The State of Vancouver is Frances Bula
“I find almost everyone I deal with fascinating,” Frances Bula said over tea last summer at La Petite France on Arbutus. “I’m not the kind of person who sees the world in black and white. Other reporters are good at doing that. For me, there’s always complexities and I’m fascinated by them.”
Bula, a former Vancouver Sun reporter, now writes “The State of Vancouver,” a blog that serves up drama, comedy and character, and only occasionally slides into the dryly informational. It has stylistic touches of Jon Stewart’s comic rendering of politics mixed with shades of renowned journalist David Halberstam’s detailed reporting, splashed with brilliant characterizations reminiscent of novelist Tom Wolfe, and topped off with Oriana Fallaci’s stealthy interviewing style, all displayed on a Vancouver canvas.
Bula takes us by the arm and introduces the city’s cast of characters. She remains a detached narrator, whose record of balance makes her an ear to many, and yet also a character herself in the unfolding drama of civic politics, and perhaps, policy. But when suddenly last summer, Bula announced her resignation from The Vancouver Sun and her next entry’s headline in her Sun-sponsored City-States blog read: “A Short Good-bye,” readers freaked.
“Sucks. No other way to describe it,” reader “West End Bob” wrote as the first comment under the blog. “Now what is one supposed to do in order to get accurate, timely local news?” he asked, reflecting the sentiment of political-junkies citywide. The question around town: Where was she going? West End Bob seemed to be speaking for many when he wrote: “Send out a city-wide notice about where you're landing, Girl. We'll be there following you.”
Intense speculation began on why she had left the Vancouver Sun.
Bula started reporting for the Vancouver Sun in 1983. After years of covering the city hall beat, she began her City-States blog last year. “I started it in November with half a dozen posts. By June, I was getting 30,000 hits a month.” (For Vancouver, that’s a huge amount.)
Who else would write about Gregor Robertson looking “quite stunning in his Robertson kilt, sporran, white shirt and black vest (which he bought in Grade 12 and it still fits----how depressing.)” And who would remark that later that night the “Filipino girls went crazy for him at the dance afterwards.” And who would go on to quip: “If I were his campaign workers, I wouldn’t let him out in pubic in that outfit or he might not make it back alive.” Her fans would say: “Only Frances.”
“Vancouver is like one big giant living novel to me,” Bula said. “Every person is a real character with contradictory forces working within them.”
The central characters in Bula’s world are Gordon Campbell, Jack Poole, David Podmore, Ken Dobell, and other familiar Vancouver insiders. Carole Taylor shows up intermittently.
“They’ve all been around forever, it seems sometimes. You do end up feeling like the province is run by about twenty people who all went to high school together. It’s sort of like they came together in the late seventies and early eighties and this whole generation has been in place ever since.”
Bula, 53, is married to Doug Ward, a reporter at the Vancouver Sun who writes about American politics, federal politics and sports. “I always bounce my ideas off him. I can always thrash out an idea or tell him the latest hot piece of gossip I heard.”
Vancouver’s Joan Didion and John Dunne spend down time going to the movies. “We like to go to the film festival and see as many films as we can see in a day.” They also enjoy traveling together. “ We were in Baja in small towns in March. Last year we did a house exchange in London and traveled in Spain.”
Bula described her family as “a real Brady Bunch, but less functional in some kinds of ways.” She has a 25-year-old son, Merek, who works in the local music scene doing animation and videography. And she has three stepchildren, ages 25, 20, and 17. She also has two nieces, aged 20 and 18, who lost their mother and are a close part of the clan. The Bula bunch lives in a big, old Edwardian house in Mount Pleasant.
Bula disclosed that the Vancouver Sun offered her no buyout package. “Other people at both papers have been getting buyouts over the past few months,” she explained, “but I did not. I left strictly on my own.”
“Whether they’re (The Sun) peeved about me writing for the Globe, I don’t know. There have been a number of good people they have lost to other media outlets in the past five years and I’ve never heard any of the managers express any public regret, so it’s hard to say.”
So why did Bula walk?