December 2, 2022

Canada's Indo-Pacific Strategy signals trade as new dominant foreign policy: Analyst

While opinions on Canada’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific Strategy – released earlier this week - are mixed, one former diplomat said the commitment to focus more on the region is ultimately good news.

Omar Allam, managing director and leader of Deloitte’s global trade and investment practice, previously served as a Canadian trade diplomat in India. To him, the Strategy’s heavy emphasis on strengthening economic ties with allies and partners is a strong indication to other countries like India that Canada will be more active in their engagement in Asia.

“As a former senior trade diplomat in South India, this excites me,” Allam said of the Strategy, which had been anticipated for years by observers. “It excites me because there’s a commitment that now signals to New Delhi that Canada is committed for the long-term beyond the strength of the relationship that we have – that we are committed to re-investing in a longer-term relationship with one of the largest economies in the world.

“It’s a great signal to say, ‘We are putting our money where our mouth is,’” he added. “The key now is execution.”

The wide-ranging Indo-Pacific Strategy, split into four sections, contained various policy directives and positions. But the most salient changes made to Canada’s previous position on Asia involve China, Canada’s second-largest trade partner with whom the federal government had pursued close ties under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

That position, however, is changed dramatically in the new Strategy, with the document describing China as “increasingly disruptive” on the global stage against liberal democracies in terms of bending rules and regulations. The Strategy’s biggest financial commitment was a half-billion figure given towards military/intelligence co-operation with other allies, along with repeated emphasis that Canada will be vocal about its values to the point of challenging Beijing “in areas of profound disagreement.”

Allam noted, however, that the strategy also recognized that China has grown so big and influential that Canada and other Western countries must engage Beijing on topics such as climate change. In that sense, he said that Canada is correct in outlining areas where cooperation is beneficial to both sides – as well as recognizing the realities of a more belligerent China on the world stage.

“The reality is, Canada has got to forge ahead and advance our own interests, like in areas where we’ve got to advance our common interest [with countries like China],” he said. “... But it also requires us to re-think how we protect our national security interests. And that starts at home with domestic investments into sectors like critical minerals, cyber-security and renewable energy.”

This is where India may play a bigger role moving forward. The Strategy divided the Indo-Pacific into four main players: China, India, the “North Pacific” (Japan and South Korea) and Southeast Asia. But the Canadian bilateral trade numbers for 2011 with the three other players ($114 billion with China, $47 billion with Japan/South Korea, and $32 billion with ASEAN) dwarve the current trade figures with India ($4.6 billion in imports and $3 billion in exports).

The Indo-Pacific Strategy recognizes the potential for growth, proposing talks that would inch eventually towards a comprehensive economic partnership agreement. In the meantime, Canada said it will bolster visa-processing in India and support people-to-people exchanges to boost the number of Indian students in Canada from 650,000 figure from 2012 to 2021.

“India’s strategic importance and leadership—both across the region and globally—will only increase as India—the world’s biggest democracy—becomes the most populous country in the world and continues to grow its economy,” the Strategy said. “Canada will seek new opportunities to partner and engage in dialogue in areas of common interest and values, including security, and the promotion of democracy, pluralism and human rights.”

Allam said these are all valuable first steps towards India. Canada’s last major outreach – Trudeau’s 2018 visit to India – was controversial and featured minimal contact between the Canadian prime minister and the Indian leadership under prime minister Narendra Modi.

“Have we capitalized on opportunities and seized them fully in the Indian market? No,” Allam said. “Is there potential to grow, build and leverage our strong people-to-people, immigration, business and academic ties? Absolutely. It’s a signal of confidence to the Canadian business community... We have Indian investments flowing into Canada, and we can expand and grow based on platforms we have already developed.”

He added that the Indo-Pacific Strategy’s lack of detailed initiatives, funding and other operational processes does not concern him, because it is now up to Canada’s private sector to engage with the federal government to see what opportunities are available in the Indo-Pacific going forward. Allam also noted it would not hurt for Canada to develop similar comprehensive strategies to outline how Canadian businesses can go after other markets around the world.

