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.”
Last week, Vision Vancouver city councilor Geoff Meggs wrote an opinion piece for The Tyee claiming that City Hall is taking bold steps to address the rental housing crisis.
These claims are difficult to accept given that the situation for renters in Vancouver has worsened since the election of Gregor Robertson in 2008. Rents have increased steadily, by 15% over the past four years.
Since 2008, the number of low-income households in Vancouver has decreased by 18%. This is not because wages are increasing, but rather because service sector workers and their jobs have been forced out of the city.
Similarly, public school enrollment has been decreasing steadily at 2% per year, even though private school enrolment hasn’t increased. According to the Vancouver School Board, the main reason families are leaving is that they can no longer afford the cost-of-living. As school funding is tied to the number of students, this has a devastating impact on the school board budget. The Vancouver School Board is now locked into a perpetual crisis of cut-backs, layoffs, and school closures.
The impacts of Meggs’ high-cost market rental buildings
The costs of the affordability crisis are widely acknowledged, and the effects are felt by renters every day. But the reality that our affordable housing stock is being eroded under Vision Vancouver needs to be placed front-and-centre. For years Meggs has argued that only the free market can bring housing affordability. Not only are the market rental units championed by Meggs high-cost (a discussion of the cost of new market housing was published in today’s Tyee), but each new development will have have a net negative effect on the affordable neighbourhoods they are part of. This is for a simple reason: the glaring loophole in the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA).
Bob Rennie stands with the Maleks, developers of the Olympic Village.
This past Friday afternoon it was announced that real-estate tycoon Bob Rennie and former public servant Judy Rogers would be appointed as Commissioners of BC Housing. Some journalists noted that the appointment of Rennie was patronage for his support of Christy Clark in her leadership bid. Since the early rise of John Cummins and the B.C. Conservatives, Rennie has also been a proponent of a united right wing. He has contributed heavily to BC Liberal campaigns and often boasts of maintaining close contact with Rich Coleman and other higher ups in the current government.
The appointment of Judy Rogers also appears to be patronage for her mishandling of the Olympic Village project. It was under her oversight that the intended investment in social housing became instead a luxury development. Under her leadership as former City Manager, the developer Millennium was selected for the project, and for all practical purposes given free reign to access city finances. While for most Vancouverites this has been a catastrophe, it would be disingenuous to say it wasn’t what the higher ups in the BC Liberal party wanted the whole time.
Yesterday, the Mayor’s Developer Task Force released its interim report. On the surface, the four page pamphlet does not provide anything new, containing only the standard free market jargon and housing bubble diagrams we have seen for the last three years. As former planner Brent Toderian has recently stated, the plan regurgitates much of what the City has already proposed.
Instead of proven solutions, there will be only market solutions to housing affordability built by for-profit housing developers. The same mechanisms that gave us a housing crisis in the first place will now be used to address it.
The report is clear that those who need housing the most will be left out of the mandate of the task force: the task force will only be looking at how to build housing for people with incomes above $21,500. It is claimed that individuals who make less than this amount will have their housing needs addressed by the City’s Housing and Homelessness Plan. The Housing and Homelessness Plan calls for the construction of 38,000 units of housing — 20,000 of these condos — over the next ten years. This amounts to 3,800 units, in other words, less housing than the 4,000 or more units that have been built annually for the past decade.