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September 26, 2005

Politics with a philosophical blend - Kwantlen Chronicle

Some Kwantlen University College students may begin next semester learning philosophy from an elected politician.

“I can’t give up teaching, I love teaching,” says Heather Harrison.

Harrison, 46, who has been a philosophy instructor at Kwantlen University College for six years, will find out sometime before the end of the month if she has been selected to run as a candidate in Vancouver’s civic elections, which are set for this Nov. 19.

If Harrison, who has never been a political candidate before, becomes one of Vancouver’s next civic councillors, she will still teach, but she won’t be able to do it full-time, she says. “Being a councillor is a lot of responsibility and a lot of work.”

Vision Vancouver – a political party that was recently created by former members of the Coalition of Progressive Electors, including mayoral candidate Jim Green, who she’s known for years – has set up a committee to select three candidates from a list of 15 nominees, which has already been halved from 30.

If elected, Harrison will be calling on her many years of political exposure dating back to her early childhood.

Harrison’s father was politically active in the New Democratic Party and, previous to 1961, in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. “He had a strong social conscience that he instilled in us,” says Harrison.

Harrison’s brother, who also found grounding in his father’s social activism, is currently working on a project with the intention of creating a genetically-modified-organism-free zone in Vancouver, she says.

Harrison’s first memorable political experience dates back to 1972 when, in her early teens, she worked on Dave Barrett’s election campaign. Barrett was the first NDP premier of B.C., serving from 1972 to 1975.

The young Harrison’s positive experience during Barrett’s campaign led her to join the Young New Democrats when she was 15, she says.

“We would go to meetings and be very serious,” she chuckles, “and come up with resolutions that we thought the NDP should listen to on issues like the environment and youth involvement and we’d go to conferences and get involved in mock parliaments.”

“It was fun, it was really fun.”

Political involvement hasn’t just been about fun for Harrison, though, despite what her laughter may suggest.

“My family is most important to me,” she says in a more passionate tone. “The way that I live my life is because I want it to be an example for my daughters. I want to demonstrate that an individual, and particularly a woman, can make a difference.” Harrison has two daughters, ages 15 and 19.

“My oldest daughter belongs to the YND, and she’s very interested in international politics and the effects of globalization on third-world countries,” says Harrison. Her volunteerism has taken her as far as Guatemala, where she’s experienced their difficulties firsthand, she says.

“She’s absolutely thrilled at the prospect that I might become a candidate,” says Harrison.

Reflecting back on herself, Harrison, who spent most her youth in the small-town community of Saanichton on Vancouver Island, thinks that abstract thinking, which she’s been practicing during years of philosophical exercise, would give Vancouver city council a valuable point of view for difficult issues.

“I love abstraction, I love to think abstractly,” she says, “though it’s really good to have people of both [abstract and concrete] sorts in politics.”

“When you think abstractly you force yourself to see how things would apply in other situations; it’s a little bit of problem solving,” says Harrison.

For example, if reality were hers to mould, Harrison would have Vancouver looking very different than it does today.

“I would organize Vancouver in such a way that people lived close to where they work and where they shop,” she says. “We’d have a very effective transportation system . . . so that we could lose our dependency on automobiles.”

Though the city would look different in these ways, Harrison thinks that some things are excellent just as they are.

“I love the cultural diversity. I just think it’s so exciting,” she says. “I think we’ve made ourselves into a world-class city with the different parts of our communities, our restaurants, our festivals . . . I think we’ve shed the old, boring Vancouver image.”

Boring as Vancouver might have been, Harrison has always tried to keep herself interested by being involved in her communities.

“I started volunteering when I was nine,” she says. “I organized a community fair with all my friends,” and the proceeds went to charity.

Since then, Harrison has volunteered for the Salvation Army, the Arts Umbrella and as a Girl Guide leader, a soccer manager and a “hotdog” mom.

Perhaps by the end of November Harrison will need to add Vancouver city councillor to that list, too.