“Trade is the new foreign policy,” Allam said of his ultimate takeaway from the Strategy. “And right now, for Canada, for the private sector, government, academia and science-based organizations, this needs to be the priority moving forward if we are going to be successful in implementing strategies like this.”


Vancouver Pen Shop move is another chapter in downtown decay

There is a nifty, newly-lit sign that juts on to Howe Street heralding a more spacious and modern Vancouver Pen Shop, relocated after 36 years on West Hastings. It begs a story.

The official premise for the new premises is the need for seismic upgrading at the old building. A happy coincidence can’t be denied, though: The cherished, venerable store for writing instruments and stationery gets to escape a district that is dying a death of a thousand smashed windows.

In its case, the vandalism happened five times during the pandemic – three times to its big window, twice to a smaller one. No restitution for the damage and inconvenience. All paid for out of pocket. Walk-up business withered. An overnight break-in, caught on video and called in to police by a passerby, didn’t merit a visit. To shop through much of the last three years, you had to wait at a secured gate. It had come to that.

It has indeed come to the point that the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), historically focused on promoting commerce as a super-booster of businesses already generally afloat, has found itself in these circumstances touting its arrival in the restoration and security business. It is granting businesses half of their costs to a maximum $5,000 of repairing busted windows, doors, removing or coating graffiti, and installing cameras, shutters or gates.

Its bright and candid CEO, Nolan Marshall III, only 18 months removed from New Orleans, has left for Los Angeles. The allure is a nice new job in an upbeat development. Can you blame him?

The challenge of Vancouver’s core is layered in long-term socio-economic problems of trauma and inequity compounded in the short-term by decamped offices and an amortized Downtown Eastside (DTES). Where it was once open for business, it is now open for drug use. For better and worse, where there was once a policy of containment, there is now unhinged rupture.

The arrival of COVID-19 prompted the departure of the weekday occupants, and many haven’t returned and may never. The Altus Group commercial real estate firm in recent weeks reported a two-decade office vacancy high of 11.5 per cent, more than triple the pre-pandemic level. The last three years proved many white-collar jobs can be performed remotely, too late to staunch the arrival of more office space, so many sublets are on offer. A recession would create many more, and it is difficult to see how and when the recent breadth of new towers will again be coveted or constructed. 

The conditions on the streets shifted when the coronavirus struck. Buildings emptied, tourist traffic cratered, outdoor West Hastings life densified, crime (particularly open crime) rose, tents smothered the sidewalks, and even authorities wouldn’t tackle them. The most fearful of the homeless population sprawled into less threatening new precincts to the west and south. 

The previous civic administration viewed the pain of those at a disadvantage as more important to address than any pain of those with economic stakes in the downtown, and there is an argument that its choice to shrug off the grievances was the issue that lost it the election.

The new mayor, Ken Sim, campaigned on hiring 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses to bolster the response to complaints of official indifference. The round number, even its feasibility, was less important politically than the initiative’s psychology, because it sounded to so many as so much better than sitting still. Like most simple pledges, it is quickly found to be more complex to deliver than it sounds, so it will take time to fund and find the professionals.

Even slower to arrive will be the remedies promised by the new premier, David Eby, who in his whirling dervish first weeks of office has decided he will take the lead in addressing the multi-faceted challenges of the DTES. This is smarter than the city’s longtime pretence that it could champion change without the clout or resources of a senior government. Recall, we once had a mayor who promised an end to homelessness.

In taking this on and in trying to make the problems truly go away, Eby will need new or enhanced strategies on mental health, on addictions, on policing, on education, on housing, on reconciliation, on urban planning, on sentencing and on income support. He likely will also need to be premier until his young children can vote for him. 

He has not gone as far as the New York City mayor in promising to take the seriously mentally ill off the streets and into involuntary hospitalization. But he has posited the need for involuntary or mandatory treatment in mental health-care support and proposed involuntary treatment for those who repeatedly overdose. 

If he can deliver this mammoth systemic reshaping of the DTES and does not want a resurgence, he will need to apply the remedies elsewhere in the province and pray that other premiers take his lead in their jurisdictions. To cite Dr. Gabor Maté, the city’s prominent expert on addictions, the concerns are Canada’s and not the Downtown Eastside’s – it’s just that those affected and afflicted find the safest, most amenable environment here to live with their struggles.

