Governance & Politics
January 14, 2021

An Article of the Year: Doug Ward on Vancouver’s Housing Mess and Its Politics

It’s only mid-January, and already we have a nomination for ‘Article of the Year.’

Doug Ward’s long-form analysis in The Tyee of the No. 1 story in this town is a must-read if you want an informed perspective on the particulars of the housing challenges in Vancouver, what actions and proposals have been taken, and where the various factions on council stand.  It’s the best read so far of the political players, their motivations and critiques of each other.  It’s a lot of material to pack into a single story, and this one is as good as we’ve seen so far.

Here’s Doug’s conclusion:

The politically low-friction days of filling brown fields with new developments are over. And nowadays, almost all densification in established neighbourhoods happens on the east side of town, while on the wealthier west side, says (Andy) Yan, “The homes have become larger and emptier. It’s getting less dense.”

Something’s got to give….  (But) Stewart and his councillors have yet to forge an agenda that reflects the mood of crisis that delivered them to their posts in the first place. They have until the fall of 2022 to demonstrate otherwise.

My thoughts:

The housing challenge cannot be met within the boundaries of Vancouver.  Housing is, at minimum, a regional challenge, involving every level of government.  City of Vancouver politicians should never be so presumptuous as to think they have the levers to solve it between Boundary Road and the UEL.

Also unquestioned (even in Doug’s piece) is the presumption that the City should replace the market as the short-term determinant for housing supply and affordability.   Let’s leave aside the question as to whether that’s possible (it isn’t), the fact is that most citizens, including immigrants, would be distrustful of an ideological solution unless it manifestly benefits them directly.

It could be that city government won’t have to intervene in any major way (rezoning the city from one end to the other or budgeting to build thousands of units) so long as it can affect marginal supply at a time when more global factors align (especially interest rates and health of the economy – which influences immigration rates, domestic and foreign).  By assisting the market to strategically supply an ongoing expectation of new units (which is happening now, especially in the rental stock) in a sufficiently short period of time, the overall market may be moderated in price and scarcity to remove the issue as a political imperative.  The pandemic might do the same, but likely won’t make much of a difference in the medium term.  (It hasn’t so far.)

The hope being placed on the Vancouver Plan was naïve to begin with, and unachievable in the time left in this council’s term, especially given the disruption of the pandemic.  Trying to accommodate a visionary or ideological model of change for every neighbourhood simultaneously, especially when it involves the character or scale of a community, is simply not doable without having to pay too high a political price (assuming there is a disciplined majority willing to take the risk).

Such a city-wide plan cannot on one hand provide an overview of how growth will be accommodated (along with infrastructure and amenities) in a way that is accepted as equitable and, on the other, inform citizens on what can literally be built next door to them (which is the real purpose of zoning: to give assurance, continuity and control over the rate of change).  The Vancouver Plan has no chance of doing that, and so will be compromised into mush or deferred into the future if it isn’t abandoned.

Vancouver will muddle along, spot-rezonings and all, and manage to still end up with a remarkably successful (if expensive) city.

 

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Passing the Torch: Lessons Learned for Future Generations of Women Advocates~A conversation with Shirin Ebadi at Simon Fraser University

Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first woman appointed as judge in Iran, she was subsequently barred from her post after the Islamic Revolution on the basis of her gender. Returning to the courts as a private lawyer to defend controversial political and human rights cases led to her own incarceration and 25 days in solitary confinement. Despite these challenges, Shirin Ebadi continues to dedicate her life to fighting for human rights, especially the rights of women, children, and political prisoners. She will join us to talk about the hard-won lessons she has learned, to pass the torch to future generations of women advocates.
A zoom link will be provided to registered attendees via email.
About the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies
The Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies has been established at Simon Fraser University to encourage the academic discussion and public understanding of the cultures and societies of Muslim peoples in the past and present.

Date: Wednesday January 27, 2021

Time: 12 noon Pacific Time

You can register by clicking this link.

Images: VanityFair,LessonPlanet.com

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The Fraser River runs 1,300 kilometers from the Rocky Mountains to the Salish Sea, and creates a wide river delta that attracts millions of migrating birds.  You can walk along the Fraser River or visit the George Reifel Bird Sanctuary (call ahead for a reservation during Covid times) to see some of the millions of migrating birds that pass through this area.

