This past week newspapers reported on Vancouver’s high number of empty condos. The reports were based on new research by Andy Yan of BTAworks. Yan is known for an earlier 2009 study that used BC Hydro statistics to track the number of empty condos in downtown Vancouver. Yan’s new research essentially confirms the 2009 study: as of 2012 Vancouver has an average of 7.7% empty condo units, with an exception for downtown’s Coal Harbour, at 23% empty.

Many of the empty units in the ultra-luxury towers of Coal Harbour are seasonal homes and secondary suites for Canada’s high net worth elite. Canada’s tax cuts have unleashed billions of dollars into luxury real-estate near to home. After ten years of neoliberal reforms since the election of the BC Liberals in 2001, an unprecedented amount of wealth has been freed up for circulation and reinvestment in British Columbia. Profit rates have soared while the corporate income tax rate in BC has been reduced from 16.5 to the current 10%. Today the upper 20% of BC pay a lower total provincial tax rate than the remaining 80%, and the provincial government now collects more revenues from a regressive sales taxes than from income tax.

Since the election of Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver, the city has boasted the lowest corporate tax rate in the world, combined with millions in targeted tax breaks, subsidies, and fee exemptions for local billionaires. In each of the next four years, corporate profits in BC are projected to continue climbing and reach $31.3 billion in the year 2015 alone. Over the course of three decades, billions of dollars of surplus capital have produced flat wages, growing inequality and bloated financial markets. Is there a lot of freed-up capital moving into Vancouver’s speculative real-estate economy? Certainly.


This week the City has released a Report Card evaluating its progress on housing and homelessness. The Report Card gives an A+ to Vision councillors, praised by the Mayor for “exceeding all of the City’s short-term targets.” A brief look at the report confirms that the city is on track to continue the privatization and deregulation of Vancouver’s affordable housing.

Vancouver critics like David Eby have long challenged the practice of police investigating police. The multi-million dollar public relations effort of bodies like BC Housing and the City of Vancouver, however, has not faced the same level of criticism. Like a police force that exonerates itself after an internal investigation, Vision Vancouver is issuing its own “Report Card” in order to escape unscathed from five years of a failed housing and homelessness strategy.


Jenn Jackson July 2012, installed at The Crying Room, Vancouver

This past December, the Conservatives forced through legislative changes to nearly every aspect of First Nations life in Canada. The reforms of omnibus Bill C-45 have sparked the Idle No More movement, and while First Nations have been far from idle in recent years, Canada is experiencing an upsurge of Indigenous activism not felt since the late 1980s and early ‘90s. One focus of the opposition to Bill C-45 is the First Nations Property Ownership Act (FNPOA), a law to convert First Nations reserve land into private property for sale on Canada’s housing market.

Urban housing crisis

To understand the implications of Bill C-45 it is necessary to interpret the current state of the Canadian housing market. The housing crisis engulfing Canada today affects First Nations worse than any other group. In Vancouver, 32 percent of homeless people are aboriginal, despite making up only two percent of the city’s population. In Calgary the rate is 35 percent and in Toronto it is almost 20 percent. The people whose land forms the basis of the colonial nation are the most likely to be left without a home. If they do have an apartment in one of Canada’s largest cities, First Nations are in turn the most likely to be evicted and dispossessed by Canada’s aggressive housing market and colonial tenancy laws.

Yet, as Canada enters an affordability crisis unprecedented since the 1940s, policy-makers are seeking to extend the reach of the private housing market beyond the class-divided cities and onto the reserves.

This weekend NDP voters in the Vancouver-Fairview riding rejected Vision councillor Geoff Meggs as their representative in the upcoming provincial elections. The defeat of a sitting councillor represents a significant defeat for Vision Vancouver, but also a strong sign of disapproval for NDP’s leadership and union hierarchy. The party’s base of active membership has voted for George Heyman, striking down the endorsement of Meggs by the NDP-Fairview Executive, which includes CUPE’s Paul Faoro, a key player in labour’s rightward turn at the municipal level since the creation of Vision Vancouver in 2005.

Fairview is the former riding of Mayor Gregor Robertson. Due to this alone the rejection of Meggs signals a serious upset for Vision Vancouver. Fairview is a “battleground riding” in provincial politics, but also a weather-vane for the political climate of the city itself. But why exactly did members turn against Meggs?