Speaking of Canada, anyone recall Justin Trudeau’s last visit to DTES? Anyone? Were this Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa, we would have ages ago seen the compassionate equivalent of the Emergencies Act to combat the problems. Instead, our money is poured into the district with no meaningful turnaround of lives or optimism of outcomes, in the hope the tinderbox doesn’t explode and in the obliviousness of the knock-on effects in a wide radius in the downtown.

Eby and Sim are at least apprehended with the problems. But until authorities deliver consequential fixes to the systems with more than patchwork prescriptions, there will be more Vancouver Pen Shops scurrying for higher ground to dodge the flood of anguish. 

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.


Map: You can take a self-guided Christmas cocktail tour through Candytown in Vancouver

A very merry Christmas 🍸🎄

Five restaurant bars are participating in a self-guided cocktail tour through Yaletown as part of the Candytown winter festival | Image: @iyaletown/Instagram

Candytown is coming to Vancouver.

The free outdoor winter festival has taken over Yaletown every year since 2012 with all sorts of family-friendly holiday activities, from roaming characters to live music to horse carriage rides.

There year, there will also be live ice sculpting, a photo booth, and a huge street market. Plus for visitors 19+ a self-guided cocktail tour.

This weekend (Dec. 3 and 4) visitors can wander the event while stopping in at the neighbourhood's restaurants and bars to enjoy a festive-themed cocktail.

Sciué, an Italian bakery, is the furthest out and will be mixing up an Amaretto Italian Cream Soda with Amaretto, Chocolate syrup, Milk, Soda, whipped cream, and cocoa powder, topped with crumbled Amaretti biscuits.

Hapa Izakaya will be pouring "Candy'd" Ginger Hi which is a play on the traditional Japanese hi-ball while Sushi Maro is serving up a Rainbow Magic Martini, an intriguing mix of vodka, sourpuss, and baileys with a sprinkled rim. 

MeeT Yaletown next door will also have a special Christmas cocktail, but the details are= yet to be announced. 

Down the road, the Opus Hotel will be creating a Blue Iceberg cocktail that shimmers with edible glitter and has a veritable sweet shop's worth of blue raspberry candy on the side inspired by the bartender's trips to the PNE with their siblings (it even has cotton candy). Think a blue margarita with red berry Ciroc, Absolut, triple sec, lemon and lime juice, and agave syrup. 

You can see a map of all the participating spots here:

Vancouver Is Awesome



Free outdoor skating rink in iconic downtown Vancouver square returns

Vancouver may not have frozen ponds, but there'll still be outdoor skating downtown

Robson Square Ice Rink | Photo: Ross Durant Photography/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Want to strap knife shoes to your appendages and slide around on concrete-like frozen water outside?

If so, the Robson Square Ice Rink is opening again.

The outdoor skating rink in downtown Vancouver will be open to folks starting Thurs., Dec. 1.

It's free to skate if you have your own skates; if not it's $5 for skate rentals, or $2 for ice cleats (not to be used to create an ice World Cup). Skate sharpening will be available occasionally as well, for $5. Helmets are free with skate rentals, as well and they are mandatory for anyone 12 or under.

Organizers note there are several safety recommendations and rules for rink users. To that end, they've introduced a liability and waiver agreement, which people will be required to sign.

The rink will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays until Feb. 28, 2023. Specific holiday hours are as follows:

  • Dec. 24 — 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Dec. 25 — Noon. to 5 p.m.
  • Dec. 26 — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Dec. 31 — 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Jan. 1, 2023 — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The rink may also have an altered schedule if it gets warm, in which case it may close early or not open at all.

Organizers are planning a 12 Days of Christmas event as well, with live music from 6 to 9 p.m. each night from Dec. 13 to 24. A detailed schedule is coming.

Vancouver Is Awesome



This charming Vancouver neighbourhood will transform into a festive musical town next month

Gastown by day, Giftown by night.