Roberts Bank where the Deltaport Shipping Terminal is has mudflats that are kilometers long during low tide, and provide nutrients for over half a million Western Sandpipers daily during the spring migration. It is a highly sensitive area in terms of habitat and use.

This article in Business In Vancouver by Nelson Bennett describes a new study that has just been published in the journal Conservation, Science and Practice.  This study was undertaken by a team of University of British Columbia scientists who estimate that  “100 species in the Fraser River estuary could go extinct over the next 25 years, unless better habitat management, restoration and loss prevention is implemented in a more harmonized way”.

The species identified include  Southern Resident Orcas, the four types of local salmon~chinook, coho, chum and sockeye, and the Western Sandpiper that uses the Roberts Bank area as one of their sole feeding grounds on their migratory route.

Habitat loss is a contributing factor, as well as climate change. And the fact that nearly three quarters of the biggest cities are located on estuaries puts tremendous pressure on the biodiversity. Add in items like Deltaport’s proposed Terminal Two expansion which would take out the biofilm required for migratory birds at Roberts Bank, and you can see the pressures on this ecologically unique area.

The scientists did conclude that there was a solution, and noted that there was not one overall piece of legislation and not one overall managing governance structure for the estuary, that would represent federal, provincial and First Nations leadership.

They proposed a 25 year investment of $381 million dollars ($15 million a year) to develop an overall regulatory act and to develop a “co-management” governance system. That on a per capita basis for each person in Metro Vancouver is the equivalent of one beer a year.

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Vancouver is the only city in Canada that still has a separate park board. That means that there is a separately funded staff that exclusively  manages parks and recreational centres, and reports directly to Vancouver City Council on their budget. The mandate of the Park Board is to “provide, preserve, and advocate for parks and recreation services to benefit all people, communities, and the environment.”

Part 23 of the Vancouver Charter sets out what the Park Board does, and allows for seven Park commissioners to be elected at the same time as the City of Vancouver’s council is elected. This section is pretty clear that the mandate of the Park Commissioners is for parks, things that happen in parks and recreational activities/buildings that are associated with parks operations.

For 2020 the Vancouver Park Board had an operating budget of 136 million dollars, with 63 million dollars coming from revenue and 73 million dollars coming from taxes.  The Commissioners themselves receive $17,600 a year with the chair of the Park Commissioners receiving $22,000 a year.  The Park Commissioners meet once or twice a month and you can view their schedule here. The meetings can be a bit surprising to listen to, and it appears that sometimes the Commissioners forget that the public are listening in to their chat on Zoom.

The Park Board has been a bit of a training ground for the politically minded that then go on to try for a Councillor position at the City of Vancouver. The highly regarded Mayor Philip Owen was first a park commissioner. He went on to serve on City Council and then was elected for three terms as Mayor, in 1993, 1996, and 1999.

There are two more years before the next Civic election and that may explain some of the posturing that is being seen as Park Commissioners publicly comment on things that are clearly outside their jurisdiction.

One Park Commissioner has been making unfortunate remarks on how the City of Vancouver manages its own Slow Streets and other initiatives outside of Stanley Park, specifically on Beach Avenue.

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In the last week I wrote about the house at 2825 Clark Drive and the family, Edith, Arthur and Willie Millachip who proudly stand in front of that house in 1913. I had purchased the card with this remarkable family scene  in Prince Edward Island. After finding that the house was still standing (although now devoid of its handsome shingle style wood exterior ) readers helped me piece together their Vancouver story and find the Arlington Virginia branch of the Millachip family.

Sadly the Millachip name has died out with the demise of Arthur’s son Willie who died of tuberculosis at Tranquille B.C. at the age of 39, and with the death of Arthur’s brother John in World War One. Called “The Great War”, this conflict wiped out four members of this extended family~John Millachip and his brothers in law, George, Edmund and James Spencer.

We stand in the 21st century with not a lot of first hand stories of what happened in the First and Second World Wars. Those conflicts resulted in over 103,000 Canadian soldiers being killed with  wounded soldiers numbering over 227,000. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Kingston Ontario being wiped out, and a population the size of Abbotsford B.C. being wounded. It was a devastating loss to the economy and to the social fabric of the country.

