The decrease in permanent immigration and simultaneous explosion of the number of migrant workers is not, as some might contend, a reflection of a ‘broken’ immigration system. The temporary foreign worker program is a system of managed migration perfected to ensure the steady supply of cheap labour within neoliberalism while further entrenching racialized citizenship. What happens to migrant workers should matter to all of us because dispossession, labour flexibility, and hierarchical social relations are central to how capitalism and colonialism marginalize various communities.
Few feel that the construction of the Canada Line was a positive experience for local residents, merchants and taxpayers, but Vancouver’s current developer friendly City Council feels that it deserves to be replicated on the Broadway corridor between Clark Drive and UBC.
According to the Metro’s summary of the report that Council warmly received, it will cost $2.8 billion to provide Broadway corridor rapid transit. The line will simply have to run through a tunnel. Whereas to run at-grade transit or elevated rapid transit, “it would remove 90 percent of parking, restrict turning at 90 percent of intersections, narrow sidewalks and chop trees.” In the City transportation director’s own words, “[i]n fact, the entire corridor would have to be rebuilt from building face to building face.”
Translink has announced that in the new year it will raise fares by 10% to 12.5%. But these fare increases are not fair, and the rationale is not rational at all.
With the cost-of-living rising faster than wages, many working people don’t have money left over for transit. The fare hikes will only push the working poor deeper into debt. Even worse, for those living in the suburbs and commuting to work in Vancouver, the increase in the 3-zone fare to $11 per round-trip is atrocious. It means that for those working at minimum wage, their commute will cost them more than an hour’s wage everyday. Further, this $11 roundtrip fare is one of the highest costing work commutes in North America.
Vision Vancouver has recently approved a long-term transportation plan. One of the stated aims of the plan is to increase the percentage of foot, bike and transit trips in Vancouver from 44 to 66% by 2040. Is this one of those “radical plans to attack motorists,” as the editors of the Province claim? Certainly not. Despite a dramatic lack of public funding for transit, Vancouver is already in the midst of a long-term shift away from primary dependence on the private automobile.
The plan is alarming, but not because it represents a “war on the car.” In keeping with the BC Liberals’ premise of austerity and declining public funding, the 2040 plan adopts TransLink’s logic of regressive fees and privatization. Vancouverites should reject the plan first because it accepts the provincial government’s framework of neoliberal financing for buses and trains.
The 2040 Plan is also a developers’ Charter of Rights dressed up as a transportation plan. Under the rubric of transit-oriented development (TOD), the plan delivers a reckless blank slate to developers at the expense of housing affordability. Among other things it builds an umbilical cord between transit funding and new high-priced market condo development. This strategic move by developer-backed Vision goes beyond the policy framework of the BC Liberals pioneered by Kevin Falcon, which ties transit development directly to the private development industry. By approving the 2040 plan the city is positioning itself politically to the right of the provincial government, rejecting the notion of a commercial property tax increase in a city with the second-lowest combined corporate tax rates in the world.
Recently Vancouver’s ruling party, Vision Vancouver, appears to be working at cross purposes with itself. On one hand, it is pursuing the most aggressively pro-development, pro-demolition agenda in the city’s history, far more expansive and ambitious than Gordon Campbell’s NPA-sponsored development orgy of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. On the other, it has undertaken one of the most enterprising and comprehensive public consultation processes the city has ever seen around issues of governance, planning and development. Local area planning and citizen engagement processes seem to be a genuine priority for Gregor Robertson and his council majority. Meanwhile, neighbourhood activists throughout the city with concerns about densification, demolition, renoviction and gentrification are being actively courted as stakeholders in creating official local area plans.
Moves toward accelerated development would seem to contradict the active involvement of opponents in official long-term neighbourhood plans, consultations, planning commissions and the like. The contradiction is less sharp than we might think when we begin to recognize how and why Third Way governments use public consultation processes.
Third Way-ism is a fairly young political tradition. Developed by Britain’s “New” Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 1990s, it became the label under which previously social democratic parties could enact conservative or neoliberal policies. In a post-Cold War era, where the incentive for corporate capital to tolerate the existence of welfare states had suddenly disappeared, Third Way-ism was nothing short of essential to the survival of First World social democratic parties, as well as that of centrist brokerage parties like the US Democrats and Canadian Liberals.
It’s nice that people are rising to the defence of the CBC, which has genuinely been in the Harper government’s crosshairs from day one. But I find the rhetoric of this Reimagine CBC project perplexing and more than a little problematic. Its primary mission is clearly to rally Canadians behind the CBC as the Conservatives proceed to slash the much-loved Crown Corporation’s budget. The campaign has undertaken a “crowdsourcing” effort to address some of CBC’s deficiencies and channel the institution into the 21st century. But the overall tone of the project is much more laudatory than critical, and this prismatic “reimagining” actually amounts to little more than a tepid request that the government reverse the cuts and the CBC tweak its programming strategy.
This Tuesday, the Vision-controlled City Council struck a developer-run “affordable housing” task force. The public debate surrounding the affordability crisis has begun in earnest – and that is a great thing. Unfortunately, the discussion has been largely limited to pundits in the corporate media and rich people who work in the development industry — none of whom have have direct experience dealing with the affordability crisis. The vast majority of their professional and friendship networks are totally disconnected from the front lines of eviction and tenure insecurity.
As a result, much public commentary has been out-of-touch and condescending. The quality of recommendations has been substandard, the argumentation lazy, all this grounded in a position of apathy. For example, Gary Mason published a piece in the Globe and Mail this morning entitled “Living in Vancouver comes at a price,” which begins by recognizing that we are in the midst of an affordability crisis:
“Most of the world’s major cities are trying to solve this problem – in the most politically palatable way possible. In Canada, the issue is particularly acute in markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, where real-estate prices long ago made home ownership a dream for everyone except the wealthy.”
First we should note that Mason’s main, though concealed, argument here is that Vancouver’s housing problem is no different from that of any other major city. This is decidedly false. The disparity between median income and median market housing price is larger in Vancouver than every other city on the planet except for Hong Kong. But then Hong Kong has 1.2 million units of public housing, which house 40% of the population. Just this week, a report came out showing that Vancouver has the highest rent in Canada. While most readers will know all this intuitively — many of us adapt to the crisis by multiple-subletting and by sleeping in attics, basements, on couches, floors – it’s necessary to cite these figures to remind out-of-touch elites that the crisis is systemic. The situation in Vancouver is not healthy and normal. It is pathological and exploitative.
Mason then addresses some policy approaches he has heard circulating in elite circles: 1) “subsidized” housing on city land, 2) rezone certain areas for more townhouses, and 3) co-op housing.