Raymond Louie: Detailed, Hardworking, Part of the Solution
“When I was growing up, my father would say to me, you must work hard,” Vision Vancouver City Councilor Raymond Louie said over coffee at his favourite café, Laughing Bean Coffee, on Hastings and Slocan. At 8:45 AM. Louie looked handsome and poised, even after his usual hectic morning schedule of dropping his three children, aged 13, 10 and 3, off at their different schools. Known for a dry, detail-oriented approach to city government and lauded by fans as the most hard-working member of city council, the native Vancouverite talked about his career as a union leader, his achievements as a city councilor and his goals for improving city policy, if re-elected.
“I’ve been watching council for nine years and I know how the city runs. I have the benefit of history," Louie said.
Not that long ago, one may recall, Raymond Louie was running for mayor against Al De Genova and Gregor Robertson in the Vision Vancouver nomination race. He was, in the minds of some, the most experienced candidate and the most qualified. During the first debate, Louie distinguished himself when he moved from the dry exchange of barely nuanced policy differences the candidates had been stressing to the dramatic when he told a story from his youth as the son of struggling Chinese immigrants.
As he recalled that moment at the debate, Louie said he felt frustrated that he hadn’t made the points he’d really wanted to that night about what the story meant to him.
“This cookie we baked represents a penny,” Louie’s father had told him. “Alone, breaking that cookie and not having that penny is insignificant. But it’s the combination of all the cookies that gives us the opportunity for a better life. Don’t break the cookies. This is what gives us the opportunities.”
Louie paused and then made the point he felt he had missed during the debate: “You as individuals may not think that you can do a lot. But collectively we can. We represent a collective opportunity.”
“Collective opportunity” describes how he said he sees the Vision Vancouver party and its future, a future that Louie will be central to, if Gregor Robertson becomes mayor.
“We have a great leader in Gregor Robertson and a team that has been nominated by 16,000 people. It’s a positive step for Vancouver that democracy is coming to the forefront,” Louie said.
Louie was born at Vancouver General Hospital and grew up on the eastside of Vancouver near Twenty-fourth and Renfrew. His parents owned the Dell Bakery on Commercial between Gravelly and First. Louie grew up around the bakery, seeking freedom when he could. “Whenever I could escape from my chores, I’d roam around the neighbourhood and do odd jobs, photocopying at the library, or getting change from the Imperial Bank of Commerce for my dad.”
The youngest of three siblings, Louie was five when his parents bought the bakery, which remained the family business for the next twenty-five years. “It seems I forever did chores,” Louie said, “but I think I really started to pull my weight at seven or eight-years-old. I knew the neighborhood and I knew almost all of the shop owners.”
His mother was a seamstress when she immigrated from Zhongshan in Mainland China at the age of 30. Educated in Hong Kong, she had a “good core of English,” Louie said, but his father’s English wasn’t as good and he relied on him to translate. “He would pull me along with him as he did his work and tell me to tell people what he was saying.”
“I had to at some point become a little more extroverted than I naturally was. I tended to hang back and listen, even now. Unless there’s something solid to say, I don’t speak for the sake of speaking. So, being my father’s translator was a good growing experience for me. I learned how to do banking and make deposits and we were sending money back to support my aunts, uncles and grandparents in China.”
He attended Nootka elementary school and Windermere High School. While taking courses at BCIT after high school, he went to work for Mail-o-matic, mailing, inserting, managing machinery and preparing mail for the post office. “I got a car and a girlfriend. It was a good time. But I recognized I needed to do more than just work.”
He never completed college, but transferred to Pacific Press and joined the Communications Workers of America union, quickly moving up the ranks. It was the beginning his trajectory into public office. He became a national representative and went on to the position of Western Region organizer. After a heated discussion and debate at the annual convention of the union, Bill Saunders, who was Vancouver and District Labour Council President, approached him, and suggested he consider public service, Louie said. “I didn’t like the way my union was being run. I thought he was going to give me heck for the heated debates that he and I were having at the convention."