Here Sean Antrim of The Mainlander interviews Sandy Garossino, who is running as an independent candidate for Vancouver City Council this November 19.

Sean Antrim: You launched your campaign in the Georgia Straight attacking the affordability crisis in Vancouver. At the Mount Pleasant all-candidates, every candidate from every political party gave lip-service to this issue. I think that everyone recognizes that there is an affordability crisis in the city. In 2008, Vision Vancouver was elected on a platform that would address housing, homelessness and the affordability crisis, but we all know they have done little to tackle the problem. How will you address this issue, and what distinguishes your platform from that of Vision Vancouver?

Sandy Garossino: Almost everyone that I have heard discuss this sees the affordability issue. I’m talking here about broadening this beyond homelessness and subsidized housing, but also market housing for the average working person. Almost everyone who talks about this, talks about it in the simple supply and demand equation, and their point is to increase supply. Because I deal with Asia, I understand capital markets in Asia, and I have dealings there, this seems to me to completely miss the true nature of the issue and the challenge that we confront. Just to give you a little bit of a background, our median income levels in Metro Vancouver place 20 out of 28 urban regions in Canada. Our median income levels for 2010 were below Sudbury, Windsor and St. John’s Newfoundland. We have the highest real estate prices in Canada, relative to median income. We have almost the highest real estate in the world. Relative to median income, we are 56% higher than New York City and 31% higher than London, so there’s clearly a serious distortion in the market. One of the first challenges we have is we don’t have the data. We don’t have information that can pin-point exactly what is going on and the extent to which capital is entering, and the extent to which that capital is non-resident, and how much that is affecting the market. We need to know a lot more than we do. But based on anecdotal information, which is turning out to be corroborated in news reports, it looks like global capital is having a massive impact.



A massive, global social movement has erupted weeks before a municipal election. Its goal is to bring light to the injustice and unsustainability of a corrupt capitalist system. In Vancouver, hundreds have taken the North grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery, with a general message that change is needed now. But, the mayoral debate has orbited around the issue without touching it. Like the Czar on the eve of the 1917 revolution, the two most electable candidates are fighting over who is better at getting rid of the protest rather than who will better address inequality. The ballot question they want is: whose autocracy will better calm the masses. It’s almost as if they don’t understand the issue, and the polls are showing that most people are unhappy with both of them.

What has happened to make Vision sink in the polls? It’s not an NPA surge, that’s for certain.

HOUSING. The failure to address our housing crisis. In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver won on progressive values, promising to end homelessness and implement an empty condo tax. But now, without the tax, condo prices are at historical highs, and homelessness is higher than it was three years ago (despite public relations spin to the contrary). Social housing has been sold out at the Olympic Village, and three years on the Village still has hundreds of empty units.

CORRUPTION. The corruption of developer-council collusion is only growing. The two major parties are accepting over $4 million in donations this year, much of it from developers. In the absence of a ward system, councilors answer only to the big money players and aren’t accountable to particular neighbourhoods, whether it is spot-rezonings or wholesale giveaways to developers in the form of blanket height changes.

PARTY POLITICS. The agreement with COPE has meant that instead of competing with progressives for a more equal and just City, Vision must compete with the NPA in a contest to see who can make it more unequal. Perhaps rightly thinking that they will receive the progressive votes by default, Vision challenges the NPA on the right-wing front, guaranteeing three more years of politics for the 1%.

NEO-LIBERAL POLICY. In lieu of the progressive promises of 2008, Vision is now embracing conservative ideas:



The 2011 Vancouver municipal election is in full swing. What do the candidates really think, and what can we expect of them? The Mainlander has interviewed some of the council candidates, and will be publishing a series of candidate interviews over the next few weeks. Recently, we sat down with COPE City Council candidate Tim Louis. A transcription of the interview follows.


The Mainlander: Why are you the best person for the job of City Councillor?

