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Hello, my name is Chanel Ly. As a settler born here in Vancouver, I would like to acknowledge the territories that we are on – the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam nations. I want to first say that I fully support the low-income caucus and their position. I urge Council to adopt the 60-40 rule and to require 5,000 units of self-contained housing at income assistance rates within 10 years. I also strongly urge you to fund an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre with intergenerational housing as a quick-start action.

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Kelvin Bee, Kwakwaka’wakw Aboriginal Front Door elder, his son Hank,
and Victoria Bull, stand before Vancouver City Council on Saturday
Photo by Erica Holt

After three days of public hearings, Vancouver city council has approved the Downtown Eastside local area plan. The LAP is a 30-year plan for real estate development in the Downtown Eastside, with the aim of accommodating more than 8,850 new condominium dwellers and 3,300 high income renters while dispersing at least 3,350 low-income residents out of the neighbourhood.

Councillors from the rightwing NPA and Vision Vancouver unanimously voted in favour of the plan.

A dissenting vote was cast by Adriane Carr of the municipal Greens, along with more than eighty low-income residents and their supporters. Throughout the public hearings, residents and community activists called for the protection of affordable housing, a definition of social housing that does not exclude poor people, the replacement of run-down SROs and the construction of new social housing in the Downtown Eastside. These demands circulated through a 3,000-signature petition.

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Today, Vancouver’s City Council, Parks Board, and School Board are all controlled by a relatively new party called Vision Vancouver. How did this party rise from nothing in 2005 to edge out the once mighty COPE, then soundly defeat the NPA three short years later in 2008? This article tells the story of how the threat of a truly left-wing COPE caused Vancouver’s corporate elite to focus their efforts on infiltrating the party. This led to their facilitating the exodus of the right-wing of COPE into a new corporate party, first called the Friends of Larry Campbell, run by Geoff Meggs, and then named Vision Vancouver.

The implosion of the NPA

Since its formation in 1886, Vancouver’s City Hall has been dominated by business elites and real-estate magnates. In 1937, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) was formed in reaction to workers and tenants successfully organizing and campaigning under the banner of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. For almost seventy years, the NPA represented the interests of Vancouver’s real-estate industry at City Hall.

In 2001, however, a coup was being staged that would completely dismantle the party. NPA stalwarts such as six-term councilor, Gordon Price, jumped ship. A younger and more right-wing city councilor, Jennifer Clarke, positioned herself to take over as de facto party leader. The NPA’s leader, Philip Owen, who had been mayor for eight years, was suddenly excommunicated. Numerous factors were at play. One likely reason for the split was that Clarke and her supporters within the NPA couldn’t accept Owen’s liberal stance on drug addiction, but there were also deep personal conflicts. As Frances Bula wrote for the Vancouver Sun in 2002:

“It was a rupture that affected not just political alliances but very personal ones among the small world of Vancouver’s elite and its old-money families, and what conflicting versions were at play. It came at the end of months of increasing estrangement among the various parties. And it descended, at times, to levels that made it look more like the Divorce from Hell than politics.”[1]

EDITORIAL. This year marks 100 years since the dispossession of the Kitsilano Reserve. Today also marks the renewed displacement and dislocation of diverse communities in East Vancouver, with the intensification of  land struggles in Grandview-Woodlands and the Downtown Eastside, two areas of the city with diverse indigenous communities. This article argues that the 1913 destruction of the Kitsilano reserve is connected to the present through a past that has, in fact, never been resolved.


False Creek Indian Reserve, Granville and C.P.R. Kitsilano bridges, the McCreery and Johnston residences and a cannery ca. 1880 [1]

In 1971, the Downtown Eastside was officially designated a “historic area” in the City of Vancouver. In addition to neighborhoods like Shaughnessy — which for decades received special status for planners and politicians — Gastown was singled out as a founding neighborhood of the city. Today Gastown is the epicentre of city-backed revitalization, pushing into neighbouring areas DTES and Grandview Woodlands,  with a concerted attempt by planners to make the old into the new. The attempt to repackage the past, however, makes the real stakes of history more relevant than ever.

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This weekend, Vancouver’s left-wing municipal party will hold its annual general meeting at the Maritime Labour Centre. Before hundreds of Vancouverites file into the 600-capacity hall, I want to reflect on “what now” and “what next” for COPE. My hope is to place COPE within the larger history of Vancouver’s political struggles — in particular the unnamed struggle between the political masses and the rich who oppose them.

