The Fight HST movement engaged much of the electorate, who were furious that the BC Liberals campaigned against the tax in April 2009 only to go-ahead with it a week after the election.

The Liberals first claimed that the people just didn’t see the benefits. But the more Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen talked, the more clear it became that their lie was deliberate, and that the the HST shifted burden from large corporations to working people.

The campaign against the tax began with over 1500 volunteers collecting signatures in April of 2010. Volunteers waived signs, canvassed, and collected signatures for five months to meet the strict BC Elections requirements for petitions. In total, more than 700,000 voters signed the petition. The moment will go down in the books as the first successful attempt at forcing a referendum in B.C. history.

For their part, the BC Liberals worked with their friends at the BC Chamber of Commerce and large extractive corporations to unsuccessfully challenge the Fight HST referendum in court. Hoping to wait out the crisis, the Liberals announced that the forced referendum wouldn’t be held until fall 2011. But polls showed that people didn’t forget the betrayal, with Campbell’s approval rating falling below 10% by the time he was forced to resign Nov 3rd 2010.

The tax has been haunting the BC Liberal leadership race. The primary strategy for candidates over the past month has been to

Image by Murray Bush / Vancouver Media Coop

This is the second of five installments of our “Top Stories of 2010″ countdown. Here we tell the story of how the announcement of the “BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry” and of “Project Sister Watch” were made possible only by the constant advocacy of aboriginal women.

None of these stories would have unfolded or seen the light of day in the absence of community organizing and grassroots activism. The take-home-message of 2010, it seems, is that activism can be effective while defining who we are.

On September 27 2010, the BC Provincial government finally announced an official commission charged with investigating the failure of the police to respond meaningfully to reports of missing women in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside between 1997 and 2002.

The commission has come far too late, is too small in scope, and is chaired by the wrong person. But it is important to recognize that its existence is owed to the persistent advocacy of community activists. The Women’s Memorial March, for example, has continued to be held in the Downtown Eastside on Valentine’s Day annually since 1991.

Community activist Gladys Radek maintains that at least 3,000 indigenous women have gone missing in Canada since the 1970s. Over the years, her organization Walk4Justice has organized several treks to raise awareness of the fact that the Pickton murders are only the tip of the iceberg.

This is the first of five installments of our “Top Stories of 2010” countdown. None of these stories would have unfolded or seen the light of day in the absence of community organizing and grassroots activism.

In 2010, BC Liberal Education Minister Margaret MacDiairmid continued Gordon Campbell’s attrition policy aimed at undermining pubic education. Underfunding rocked school districts across the province. Parents organized against the cuts, and their campaign forced MacDiarmid to at least temporarily reverse cuts to the Annual Facilities Grant.

While many elected school trustees across the province timidly implemented the cuts, the Vancouver School Board (VSB), which had a $17M funding shortfall, fought back. On April 4th, VSB Chair Patti Bacchus suggested that MacDiarmid resign for denying the funding crisis. On April 10th, MacDiarmid asked the Comptroller General to “review” VSB finances. The VSB found out about the review through the media, for which MacDiarmid had to apologize. Bacchus emphasized that the real issue – provincial underfunding – was excluded from the scope of the review.

Gregor Robertson’s 2008 campaign for Mayor rode the Obama wave. At the time, however, positive comparisons between the two were decidedly false. Ironically, present criticisms of the American president apply equally to Vancouver’s Mayor.

In 2008, Obama was an eloquent and inspiring speaker, and Gregor an embarrassing one. I attended an early Robertson campaign event in the Dowtown Eastside, after which the 70-year-old woman sitting next to me remarked with conscious understatement: “not very inspiring, is he?”

Obama was a thinker — almost a pop-philosopher! And while Obama cultivated a blank-slate image onto which voters could project their hopes and dreams, Gregor could not escape the perception that the blank-slate was between his ears.

The most realistic likeness between Gregor and Obama in 2008 was that their supporters were Obama fans. These supporters longed for a politics that appealed to the best in people, a politics confident in the capacity for transformational collective action to overcome inequality, poverty, and discrimination.

In the summer of 2008, neo-liberalism had been thoroughly discredited, and voters had not yet forgotten that responsibility for the financial crisis lay squarely at the feet of right-wing policies. They voted in droves for Obama, who promised hope over fear, and for Gregor, who promised to End Homelessness by fighting day in and day out for the most marginalized in our City.

Comparisons between Obama and Gregor in 2008 were largely false. Ironically, in 2010 the comparison is far more plausible.

Marshall Ganz, who managed the grassroots component of Obama’s presidential campaign, recently published an influential article in the Los Angeles Times, outlining the reasons for Obama’s failure in his first two years. The analysis is similarly useful for evaluating Gregor Robertson.