Tim Louis: I don’t believe there’s ever anybody who’s the best. Don’t believe that I would ever say that I am the best. I think many different people bring many different skills, positions and world-views to the table. The reason that I’m running for Council is that I believe, and always have believed, that it is very, very important that issues are framed in a way for the public to clearly understand the differences between the developers’ agenda on the one hand, and common sense on the other hand. I think in life, unfortunately, the media, the mainstream media, the corporate media, do a very poor job, in the sense that they make most issues appear to be far too complicated, and don’t leave the public with a clear understanding of what the choice really is.

ML: What would you say you would have done differently over the past three years?

TL: Without meaning for a moment, any criticism of anybody currently on Council, including my two good friends [COPE Councilors] Ellen and David, I would have clearly, and without pulling my punches, without muddying the waters, articulated the choices to be made by Council. For instance, with regards to the tax shift, from business owners to property owners, criticism was couched. Criticism of a view that we should be shifting taxes off of businesses and onto property owners, where technically the businesses pay with pre-tax dollars, taxes the property owners pay with after-tax dollars – in other words, taxes that business owners can write-off but that homeowners can never write off. I believe that that policy, of the current Council, when criticized, was criticized very tepidly, and very timidly, and not with a clear message being sent to the public. The average person, the average homeowner in this city, to this day, is unaware of the fact that tens of millions of dollars have been removed from their pockets, and put into the pockets of business owners, and business property owners.

So to come back to your question, what would I have done differently, I’d like to believe that for the six years that I was on Council, I tried very hard to present a very clear picture between what should be done on the one hand and what was being proposed to be done, by the developer Councilors on the other hand. We need to do as public officials a better job of making the choices that we are making clearly articulated to ensure that the public has a clear understanding of the choices we’re making. A clear understanding of the choices at hand.

ML: What are the top two policies you’re planning to work towards if you are elected?

TL: For me, the number one, is social housing. It is perhaps the one item that any Council has the greatest control over. Many would disagree with me and say no, social housing falls into the jurisdiction of the provincial or federal government, and it’s the one item that municipalities have the least control over, but I very vigorously disagree. There’s not a lot of good that a municipal Council can do as far as say, recalibrating income tax, which is federal, or implementing social programs, which is provincial. Most of what a municipal Council does is fairly routine, mundane stuff – getting clean water into our homes, pick up the garbage, et cetera. But as Harry Rankin, my mentor, always said, what we need to do is understand that City Councilors should be concerned with much more than dogs and garbage, and that their most powerful tool is the power they get at rezoning hearings. At rezoning hearings, Council turns dirt into gold. By way of a single motion, they literally, not figuratively, create tens of millions of dollars. As the Council, we have the authority and the ability, to make it a condition for any and all rezoning that this crisis of social housing is addressed then and there. Not in a policy document that gets cut-up outside the rezoning hearing as a meaningless set of watered down goals, but right in that rezoning hearing, that either a) or b). That a) build, in that development, a certain number of units of social housing, or b) pay a certain amount of money into a pool that the City would then use to build social housing. This City Council, as have previous City Councils, have done a wholly inadequate job of using that very powerful tool.



This week, City Council approved a massive rezoning request by developer Wall Financial Corporation for Shannon Mews in Kerrisdale. Kerrisdale is but one of many neighbourhoods forced to mobilize against unwanted development over the past two years. Before last Tuesday’s meeting a protest was held outside City Hall, organized by a group of activists from City Hall Watch and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver under the banner: “The Rezoning Process is Broken — Let’s start Fixing it.” Over a hundred people took part outside and eventually filled the council chambers. Many residents of other neighbourhoods joined the Shannon Mews community in solidarity, having faced similar rezonings in the recent past. Others still will be facing unwanted developments in their neighbourhoods later this year.

The July 26th, 27th, and 28th public hearings act as good examples of Vision Vancouver’s planning and consultation regime. There were two significant rezonings taking place. The first regarded a series of three high rises directly across from the Olympic Village. The developer was asking for an increase in density of 50% and a dramatic increase in height above the existing zoning. Over a dozen speakers spoke against the proposal. Most were concerned about the impact of the development on the affordability of the surrounding area, as high towers creep up False Creek into Mount Pleasant. These concerns were left almost completely unaddressed by City Council, and the rezoning was passed with only Councillor Ellen Woodsworth voting against.