Richard Zeutenhorst in Arlington Virginia sent me the story of Arthur’s brother John Millachip. John  had settled in  Canada along with  his brother Arthur. John was born in Britain in 1883 and immigrated to Canada  in 1911. He had married Sylvia Frederick Webb in Winnipeg in 1911. John joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force for the Great War and was in France in 1915. In 1916 He was reported missing at the Battle of the Somme and his body was never found. His widow Sylvia was an active volunteer in Vancouver and remarried in 1924.

But it was not just Arthur’s brother that died in the First World War. Arthur’s younger  sister Grace Emily Millachip had married Lieutenant George Spencer during the war, in 1915. George survived being torpedoed on a ship in February 1918 only to be fatally wounded on His Majesty’s Ship Iris in the raid on Zeebrugge. He died that day. A month later, his widow Grace had a daughter named Iris, after the ship’s name.

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City of North Vancouver Councillor Tony Valente  forwarded this event on behalf of the North Shore libraries.

How much do you know about the Indian Act? Join for an evening with Bob Joseph, Indigenous relations expert and bestselling author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, with moderator Alexander Dirksen.

Mr. Joseph will explain how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He will dissect the complex issues around truth and reconciliation and demonstrate why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Bob Joseph is a member of the Gwawaenuk Nation, is the founder and president of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., which offers training on Indigenous relations to government and corporate clients. His chief name is K’axwsumala’galis, which, loosely translated, means “whale who emerges itself from the water and presents itself to the world.”

Moderator Alexander Dirksen is a proud member of Métis Nation BC. He has diverse experience as a researcher, facilitator, public speaker, and strategist.

This event is presented in partnership by North Vancouver City Library, North Vancouver District Public Library, and West Vancouver Memorial Library.

You can register for this online webinar by clicking this link.

An evening with Bob Joseph

Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Time: 7 – 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time

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There are a whole bunch of people that have had their rights and freedoms tremendously impacted by the Covid pandemic in Canada. Those are people with disabilities and seniors that are in assisted living and long term care homes. Activist Paul Caune has drawn attention to this issue, and shared the stories of people whose quality of life and opportunity to have even the most basic interaction with caregivers, families and friends cut off due to facility precautions over the  Covid pandemic.

Journalist Daphne Bramham has written about issues for residents in George Pearson Centre that were evident even before the Covid epidemic. There have been stories written about people not able to be with their parents when they were dying  in care homes, and people in assisted living who relied on families for their basic care who have been shut out.

No one imagined that a pandemic would force the closure of these care facilities in such a way that many residents became prisoners and confined to their facilities or to their rooms during the pandemic.

In June in British Columbia  care facilities were asked to submit plans to the Province to allow one visitor at a time per resident for one half hour behind plexiglass or outdoors. Each facility has a different management plan, and family members cannot touch or assist the resident in any way.

I have written about Ontario deciding that family, comfort and care was important to facility residents. They realized that facility operators had been inconsistent in providing clear policy on visits by caregivers (including families).  Ontario is now allowing  two designated caregivers to visit at any time including during a covid outbreak subject to “direction from the local public health unit”.

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Here’s an interesting poll from Mario Canseco with Research.Co and a reminder that when the BC speculation tax was passed, there was expectation of a big revolt against it.

Journalist Ian James Young  calls it out on twitter: “has ever an issue received so much attention, and gained so little traction, as the supposed revolt-in-waiting over the BC speculation tax?”

Mr. Canseco’s poll taken in June 2020 shows that 78 percent of people in British Columbia were prepared to take the issue of foreign ownership even farther, being in support of a regulation banning  “most foreigners from purchasing real estate in Canada”.

The comparison used in the survey was the legislation in place in New Zealand that bans foreign investment by persons and corporate entities that are not vested in that country. There are some exceptions in New Zealand available for people with residency status, and Australian and Singaporean citizenship.

Mr. Canseco’s poll found support in B.C. highest among Vancouver Island residents and those aged 35 to 54 years, both at 88 percent.

