter programming chairperson

Okay, so it’s a few weeks after the PWAC AGM got underway in Vancouver and this will be a little like reviewing a film I saw two weeks ago at a the Old Forum in Montreal. I remember my wife was with me and I didn’t buy popcorn, and the film, called whatever with whatshisname and whatshername starring, was good.

Only I actually took notes, knowing I had to do this write-up.

The Vancouver AGM/Conference went off without a glitch. I know this because the chief organizer, Jane Mundy, of the Vancouver PWAC chapter, told me so at the awards dinner held at the Alibi Room restaurant in Gastown (Vancouver’s equivalent of Old Montreal). I sat beside her at dinner. The awards, which are on PWAC’s Website, honoured our own Stephanie Whittaker, among others. Stephanie was not there but I do know she was humbled and grateful for the award.

It was at this dinner that I got to hear a few of PWAC’s more erudite speaker/performers like Guenther Krueger and master of Ceremonies, Dave Preston. Even with a microphone, they soldiered on through the sometimes rowdy discourse and din of a room full of writers (about a 100 or so) sharing good food, wine and war stories.

We took over the entire restaurant for that Saturday evening and the food and staff were terrific before some retired to the restaurant’s lower level to dance. The staff, I especially wanted to mention, handled the whole evening with professional aplomb.

I am working from end to beginning because I am on a memory roll.

Most veteran PWAC AGM attendees tell me of marathon last day AGMs, but this being my first, I was treated to what apparently was a streamlined version without long-winded. repetitive microphone rants. It was all over in less than two hours, much to everyone’s delight. A new Board of Directors was acclaimed with a new president, Carolyn Gibson (London and Southwestern Ontario chapter, and former V.P.) stepping up to the plate to replace Suzanne Boles. Quebec’s Bruce Wilson continues to represent us on the PWAC Board as Regional Director.

The major motion passed dealt with Access Copyright and needs ratification from the PWAC Exec but reads: “PWAC affirms the vital importance of the independent review of revenue distribution policies recently undertaken by Access Copyright and urges Access Copyright to make the Friedland Report public as soon as is reasonably possible.”

Back to the Beginning

Thursday, May 24, saw people drifting in and out of the Delta Hotel where a casual Meet & Greet was held in the hotel bar.

The Friday morning session dealt with a PWAC should… exercise. Results from this process can be seen on the PWAC Web site for members only. In the afternoon, local chapters held meetings to strategize for the Sunday AGM.

The lunch hour speaker was Heather Robertson, who received a hero’s welcome as someone whose legal battles have been followed by many who looked to her as championing the rights and cause of all independent writers. She has made many new friends along the way, many of whom are lawyers, it seems.

That evening, PWACers took in some of Vancouver’s Gastown bars, where sampling various beverages and hors d’oeuvres kept people fueled until they went their own way for dinner.

Saturday morning led off with speaker David Beers, editor of The Tyee, B.C.’s alternative on-line mag. A very cool site as it turns out. And they have won some awards, too. I quoted him as saying “the relationship of editor and writer is that of a knife to a throat…” I guess we know ho has the knife. He also compared freelance writers to honeybees, an ecological metaphor, I presume, saying they may be disappearing. Perhaps, he added, we should call ourselves “independent” writers. And he addressed the issue of the Internet and whether it is the friend or the foe of freelance (independent) writers.

The Saturday panel of editors, for me at least, provided the most drama of the day. On board was Charlie Smith of The Georgia Strait (Vancouver’s long-running alternative newspaper), Kirk LaPointe, managing editor of the Vancouver Sun, Sid Tafler, ex-editor of Monday magazine, Deborah Campbell, associate editor at Adbusters Magazine.

Campbell urged writers to keep fighting for the truth and called the media “the new superpower of the world.” Tafler called editors “besieged” and talked about how they have to deal with all aspects of a story. And he said that the word “periodical” should still be on our minds. Smith expressed his concerns about distribution problems with The Straight, a free newspaper. As it turns out CanWest signed an exclusive distribution deal with B.C. Ferries where only CanWest publications can be put in the terminals and on the ferries. Nasty.

LaPointe said journalism schools are producing better journalists. He defended his newspaper as having more diversity, not less. (The Sun and The Vancouver Province are both owned by CanWest). He admitted “We cover more , but uncover less.”

As the big guy on the block, LaPointe was defensive during a short question period when Tracey Arial (PWAC Montreal) asked him about the formation of the fledging Canadian Freelance Union and the new CanWest freelance contract that just came out. He didn’t want to touch that one, referring it to the lawyers and bureaucrats at CanWest. But he was clearly defensive. Tracey asked a second question about encouraging freelancers and he was a tad flippant when he said, “Well, I don’t have Kirk-brings-a-freelancer-to-work- day, if that’s what you mean…” Other people were at the mike, but time ran out. I suspect he was happy to have the question period end.

Saturday afternoon was taken up with various workshops with writers representing various avenues, like travel writing, contracts for writers, investigative crime writing, the six-figure writer (very popular), screenwriting and writing a killer book proposal.

I learned in the travel writing workshop about some of the weird niche vacation markets that have popped up. Like volunteer vacations, thano tourism (death tours like Ground Zero or Chernobyl). But the kicker was some U.S. vacation package where you can pretend to be a Mexican immigrant sneaking into the U.S. and get pursued by border guards. Includes getting shot at, I think.

And so it was.

Personal note:

Because I keep weird hours, I am up later than most and outside the Delta Hotel and its environs, many of Vancouver’s homeless come out to play at night. Vancouver has a serious homeless problem, way more serious than say Toronto, which has its problems, too. The first night I made a few friends on the street and was feeling generous. But after a few more days in town, my patience and generosity waned. The street people in Vancouver can be very aggressive. A woman alone at night in the city is vulnerable and I don’t think the streets are as safe as Montreal’s at night. I’m talking about the downtown core, here. If you go further east from where Gastown is, East Hastings (famous for all the wrong reasons), you can see hundreds of homeless people gathered at corners or in parks. Open drug use is common. This area is off limits to any tourist looking for a safe time. Only the police go there.

With the winter Olympics coming in 2010, the locals talk of what the city will do to clean Vancouver up before the world turns its sporting eye in Vancouver’s direction. Some say gentrification of the area will eventually drive them away. But where? Others casually say they’ll simply be bussed out of town with a one-way ticket. Some are mental patients out on the streets because of gov’t cutbacks; no meds, no one to look out for them, they resort to using crystal meth. Very dangerous drug; cheap, but very dangerous.


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