Many Vancouverites are wondering what the City is doing to make Vancouver affordable and therefore liveable. Unfortunately, the City’s main affordable housing initiative over the past two years has produced no new affordable housing.

Under the guise of a program supposed to “address the issue of rental and affordable housing supply in Vancouver,” the City has handed tens of millions of dollars over to real-estate developers through tax breaks in order to ‘incentivize’ unaffordable market rental development. It is but one an example of Vision Vancouver’s neoliberal approach to fiscal policy, pushing aside the interests of residents for those of big business.

The policy in question is called the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR). It was adopted in June of 2009 with limited public discussion or consultation. Some residents have been fighting it ever since.

The past three years of civic politics have been rich in spectacle, poor on substance. Politicians brought us the Olympic Games, hoping to cash in on Olympics-associated political capital. Then they brought us the Stanley Cup finals celebration, hoping again that street parties might translate into electoral favour. Meanwhile, our city became the most unaffordable on earth, and we even managed to fill a massive social housing project with only the fabulously well-to-do.

With the the right-wing NPA and the ‘centrist’ Vision identical on all core policy planks, these two parties are forced to highlight the most inane and trivial sideshows to distinguish themselves (bike lanes, lawns, etc.). Meanwhile, Vancouver’s working class party (COPE) has conceded the next three years to Vision-NPA rule. The established parties are avoiding all discussion of substantive issues. It appears that the coming civic elections will include many politicians but no politics. In this context of political oblivion, it is inevitable that other voices will begin to speak out. They may be unconventional, and we may not agree with all they espouse, but such is the cost when major parties impose political black-out. The Mainlander intends to highlight some of these less heard voices.

Gerry McGuire, of Vancouver Citizen’s Voice, is one of the individuals challenging the city hall scene. He has decided to run for Mayor against, among others, Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton. The Mainlander recently sat down with Mr. McGuire to find out why he’s running for Mayor, and why he thinks Vancouver needs a new political party.

ML: Why does Vancouver need a new political party?

GM: Because, from my viewpoint, none of them are representing the average Vancouver citizen very well.

Vision, by taking COPE in, has neutered the left, yet Vision is not a left wing party. They’re more developer friendly than the NPA would ever dare to be, which should be shocking for anybody that voted for them. You can’t stop progress, but what they’re doing is beyond the pale. They’re letting the developers run wild.

80%-90 of community amenity contributions don’t really reach the neighbourhood in the way they’re supposed to. $834,000 at Cambie and South-West Marine, for a bicycle facility. What about the kids in the neighbourhood who don’t have parks, swimming pools, libraries, community centers?

Habitat 67, on the shore of of St. Lawrence seaway in Montreal, was originally designed to be an affordable community. Similar to Vancouver’s Olympic Village, Habitat 67 has since been sold off to the private market and is now considered a ‘failed dream‘.

The Olympic Village was initially designed as a mixed-income housing complex capable of offsetting the displacement and surge in real-estate prices associated with the 2010 Olympics. The original development plan called for two-thirds affordable housing, with a full half of that set aside for those who need support through social (“deep core”) housing. The Village was set to be an ‘inclusive’, socially sustainable community that Vancouver could be proud of. Now, the project has turned into the opposite – an exclusive, luxury complex. Today, few would argue that the Olympic Village has been a success for Vancouver.

A brief look at the history of South East False Creek shines some light on why we have the Village today. The land upon which the Village sits was once an industrial zone, but starting in the 50s and 60s there was increasing industrial disinvestment until eventually the land fell out of use. Taking advantage of unused urban space to create room for people to live, in 1970s the City actively consolidated multiple lots and rezoned the area for housing. The City then remediated the soils and made other public investments.