What It Means To Be a Leader

What It Means To Be a Leader


Interviewed by Aryan Etesami

Photographed by Noriko Nasu-TidBall

clip_image002Born on February 12, 1949 in Vancouver BC, Peter Ladner is a scholar, author, journalist, environmentalist, businessman and former politician. As a former Vancouver City councilor and Metro Vancouver vice-chair, Peter ran for the 2008 Vancouver mayoral election in which he competed against Gregor Robertson, the current mayor of Vancouver.

Peter obtained his combined Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Anthropology and completed one year of the Urban Planning Master’s degree at the University of British Columbia.

Having had more than 40 years of experience in journalism, he has written for Saturday Night, Canadian Business, and the Globe and Mail.

Today, Ladner is a weekly columnist at Business in Vancouver magazine which he co-founded in 1989, and a fellow at the Simon Fraser University. He is also a frequent and insightful speaker on food, business, sustainability issues and community.

Ladner’s book, “The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way we Feed Cities” was published in November, 2011 and has already sold more than 2700 copies as of June/2012. Described by such quotes as “Required Reading” and “An Essential Resource”, his book has surely been an inspiration to all those interested in a more sustainable community.


Here is an interview I did with Peter, where I asked him about a range of different issues:

Q: What role did your education play in your current career?

A: I was very involved with the UBC student newspaper (Ubyssey) and I was also elected as the student senator, so I became quite involved politically. Although I did not finish my Urban Planning Master’s degree at UBC, I believe I got an equivalent planning degree through my experience with municipal politics.

Q:In 2008, you lost the Vancouver mayoral election to Gregor Robertson who is still serving as the mayor of Vancouver. How would you evaluate Robertson’s role as the mayor of our city?

A: I think he is doing a good job. Since I have been out of politics, I tend to look at things with a more issue by issue approach, and not so much by a person’s political affiliation. I think that the Greenest City program is commendable and very much like the kind of things I was talking about as well. I think he maybe overpromised in his quest for housing affordability and solving homelessness, although it is good that someone is paying attention to it.

clip_image005Q: You mentioned that you are now out of politics, is this a permanent decision or are you planning to return to the political scene?

A: I still see myself being involved in politics indirectly because for any kind of change to occur, there has to be a shift in public opinion before the politicians can act; and I feel that I’m still engaged in influencing public opinion.

Q: As an avid cyclist yourself, how would you evaluate the city’s current cycling routes and would you like to see them expanded?

A: I think the cycling routes are a good start but we have a long way to go to enable All Ages and Abilities (AAA) cycling routes to be connected through the major transportation quarters in town. We’ve got some good sections but we still don’t have a properly connected system, where everybody can feel safe riding.

clip_image007Q: On this note, how would you evaluate our public transportation system (Translink) right now?

A: The financing of public transportation in our region, is very problematic right now and I think Translink is trying very hard to do what it can with the money that is available. It is, however, ridiculous that funding for major roads and bridge infrastructures is readily available but for transit expansion, the money is not there without bringing in new taxes or fees or fare increases. Translink’s funding sources are shrinking and the need is expanding, so there is a huge disconnect there that has to be fixed.

Q: In 2009, your sister was murdered at the Pacific Spirit Park in Vancouver; have you received any new information or updates regarding her murder?

A: The family is not aware of any new clues or suspects, although the police say they are still working on it.

Q: What are your views on the sky rising number of fast food chains and restaurants all over the greater Vancouver?

A: I do not know if we have more or fewer fast-food chains in greater Vancouver than any other place but I do know that there is a growing appetite for fresh local organic food, and that is having an impact on the fast-food market. I think if the demand is there, then businesses will show up and fill the demand and I know that some fast-food chains are already adapting and changing their menu which is great.

clip_image009Q: Considering the popularity of fast and junk foods in our community, especially among the teen-agers, do you see malnutrition as a significant issue for the Vancouverites and especially our kids today?

A: I do not think we have a malnutrition problem by international standards, but we have we have a higher percentage of people living in poverty in B.C. than other provinces, and many of them are not eating adequately. I think bad diet is causing huge problems, everything from obesity to heart disease to diabetes, particularly. Many younger people at my kids’ age (20s-30s) are making better nutritional choices and are careful about what they eat, although my opinion may be limited to who I talk to.

Q: So far, how do you think your book, “Urban Food Revolution, Changing the Way We Feed Cities” has influenced the way ‘we feed our city’?

A: My book is just one of many voices out there that are promoting a new way to have more sources of food and more resilient food systems and more and better alternatives to the industrial food that we still depend on. I cannot really say how much influence my book has had; there are lots of other books and lots of other people doing lots of things in Vancouver and throughout the world to deal with the problems of industrial agriculture, providing more accessible healthy local foods.

Q: What do you think is the number one approach that can be taken toward feeding our city more sustainably today?

A: I do not believe there is a single thing that people can do. However, at a municipal level, the City has recently identified 4 goals and dozens of recommendations for actions that can be taken. At a provincial level, preserving farmland is vital; and at a federal level, we have to recognize that food security is important as every other kind of security for our national well-being. We should be looking at where our subsidies go and how much support we provide for local sources of food and how we label food so that people can choose between healthy and unhealthy food. One of the big things we have to do is to make farming economically viable for people other than the big industrial producers at huge scales, who typically depend on harmful methods of production with many externalized costs. Individuals can simply choose real, healthy food instead of junk processed food; so everybody can influence the market to some degree. If everybody just lived by Michal Pollan’s rules in his book, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual”, then we would all be healthier and the markets would have to change and that would be a good place to start.

clip_image011Q: How long, in your opinion, would it take for our city to be able to feed itself in a fully sustainable way, if at all?

A: I don’t see us ever getting to the point where we are living off food that is grown entirely in and around our city. We’re always going to need to import some food and it is a good idea to be importing food because you can take advantage of more efficient production and lower cost lands in other places which are more suited to growing a lot of the foods that we depend on. However, I think we can do a lot more to increase peoples’ connection to their food, everything from growing food in their backyards to supporting local farmers; and I think we are seeing these new sources of food supply growing at a very fast rate. Nevertheless, most of us are still living in a completely unsustainable way, and I think we need to change our personal lives, our policies and the economy to truly achieve a sustainable planet. We need to leave behind a world that is as healthy as or healthier than the one we inherited, which is not what we are doing now.

Q: What are your current commitments and/or engagements?        clip_image013

A: Besides being a weekly columnist at Business in Vancouver and giving talks about the food revolution, I am working on an affordable housing project for the Centre for Dialogue at SFU. I’m on the board of The Natural Step Canada which is a national organization promoting sustainability in businesses and communities. I’m also on the board of the Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation; and I work with the Sustainable Transportation Coalition to promote more transportation choices in our region.[[]]