A house fire on Pandora Street took three lives last Thursday. The event instigated the right-wing NPA to call for an inquiry. However, to ensure tragedies like this do no happen in the future, it is necessary to abandon anti-tenant rhetoric in favour of a more proactive approach that empowers tenants.

No one wants to live in poor housing conditions like those of the Pandora Street house. But in the absence of safe and affordable housing options, renters must choose between inadequate housing and homelessness. And in the absence of strong tenant protection by-laws, fear of eviction condemns tenants to an intolerable status quo.

Several media outlets have drawn attention to the requests for an independent inquiry. Some argue the lives would have been saved had the City shut down the home on account of the illegal living situation. But this would have led to eviction of the nine people living inside, and there were many opportunities for the City to take more proactive action to assist the tenants. Further, it is difficult to ignore that many of the proponents of this ‘eviction solution’ are inspired by intolerance rather than compassion for the tenants themselves (e.g. see the comments at the bottom of this Sun article.)

WIKILEAKS |

Earlier this week The Guardian released a Wikileaks cable that discusses logistics and security concerns surrounding the Vancouver Olympics. The cable also contains speculations that the mismanagement of the Olympic Village likely decided the 2008 municipal election that left the city with a Vision majority. Gregor Robertson ran on a platform strongly condemning the NPA decision to reduce the social housing commitment at the Olympic Village. Robertson and Vision Vancouver won the election claiming that they “strongly opposed the previous NPA administration’s cuts of middle and low-income housing from the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village site,” but have since tried to run away from their own promises.

Also appearing in the Wikileaks cable is reiteration of the facts that original security cost estimates of $175 million ballooned to almost $1 billion; that the city paid only $50m for the Olympic Village land (subsequently trying to sell the land to the Millenium corporation for $200m); and that the City of Vancouver currently has a $3 billion fund for property acquisition and social housing, called the Property Endowment Fund (PEF). For years people have been trying to determine the size of the PEF. The original intention of the PEF was, according to May Brown, to benefit the people of Vancouver: “The city was selling land every year, putting money into general revenue to keep taxes down. [Mayor] Art Phillips said this has got to stop. We’re cannibalizing our land . . . The value of the PEF in those days was $100 million. The rationale was simple: citizens should share in the profits from any increase in land value.”

POLICE BRUTALITY |

The BC Civil Liberties Association has stated that the decision not to charge the Vancouver Police Department officer who shot an already neutralized mentally ill man 8 times should be reviewed. This is another case of the archaic policy of police investigating themselves on alleged misconduct.

TENT CITY |

Documents leaked shortly after the Olympics revealed that the provincial government’s main concern prior to the Olympics was the emergence of a Tent City in Vancouver during the Games.  There are “Athlete’s Village Tent City 2011” posters covering every corner of the city. Last Sunday, housing activists officially announced the February 2011 tent city by serving a free pancake breakfast in the public plaza of the village, where the tent city is planned to take place.

In related news, the first tenants began moving into affordable housing at the Olympic Village this week. The first building contains 84 units, 75% of which are non-market housing. Among the twenty-one units of affordable housing, none will contribute to ending homelessness because zero will be going to Vancouver residents with “deep core” need, even though 33% of the overall project was originally promised as “deep core” and another 33% as “core need.” The twenty-one units, finally filled years after the city proposed over 600, have recently been deemed tokenism.

SHELTERS INCREASINGLY HOUSE WORKING POOR |

Homelessness is not just a problem in the Downtown Eastside, or even just the municipality of Vancouver. Housing is an issue throughout Greater Vancouver, and things are getting worse according to a recent Georgia Straight article, which reveals that an increasing number of the working poor are relying on shelters, unsettling the common notion that homeless shelters are only used by people on social assistance and unemployed.

Last month City Council adopted the Mount Pleasant Community Plan (MPCP). The MPCP, the culmination of three years of community feedback and consultations, is the first city-sponsored community plan for the area since 1989.

Many residents of Mount Pleasant are concerned about what is happening to their neighbourhood – and with good reason. There have been significant demographic shifts since the last census was performed in 2006. Condos have been popping up along Kingsway, Broadway and Main. Mount Pleasant is a traditionally working-class neighbourhood, the average income in Mount Pleasant being thousand dollars below the citywide average. 23% of people living in the neighborhood are low-income and 67% in the neighborhood are renters.

Mount Pleasant residents have been becoming more active in recent months – many concerned about gentrification and affordability, others concerned about height of new buildings in the abstract.

This summer, these issues came to the surface in a debate about a development at one of the area’s hubs – a social housing and rental development project at Broadway and Fraser. The City Council meeting dealing with the rezoning had to be extended to three days to accommodate the more than 70 speakers. Some members of the community argued that the proposed 11 story development was too tall, where others argued that the neighbourhood is in dire need of more rental and social housing units. In the end, the project was approved with minor adjustments.

The MPCP passes over many of these issues, and attempts to reconcile the wishes of existing residents with developers’ desire for increased density.