Drapeau’s fate may rest on the Games, but the world’s rests on Habitat

Allan Fotheringham May 3 1976

Drapeau’s fate may rest on the Games, but the world’s rests on Habitat

Allan Fotheringham May 3 1976

Drapeau’s fate may rest on the Games, but the world’s rests on Habitat

Allan Fotheringham

One day, when you and I were young, Maggie, I was driving across the spine of Italy on a Versa scooter, winding my way through the Apennines from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean side of the boot. I stopped in a mountainside café for lunch. The proprietor was interested in a wandering Canadian, for he had relatives here and had spent a few years in Australia earning a stake but had to return to Italy to care for aging parents. He talked of how his dream to move to Canada had now been crushed and he concluded, “It is not right&mash;that you people should have so much and we have so little.” He did not say it bitterly. Just a simple statement of fact: “It is not right.”

Of course it is not right and, in one of the more closely held secrets of our time, an event is sneaking up on Canada that could do something to correct the imbalance. The ineptitude of Ottawa and the petulance of parish politicians have kept the fact largely hidden from public view, but the largest United Nations conference ever held anywhere in the world is about to burst upon the foreheads of the unknowing news editors of the nation. The whole country knows about the $900-million fiasco of the Olympics. Two weeks of July dedicated to the celebration of the jock and Jean Drapeau’s ego. Almost no one knows about the two weeks of June in Vancouver that might do something to awaken those of us so overprivileged we cannot see the underprivileged closing in on us.

The event in question is Habitat, the UN conference on human settlements. Son of the Stockholm environment conference. Cousin to the Bucharest conference on world population. Descendant of the Rome food conference. Related to the rancorous Mexico City conférence on the status of women. Vancouver, heretofore famous only for rain, is about to enter the list of those geographical catch-names that includes Potsdam, Yalta and Bretton Woods. No one knows where they are but everyone talks about them. The story of how Habitat staggered to the starting gate reads something like an international Perils of Pauline. Star roles are played by the fumble of Ottawa and the stumble of Vancouver. And it’s not exactly as if there wasn’t sufficient advance warning, since the whole thing started in 1972 when the Stockholm gathering focused on world concern for the environment. In one of the great ironies of our time, it was Dr. Victor Goldbloom (the poor Quebec minister now salvaging the Olympic farce) who suggested to UN delegates that Canada would

host the follow-up in 1976. Maurice Strong, the Manitoba school dropout who became the UN environment czar (and who some think would like to be prime minister after he finishes his-Petro-Can duties) pushed Canada’s offer. Since Montreal was getting the Olympics and Toronto the UN crime conference, it was decided dreamy Vancouver would get Habitat.

Then follows chaos, as only sleepwalking bureaucrats can induce it. Ottawa first split the responsibilities between two departments—External Affairs and Urban Affairs—with the result that nothing got done. Patrick Reid, who hosted Canada’s show at the Osaka world’s fair, was put in charge. He left. Diplomat John Dougan was put in charge. He left. With Habitat arrangements foundering, Jim MacNeill, an undersecretary in Urban Affairs, was shoved into the spot as Canadian commissioner-general so the UN finally could get some answers. Next, there was the incredible Liberal waffle on backing out of hosting the UN crime conference in Toronto as Ottawa caved in to pressure from the Canadian Zionist community on the Palestine Liberation Organization issue. And when the Third World countries pushed through that ridiculous UN resolution equating Zionism with fascism,.Urban Affairs Minister Barney Danson, a Jew himself, tried to hand in his resignation to Trudeau as host of the Habitat show.

The Ottawa fumblers were followed by

the Vancouver stumblers. Mayor Art Phillips, whose philosophical meanderings have earned him the title of Mr. PhlippPhlopp, suddenly reversed his field. Giving in to the persuasion of a Zionist woman he had appointed to a civic board, the mayor had his council vote 9-1 to cancel Habitat. (The mayor shrewdly relied upon BC’S well-known xenophobia: there are still citizens praying it will rain the entire May 31-June 11 period for fear world TV will show Vancouver in its full glory and even more outsiders will want to live there.) The mayor’s reputation remained consistent when his council reversed itself weeks later bút at this stage, last November, Dr. Goldbloom’s brave 1972 idea seemed about in the same sump hole as Olympic planning.

The man credited with finally turning Vancouver public opinion around is far off the UN pecking order. He is AÍ Clapp, a 46year-old former TV producer who dresses like Charlie Farquharson and burns with the dreams of a zealot. By guile, wit and a ferocious temper, Clapp has become guru of Habitat Forum,a parallel conference of some 250 international organizations that will run in conjunction with the formal UN sessions in Vancouver. Clapp, on a mere $875,000 in federal money based on a LIP grant, converted an RCAF seaplane base on Jericho Beach, a site with the most spectacular 180-degree view in Vancouver of harbor and mountains. Using pensioners, welfare recipients and prison inmates—in the meantime fighting off neanderthal union leaders—he has taken recycled materials and native artists to convert the base into a people place that will demonstrate to the 142 invited countries that the urban environment need not be all blacktop and neon. With his intellectuaU’Woodstock,” he has stolen the show from the UN before the show has opened and he has awakened Vancouver. Danson, having been persuaded that it took more courage to stay than to run, has become an eager booster now.

It was in Stockholm that the cause of the ecofreaks became respectable. In Vancouver, the cause of the UN will be at stake. A January poll showed only 28% of Canadians thought the UN was doing a good job, compared to 54% in 1961. Justas Montreal in July undoubtedly will mark the end of the wild extravaganza style of Olympic Games, Vancouver in June with a successful conference could make the cause of ugly cities a world concern and boost the sagging prestige of the UN itself. With a little bit of luck and sunshine.