“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce” – Karl Marx, in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver were thrown into power in the fall of 2008 by a populace demanding change. Robertson talked about ending homelessness, creating affordable housing, and even tackling real-estate speculation. Many residents, inspired by Barack Obama’s contemporaneous campaign for President, knocked on doors for Vancouver’s would-be change-maker.
But Vision-in-power has squandered its mandate for change. Vancouver’s affordability crisis has deepened, so that people young and old can neither afford a mortgage nor rent. Outrageous land prices inflate costs across the board, from food to art. Meanwhile, Vision has refused to take bold action on affordability: nearly no new non-market housing has been built or planned; only token amounts of unaffordable market rental are on the agenda; the Olympic Village has been a social housing betrayal marketed by ‘condo king’ Bob Rennie; Council has refused to tackle speculation, while lining the pockets of speculators through massive uncontrolled upzonings; and property taxes have been repeatedly shifted from businesses to residents.
Despite these and other failures, many of us in Vancouver feel that Vision is doing a good job. And who can blame us? Vision’s pro-developer ‘veneer-reform’ is shiny enough to appease all but the most vigilant political hacks. Fool us once, shame on the developers.
But fool us twice, shame on us.
In fact, this same brand of pro-developer ‘veneer-reform’ fooled Vancouver in the 1970s. In the fall of 1972, after 35 years of dominance, the NPA was swept out of power by citizen reform movements that grew out of the struggles to introduce a ward system, to save Chinatown and ‘historic’ Gastown, and to stop real-estate corruption on the CPR lands of False Creek, Coal harbour, and Kitsilano.
Three more shelters are supposed to close this week. The closures seem inevitable, but they are not.
Today, people living at the three remaining shelters are organized and are planning to fight back. We can remember clearly the same situation last year: when Central Shelter residents responded to the closure of their shelter by announcing a tent city, the government was forced to change plans. Central is still open to this day, even though it was a so-called “seasonal” shelter. More recently, the scheduled closure of New Fountain shelter this month was put on hold after protests at City Hall and throughout Vancouver.
People want to stay at the remaining shelters, but they will need enough support because when they walk out of the shelters looking for a place to set up tents and structures on sidewalks and alleys, they will now be automatically responsible for a $1000 fine: last week Mayor Gregor Roberston and Vision passed a law that bans tent cities in Vancouver. This is why today, when seniors, shelter residents, supporters and media gathered for a press conference about the tent city outside the Cardero Shelter, dozens of police arrived to intimidate, monitor and film from across the boulevard. When the police cameras are pointing, and when cops arrive to instill fear and make shelter residents disperse under the pressure of surveillance and authority, supporters need to be there arm in arm. When the police say to the media, “trust us, they are criminals,” we have to say in return: “trust us, they are criminals.”
The City of Vancouver currently has the lowest business taxes in the world. A report published by the global financial auditor KPMG places Vancouver first out a list of 41 global cities. The main finding of the report, called “Competitive Alternatives 2010 Special Report: Focus on Tax,” is that Vancouver has a tax system more favorable to corporations and the wealthy than anywhere else in the world.
Although the report was released last May, including a press release, it has not received attention in Vancouver’s corporate and alternative press. Instead, local media have placed the international rankings spotlight on Vancouver’s real-estate market, with wide reports that people living in Vancouver currently experience one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world. It is becoming common knowledge that through high-profile events like the Olympics – which the real-estate executives termed a “$6b ad campaign” for Vancouver – the municipal government has been making an effort to attract global financial investment to Vancouver, with direct effects on the cost of housing. The important background of this policy, however, has been the creation of a corporate sanctuary – the national and global elites are being drawn to Vancouver for its low levels of taxation.