This article was first published in The Mainlander May 6, 2011

Last week Sean Antrim outlined how the past three years of a Vision government has been anything but progressive. For reasons of principle and policy, he argued, COPE should not enter into another coalition with Vision. In addition to principles and policy, there are also strategic questions to consider.

What, then, are some of the strategic reasons COPE’s executive has negotiated a proposal with Vision to run a joint slate in the upcoming municipal elections? There are several possible strategic reasons, all of which don’t hold up under analysis.

1. At least COPE will have a “voice” on Council.

In the 2008 election, COPE and Vision made a coalition agreement. Vision ran 8 and COPE ran 2 candidates for City Council. Both of COPE’s candidates won seats, and yet have wielded no decision making power on Council. Vision holds a majority of seats, and all decisions are made in private by Vision’s caucus, without consulting COPE.

Although powerless in terms of voting, COPE Councillors could theoretically use their position to voice opposition. NPA Councilor Suzanne Anton has used her position to criticize from the reactionary right. But COPE has been an ineffective opposition voice. COPE often votes against Vision, but quietly. You have to follow the live audio-visual feed of Council meetings to hear about it.

COPE’s role has been as “conscience” of Council. Unfortunately, COPE’s alliance with Vision only makes them the fig leaf for Vision’s aggressive pro-developer, anti-resident agenda. There is nothing noble in propping up that status quo.

In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson recognized that to win an election in progressive Vancouver, politicians needed to talk the talk of progressive politics. For Vision this meant rallying Vancouver around the bold idea of addressing the housing crisis and Ending Homelessness. Electorally, it meant a compromise with COPE, Vancouver’s traditional progressive party. COPE and Vision would work together under the “big umbrella” of progressive change, with COPE running only two councilors.

Today, after three years of a Vision majority on City Council, the progressive spirit chosen in the 2008 municipal elections is nowhere to be found. The party who promised to end homelessness and address affordability has turned out to be its mirror opposite, giving millions in tax breaks to developers, decreasing the corporate tax rate to the lowest in the world, forcibly closing homeless shelters, cutting services, hiring millions of dollars of additional police officers, and deepening the affordability crisis at every possible turn.

This month, the members of COPE will have to decide whether or not to enter into another electoral deal with Vision. Members will be presented with that choice at a COPE general meeting on June 26, 2011. Here are ten reasons COPE members ought to reject the deal as proposed, and instead support an independent progressive party in the 2011 municipal elections:

1. Affordable Housing….

“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” – Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord

After the Stanley Cup riot of 1994, a Georgia Straight article, titled “Stupidville” pondered: “[Vancouverites] had better decide what we want this community to be about, besides pretty vistas when it doesn’t rain. What shared tasks can we undertake whose achievement will fill us with civic pride? What conditions are needed to come to unconditionally love this place, not for where it is, but for what it is?” But after 15 years of more pretty vistas and nature fetishism, we have failed to produce “something nobler than a mob heading to Stupidville,” as the Straight hoped.

Many of tonight’s rioters were toddlers during the previous riot, so they cannot possibly be blamed for both. Although each fanatic must face their own responsibility for being swept up in the tide of jingoism, the system that produces Canuck fanatics goes back decades. It is important to analyze this system of fanatic production, in order that “something nobler” emerge one day.

First it is impossible to have fanatics without spectacle. Tonight, we had two spectacles: the spectacle of the Canucks, then the spectacle of the Rioters. Disappointed fanatics, unable to control the outcome of the hockey game, created a spectacle of their own. Meanwhile, sitting at home, you could consume representations of both, without having power over either.

It is often claimed that fanatics turn to hooliganism to compensate feelings of powerless when their team loses, and express their powerlessness through violence. There is truth to this, but there is more: they overcome their powerlessness through spectacle.

It helps to recall that our late-capitalist society is a “society of the spectacle,” where social life is increasingly mediated through representations – corporate media and advertising. We acquire collective experience, and even collective purpose, by gazing at these representations. And in Vancouver, the gaze has been professionally focused on ‘our boys’ fighting the enemy – the Boston Bruins.

