Women Past Fifty: Adriane Carr and Her Journey of Planting Greens In Vancouver’s Politics

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By Susan Tsang

On a busy Monday morning, the councilor of the City of Vancouver Adriane Carr set aside some time for the Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society (VACS) to have an open conversation about her life. VACS president Keiko Honda facilitated this candid and engaging dialogue with Adriane on the topic of aging women and this spiritual journey throughout her career. Adriane talked without any intimidation of a politician and gladly shared her life experiences growing up in Vancouver as an environmental activist.

Family Makes Adriane Carr

Adriane had been blessed with love growing up in a multigenerational family house that was first inhibited by her great grandparents from Europe. Naturally, when asked about her role models, Adriane said that her parents are the people that have strongest influence in her life. “Even when my mother was ill, there’s always positive things she focused on—she would ask people around her, like the cousins and friends who visited, how they were doing. There’s always a sense of curiosity towards people and their circumstances.” There was another episode that stood out to Adriane in her upbringing that shaped her to accept deviant beliefs. “When we were in Nelson, Kootenay, there was a lot going on with the Doukhobors—a Russian religious group. One of its religious sects was creating some political difficulties such as burning down their homes.” Despite the warning from the community, Adriane’s mother instructed her “to go get the basket” to attend the Doukhobors Farmers Market that they would always go to. Her mother said that “they were good people, they grow good food.” Adriane had seen that she should appraise people fairly regardless of the social norm. 

“My mother also encouraged me to seek my dream. She will never be held back by anything said by anyone.” Under the guidance of her supportive parents, Adriane stood firm for her beliefs. She shared her first experience of gender discrimination while being an instructor at Langara College. “The department chair sat me down and said, ‘Adriane, you’re competent, but you know, there’s another man in the department that’s part-time too, and he has a wife that he has to support. And I said ‘are you judging based on sex? Are you not considering merits of somebody in the department?’ I was kind of appalled and had to fight this, because I think it’s completely unfair… (In the end,) they gave the job to both of us… You do have to fight for your rights and if you do, chances are you’ll get that. It might be hard for some people to do, but you have to do it.” 

An Environmentalism-Inspired Councilor

Adriane had made a dramatic change in her career from being an instructor at Langara College to getting involved with politics by co-founding the BC Green Party in 1983. She was one of the first notable people who incorporated environmentalism into policy-making as the party was the first Green Party in North America. Despite of her hesitation because of job security, the people around Adriane had encouraged her to take the leadership role in green politics and she had felt “compelled to make a change that is more effective for (her) life work—that is to ensure the planet is healthy for our children and their children.” She did not have a choice but to go to politics. “Because when I was working in the field of environment, there was this block—the barrier was the government,” said Adriane. Even after she made the difficult choice of becoming a politician, she constantly re-evaluated and questioned the path that she had taken. “I ran eight times before I got elected. Each time I had to think ‘is this the best way that I could be focusing my energy to make social change happen?’” 

Due to her background as an activist at the WCWC (Wilderness Committee), Adriane combined the top-down and grassroot tactics. Adriane took hours in council to listen to people pitch in their ideas. Adriane said, “Some people spent a lot of time preparing for a five-minute presentation. There was so much wisdom in what they had to say. My goal was to take what they had to say and altered the motions in council so they captured those good ideas that weren’t thought of by anyone else. They strengthened the motions to be more reflective of the people’s wishes.” Under her parents’ influences, Adriane was open to listen to people and their creations. That had been one of the factors to her successfully being re-elected as a councilor in the City of Vancouver in 2014 with the highest number of votes.

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Adriane advocates for “no to KM pipeline” at Car Free Day.

“I Am a Wife, Mother, and Daughter Before I Am a Politician.”

As an accomplished politician, Adriane had many roles to play in public and as well in private. She marvelled at how blessed she was that her work partner was her husband since the time at WCWC. She met her husband who had the same mission and they were able to work together all through their lives. “My husband does the browsing (news). He’s getting the information from various sources. And he will give me a synopsis every morning.” He would also shoot Adriane an email when a big news came up during the day. His science background were combined with her own knowledge from her Urban Planning degree to achieve the same goal. Adriane’s life mission was enriched and supported with a like-minded partner by her side, together, they had also built a fulfilling homelife. 

As their children had been growing up, they had taken them on trips to the wilderness in the summer while working. “I think that the experiences deepened them as people, especially when our work involved the First Nations,” said Adriane. It was fun and meaningful for her to expose her children to the nature and the diversity of people. She was also thankful that her children trajectory allowed her to pursue her career. By the time Adriane had been running her leadership campaign in 2001, her daughter had graduated high school in that year also. “It would have been very difficult with children still at home,” said Adriane, then she added, “Not that when your children are not at home, they don’t require your time, energy, and socialization, which I do a lot with them.” 

It was not easy to be a mother, an activist, and a politician. There were certain restraints on women with a career. To help women out with their family obligations and pursuing their careers, Adriane suggested establishing public policies goals that exist in Northern Europe, where political offices are made up of women close to forty to fifty percent. In those countries, people are eligible for universal childcare, free post-secondary education, and a two-year parental leave. Overall, “they are exceptional social policies that support people and their families.” Fortunately, Adrian was able to fuse home and work life together without completely sacrificing one or the other. “It’s work but it can hardly be called work when you love what you do,” said Adriane. 

The World of “Fifty” Is Liberating

Adriane saw that stepping into the stage of middle age as a time period for women to be free. “We are done pleasing everybody,” said Adriane. It was about time that women lived their own lives at that age. Adriane lived up to her testimony by doing what she was passionate about. While she continued to advocate for cleaner policies as a councilor and prepared to run for the next election, she and her husband were also writing the first draft of a book on environment. Their words of wisdom about the Earth persisted to spread far and wide. She also dreamed of cultivating her orchards and gardens up in Sunshine Coast with her family, in which they had affectionately named Raven’s Call. After the loss of her loved ones, Adriane deeply realized that people can only chase after their dreams and act upon them with a robust body. As for herself, it was important that she maintained healthy through consuming wholesome foods grown by herself. In doing so, she could actively actualize her life mission to prevent endangering the environment. 

Throughout the interview, Adriane was easy-going and thoughtful to our team’s questions regarding her journey. We could not help but to tell her about our own stories. Adriane displayed excellent leadership as the open conversation forced me to think twice about my own mission and what I am willing to unconditionally devote my life to like Adriane with her environmentalist vision. I was thoroughly impressed by her persistence to overcome boulders and failures for what she believed in. While she was well supported by her families, she realized what it meant to be an activist and a politician.