Brief history: 1968 — Present

The Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE) was formed in 1968 by organized labour, tenant organizers, and socialists. In 1993 the party was was renamed the Coalition of Progressive Electors, signaling the entry of social movements emergent since the 1960s, including feminist, anti-racist and peace movements rooted in Vancouver.

Throughout its history, the party has been known for its fight to defend public funding for transit and housing, rent control in the 1970s, radical demands for full employment in the 1980s, and more recently, a Sanctuary City policy to confront Harper’s policing and anti-immigrant agenda.

Mass-based and membership-driven, COPE brings together social movements, organizations and communities from across the city. In that spirit, COPE has also struck electoral agreements with Greens and the civic NDP since 1980. At the turn of the 21st century, however, groups within COPE began to argue that the principle of coalition-building should be extended to Vancouver’s business community and developer class.

Most of the few remaining rights and affordable housing that tenants have in British Columbia were earned by working class activists and renters in the 1970s. This piece, written in 1981 by former housing activist and COPE City Councilor Bruce Yorke, provides some insight into the local past. It documents struggles that won tangible victories in the late ’60s and ’70s, while hinting at how new ground can be won today. In the context of unending evictions, a neoliberal municipal government, and a right-shifting provincial NDP under Adrian Dix, tenants must now more than ever take to the streets, organize buildings, and look land-owning interests straight in the eyes.

-Editors

The pioneer and leader of the tenants’ movement in B.C. was the Vancouver Tenant Council established in 1968. This was an individual membership organization with membership dues at $2.00 a year. The fees were used to set up an office with a phone.

In August, 1968, we held our first meeting of tenants. It was at the Driftwood apartment in Kitsilano. I took the initiative in calling that meeting. The main issue disturbing tenants was a 5% increase in rents imposed on very short notice, plus a rather insulting letter from Block Brothers.

The meeting was held at Kitsilano Beach. About 75 tenants attended. Alderman Harry Rankin was also there and gave us his support.

The media coverage of this meeting created a lot of interest and led to many telephone enquiries.

We didn’t win that battle but we did establish the fact that tenants were determined to get organized and make their voices heard.


Yesterday Vision Vancouver released its final report on Housing Affordability in Vancouver. Shortly after being elected for a second term, Vision created an Affordability Task Force to address issues of housing affordability. The high-profile Task Force was co-chaired by the Mayor and right wing millionaire developer Olga Ilich, a former member of Gordon Campbell’s cabinet. The remaining members were comprised of fourteen Vision appointees drawn from the development industry: prominent developers, landlord lobbyists and industry insiders. Not a single renter or renter representative was appointed to the Task Force, despite the fact that renters — making up 55% of the city’s population — are the worst affected by the housing crisis.

For a long time Vancouver elites have struggled to square the circle of how to produce housing affordability without negatively affecting developer profits and property owners’ interests. The Task Force has proved no different in encountering this clash between ideal and reality, vexed by the challenge of balancing profitability with public anger about the housing crisis. That contradiction is the sharp rock upon which the Task Force is now shipwrecked. Despite Olga Ilich’s statement that “the biggest cost in Vancouver is the cost of land,” the Mayor admitted yesterday to the Province that he “doesn’t see the affordability plan having a broad impact on land values in Vancouver.”

The final recommendations of the Task Force show little advance from the neoliberal recommendations offered in the interim recommendations of last March. The first, and arguably the most disastrous for deregulating the private housing market, is a recommendation that planners abandon the city’s Inclusionary Zoning requirements. “The City’s current inclusionary zoning policy requires developers to set aside 20% of land for affordable housing,” the report states. “While this approach creates the opportunity for affordable housing development…a different approach will be needed to deliver affordability.”

Current city by-laws require 20% non-market housing in all new large-scale development projects, as well as in the DEOD (Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District). This year, however, inclusionary zoning policies have already been flouted by major city council decisions, including 800 Griffiths Way, “market rent” social housing at 955 East Hastings, and the decision to rent “social housing” for $900 per month at Sequel 138 Pantages redevelopment. The Task Force recommendation goes a step further in pushing council to put the deregulation approach into writing, thereby further lowering the bar for maintaining safeguards against privatization. The Mainlander has warned as far back as January 2011 that Vision Vancouver was planning to remove inclusionary zoning in Vancouver. This proposal will only make Vancouver more unaffordable for the long-term.