A study released yesterday shows that Vancouver’s affordability crisis is deepening. The study, released by BMO Capital Markets, shows that Vancouver’s unaffordability score (a ratio of median house price to median household income) has increased to 11.2.

Affordability is defined as a ratio of 3, meaning that the median house in Vancouver is almost four times the affordable rate.

In 2009, Vancouver scored 9.3 on Demographia’s annual affordability report, making it the most unaffordable city in the world out of 272 studied. In 2010, Demographia showed that Vancouver’s unaffordability score increased to 9.5, with only Hong Kong and Sydney competing for most unaffordable spot out of 325 global cities studied. BMO’s report suggests that Vancouver housing prices have spiraled further out of control.

The report states: “Vancouver’s house prices have nearly tripled in the past decade, spiralling beyond the reach of most first-time buyers or non-lottery winners.”


This month City Hall passed a policy on upzoning the full length of Cambie Street, thereby lining the pockets of developers and speculators. This was no easy task: it required that the Planning Department devise and implement a ‘consultation’ strategy to preempt, co-opt and neutralize resident organizations.

There are many reasons residents might oppose top-down free-market gentrification of their neighbourhoods. Some will be shaded out, some priced-out, while others are faced with more complicated dilemmas. For example, when a bungalow is upzoned to accommodate 12-storey towers, the land value multiplies, but so too do the property taxes, leaving the owner no option but to sell-out to developers trying to consolidate lots. While some home-owners may have legal recourse, residential or commercial tenants have no hope.

Planning has progressed slightly since 19th century Paris, where the younger Napoleon would send in the army to secure and build proto-planner Baron Haussmann’s corridors without a modicum of commune consultation. Today Gregor sends in Toderian to consult corridor residents and secure community buy-in – a useful stamp of approval. To this end, City Planning collaborated with concerned residents to form the Riley Park South Cambie (RPSC) Visions Group, which began consulting area residents about their aspirations and concerns.

However, it turned out that Vision Vancouver was not interested in the visions of this ‘Visions group’, as the visions were pre-determined. Norm Dooley, one of the most active members of the RPSC told The Mainlander: “The Stage 2 process started with a pre-determined set of outcomes and did not vary significantly from its stated goals. There was no room for alternative ideas.”

The City supported the RPSC Vision Group so long as it funneled information in one direction – from the City to residents. But once RPSC began collecting feedback, criticisms, or (heaven forbid) visions, the City was less supportive. According to Norm Dooley:

The opening stage of public meetings that provided information was straight forward enough, but the Riley Park South Cambie Visions Group had to exert pressure to be allowed a presence at those sessions with our information on the larger picture of growth in the immediate area beyond the strict physical definition of the Cambie Corridor (Heather to Manitoba Streets). This made it seem that the Planning Department did not want the public to grasp just how much change our area is in for.

“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.


According to Metro Vancouver’s Homelessness Count released today, the number of homeless folks in Vancouver increased from 1,580 to 1,605 over the last 3 years. [i] But you wouldn’t realize it from today’s Vision Vancouver press release and fundraising callout. Neither would it come across in any of the articles found in the mainstream press, which praised the government for “plummeting” rates of street homelessness. Nothing is further from the truth.

It should first be pointed out that the count was conducted on March 16, a day of snow and one of the colder days of 2011 – in other words, not a day to get an accurate street homeless representation. For example, Burnaby, a city which does not currently have a homeless shelter, opened a temporary Extreme Weather Response Shelter on the evening of March 15. On March 15-16, the government took exceptional measures, and it can’t be doubted that people living on the streets did the same, finding floors and couches to sleep on throughout the Lower Mainland.

More importantly, the count was completed on March 16, 2011, several weeks before the City of Vancouver shut down four emergency homeless shelters. Therefore in terms of “street homelessness,” the current situation is far worse than represented in the recent count, and in fact another shelter is scheduled to shut down at the end of next month.