Gastown will turn into a festive musical holiday town called Giftown every Thursday night in December from 5 to 7 p.m. | Photo: Gastown BIA

A Vancouver neighbourhood will transform into a festive musical town for the holiday season. 

Starting in December, Gastown will be adorned with mistletoe, roaming carollers will fill the streets with song, and ballet dancers will twirl in store window displays as part of the holiday wonderland called Giftown. 

Giftown will pop up each Thursday night of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. and will include whimsical performances, interactive window displays featuring dances, Indigenous-led storytelling, roaming carollers and Mariachi band, and late-night shopping events.

The festive event kicks off on Dec. 1 with a free ballet interpretation of the Nutcracker in four 20-minute performances throughout the evening at Inform Interiors' New York City-inspired storefront. 

Another window display performance will take place on Dec. 8 at the Centre of International Contemporary Art located on Abbott Street, decorating the storefront with contemporary dancers and musicians. 

Down the street, locals can enjoy Indigenous-led storytelling and singing by Haida, Squamish, and Musqueam First Nations storyteller Kung Jaadee at Hershel Supply Co. 

A local brass band will also be roaming through Giftown on opening night and spreading around New Orleans-style cheer. On Dec. 15, a Mariachi band will be marching through the neighbourhood and playing tunes by the Gastown Steamclock. 

Romance will be in the air over the holidays too.

Lovebirds can kiss their way through Gastown on a romantic scavenger hunt for 10 hidden mistletoe, plus 150 small mistletoe hung in each storefront. The mistletoe will be up until Jan. 6, 2023. 


When: Thursday nights, Dec. 1-22, 2022; 5-7 p.m. 

Where: Gastown

Cost: Free

Vancouver Is Awesome



What are we reading? December 1, 2022

Photo: guvendemir, E+, Getty Images

Each week, BIV staff will share with you some of the interesting stories we have found from around the web.


Glen Korstrom, reporter:

The volatile U.S. dollar has caught my attention. 

With Canadian inflation in part impacted by the high U.S. dollar, it is good news that the greenback in November had its worst month against a basket of foreign currencies since September 2010. 

This followed what had been a huge 16 percentage point gain against that basket of currencies in the first 10 months of the year. This piece offers economist predictions for where the U.S. dollar goes from here. – Barron’s


I hadn’t realized how conservative Qatar is culturally until FIFA pivoted and banned alcohol sales in stadia two days before the World Cup began. This piece written by a former U.S. expat in Qatar illuminates what it is like to live in the emirate, and how ex-pats are able to drink if they get employers to authorize that they are eligible to get state-issued liquor licences for their homes. – New Yorker


Timothy Renshaw, managing editor:

Believe it or not, the global environmental file is not all red alerts, five-alarm fires and end of the world as we know it hysteria. Here is a roundup of reasons to be cheerful – or at least less depressed – courtesy of,a%20report%20from%20Ember%20shows.


And to keep that faith in humanity ball rolling for a bit longer before we head back down the mineshaft of bad news, here is an inventory of top tech, science and other innovations from the past year. – Popular Science


But never mind all of that. What you really want to know is: What is the word of the year for 2022? Here it is, according to the University of Cambridge.


Nelson Bennett, reporter:

Even God doesn’t like Donald Trump anymore. Or at least some of his most ardent devotees in the U.S. – evangelicals – may be losing faith in The Donald. Evangelical Christians in the U.S. make up an estimated one-third of Republicans in the U.S., and constituted one of the former president’s most important bases. But now even some evangelical Christians are having second thoughts about Donald Trump returning to the White House. David Lane, an influential pastor in the U.S., recently told his 70,000 followers that Trump’s “penchant for settling political scores and his compulsion to keep the spotlight upon himself have both become threadbare and trite.” – Religion News


While the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. could benefit some Canadian clean-tech companies, other sectors worry the lavish subsidies for decarbonization could put Canadian industries at a disadvantage – oil and gas companies wanting to invest in carbon capture and storage, for example. So far, Canadian politicians haven’t said much about the U.S. subsidy plan, but French President Emmanuel Macron is now raising concerns about the impact the IRA’s lavish subsidies for American businesses may have on European companies. He warns the IRA “will fragment the west.” – The Financial Post