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Just out from the Literary Review of Canada:

PT: Frances Bula has indispensably covered urban issues and city politics in Vancouver long enough to remember things other writers didn’t even live though much less forgot (as the review of Jesse Donaldson’s book, Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate, demonstrates).  So with her nuanced and in-depth perspective, she’s now able to piss off every side of the debate on housing affordability, development and who’s responsible.

Here are some excerpts – but go read the complete story here.

Donaldson limits his narrative to one overarching theme: that a select group of speculators have controlled this city forever. In Land of Destiny, only the names change through the decades — the general storyline stays the same. There is always a powerful group of marketers and speculators, and there is always a willing band of politicians to give them whatever is needed in order to reap the windfall.

Donaldson suggests that Vancouver’s dynamic real estate experience is unique. But that interpretation, a familiar one in an often unhappy city, where suspicion-filled and resentful narratives about development are an established noir tradition, leaves out so much. For one, Vancouver is not unique when it comes to land rushes. That’s pretty much the story of the western United States and Canada, as people scrambled to acquire property, in what were seen as newly opened and empty territories, and then market it to newcomers. Capitalism at its rawest.

Second, Donaldson doesn’t explain why the speculators were so successful here compared with other places. Many have failed at this capitalist game of creating demand where there was none before, losing fortunes as buyers failed to appear at their gimcrack Shangri‑Las. What was it about local dynamics that nurtured enough pressure on real estate that it became a reliable speculative vehicle right from the start?  (Details follow.)

 

Here’s the part of the review that I think is most salient:

A history of Vancouver real estate should give some kind of attention, at some point, to all buyers and owners, not just foreign investors. But too many of those buyers and owners are absent from Land of Destiny. Their absence becomes steadily more glaring as the chapters unfurl because local transactions are, in the end, the mechanism that makes speculation work.

She adds a quote from Los Angeles writer Mike Davis’s City of Quartz that is particularly relevant to Vancouver culture (and to the local Green Party in particular):

Davis details the way that homeowner groups of thirty years ago, using the language and often the support of the environmental movement, blocked development of lower-cost housing throughout Los Angeles: “Environmentalism is a congenial discourse to the extent that it is congruent with a vision of eternally rising property values in secure bastions of white privilege.”

And then, ka-pow:

Land of Density makes it sound like a mystery why all those politicians with real estate cronies get elected. But it’s not a mystery. A significant group of voters, the ones who have benefited from the way the current system works, keep electing them. They were mostly pleased with themselves and their foresight while Vancouver property values kept climbing. It’s only when things got a little out of hand this past decade — when suddenly neither children of the land rich nor double-income households could afford even the first rung of the homeownership ladder — that we saw some backlash from the existing owners.

It would have been nice to see that analysis and history in this book. The opportunity was there. There’s no shortage of archival news accounts of locals pushing back to keep the outsiders away, including the now-legendary comment by a west-side resident in one public hearing that a potential transportation corridor shouldn’t be allowed in her area because it is filled with the “crème de la crème.”*

Or this:

Donaldson employs language and framing that pins everything on the cabal of “others.” Real estate is controlled by “oligarchs.” Developers and politicians,

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We’re looking for a group of young people from around the world to join C40 and our global mayors in the fight against the climate crisis.

If you are: 

– Aged 14-25
– Located in a city
– Actively involved in the youth climate movement
– Supportive of inclusive and science-based climate action to limit global warming to 1.5°C
– Committed to the principles of a Global Green New Deal

Around the world, young people are demanding action on the climate crisis to secure a just, sustainable future. As the youngest generation, their lives are most at stake. Young people have put the climate emergency on the global political agenda, demanding that global leaders respond and take action in an equitable and just way. Mayors from the world’s leading cities have heard this call and agree: we must push forward with courage and ambition to change the status quo that has generated this crisis.

Now, C40 mayors are inviting young leaders from the climate movement to be a part of shaping how the vision of a Global Green New Deal can be made a reality in cities across the world.

The Global Youth and Mayors forum will bring together around 15 young people and around 10 mayors from every continent to discuss:

• How we can implement a Global Green New Deal;
• How cities can better engage and work with youth leaders on climate to push forward ambition;
• and how youth movements and mayors can work together to push forward science-based climate action and overcome opposition.

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