COPE’s Executive announced today that it has negotiated a coalition deal whereby COPE will limit the number of council members it will run in the upcoming November 2011 municipal election in order to support Vision Vancouver. Under the proposed deal, yet to be approved by the general membership, COPE would run only three members for Council, four for the School Board and two for the Parks Board.

Leading up to the 2008 election, a similar deal was made to prevent a NPA majority. It was argued at the time that Vision, having split from COPE, shared similar principles. However, since the 2008 election the differences between the two parties have become even clearer.

Vision maintains a deceptive stance, claiming to support transparency and affordability, when in fact it does neither. Led by businessman Gregor Robertson, Vision is a pro-business party. Just last week they shifted property taxes from businesses onto residents for a third time. Vision staffers are closely connected with the BC Liberals and Christy Clark, while COPE is still a left-wing, working class party with connections to the NDP.

The coalition may have made sense in 2008, given Vision’s promises to end homelessness and increase transparency at City Hall. But Vision hasn’t delivered. There has been no new social housing built or planned. Neighbourhoods are suffering as lax zoning at City Hall leads to speculative property value increases. There was outrage last week as Vision passed a bylaw limiting public expression and shelter rights. Meanwhile, COPE has spent the past two years speaking out against Vision’s policies. The two parties couldn’t be less compatible.

Looking at voting records from the past two years, it would be more appropriate for Vision to form a coalition with the NPA. Both parties systematically eliminated most of the promised social housing from the Olympic Village and supported tax shifts from businesses to residents. They both refuse to use tools available to them to limit gentrification and skyrocketing housing costs.

Neighbourhoods across the city have been frustrated by City Hall’s current pro-developer stance, and have begun organizing against processes that put developers before people. Through this coalition deal, COPE is significantly limiting its ability to represent, and win victories for, the poor and working class in the midst of an affordability crisis.

There are more than enough votes in East Vancouver, COPE’s traditional base of support, to elect a legitimate working class party. The recent surge in popularity of the federal NDP is a sign of what’s possible when people start paying attention to politics and showing up at the polls.

The Olympic Village represents a “fiasco,” but more and more it’s turning into a fiasco of journalism. Prominent columnists have spent the last week trying to convince readers of a financial disaster at the Olympic Village, but the real disaster is that they’re not telling it like it is. Due to the removal of hundreds of units of social housing, the city stands to break even on the project, and perhaps even gain money.

The discussion revolves around the cost of the land on which the Olympic Village sits, bought by the city for $30m. That $30m was paid in full by the developer in 2006. By all standards the city has no liability on the land. There is no loss and no profit because costs have been recovered, net zero. End of the story one might think.

But today in the Globe and Mail, Gary Mason argues that while there is no actual loss, the loss nontheless is “actual” because it “feels like a loss.” According to Frances Bula, also with the Globe, there is therefore “$180-million unpaid amount owing on the land.” But did nobody tell Gary Mason and Frances Bula that the land was given back to the city months ago? How can money be owed on something if that something was returned? – and returned with a $30m fee paid by the borrower.


Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories – In response to numerous rapes and assaults that have continuously occurred in the co-ed shelters in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), frontline women-serving organizations recently formed a coalition to demand the City of Vancouver and BC Housing:

1. Open a 24-hour low-barrier women-only drop-in space and shelter in the Downtown Eastside.

2. Build housing for homeless women and children with at least 100 new units to be made available immediately.

3. Implement clear provincial standards for women’s safety in co-ed shelters immediately in all existing and new shelters.

The coalition includes the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, WISH Drop-In Centre, Power of Women Group, and Battered Women’s Support Services.

There were six reported sexual assaults at First United Church, one of Vancouver’s largest shelters. Reverend Rick Matthews of First United Church’s response was that “Some women put themselves at risk because of the way they dress or undress or move around the building, they draw attention to themselves.” In addition, Margaret McNeil of BC Housing said to Alice Kendall of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre “Come on, shit happens, look at Rwanda, look at Libya.” With this being the response, and after months of trying to bring this issue forward and being ignored, the coalition decided it was time to take further action.

On Tuesday, March 22, the coalition of women’s groups sent out a press release and, with support from the community, marched to the BC housing office to voice their demands and initiate dialogue with BC Housing. They were met by over 30 police officers barricading the entrance to the building.

At 3:00pm, the crowd walked up a parkade driveway to witness Dale McMann in a discussion with first nations elders and frontline workers, all of them surrounded by police officers and the media.

Grassroots activism has won social housing above the new library to be built on the 700-block of East Hastings. The development will now include 20 units of family social housing for single mothers and their children. The City of Vancouver’s March 22 media release and press conference announcing the new housing made no mention of the tireless activism that made the housing possible. But the truth is that the City preferred not to build the housing, and had to be pushed every step of the way by residents to make it a reality. Activists held a party of their own to celebrate their housing victory (see Murray Bush’s wonderful article).

“One of the most important things is for us to celebrate our victories,” said Beth Malena at yesterday’s Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) general meeting. Malena told a crowd of 100 DNC members that the housing victory wouldn’t have happened without them. “The City gave zero credit to you all. They probably don’t want to remember that they needed to be pressed to do something that’s such a no brainer.”

The library struggle

Indeed, City Council had to be dragged, practically kicking and screaming. In the summer of 2010, DNC members Fraser Stewart, Rene Belanger, and others collected 1,500 signatures for a petition supporting social housing above the proposed library. The petition was presented to the Library Board and City Council, and the latter passed a motion to “explore the possibility” of housing on the library. But by Oct 7 2010, City staff asked Council to vote against social housing on the library.

It was clear to activists that very little effort had been made by the City to “explore the possibility” (see this letter to Council). Over 50 housing supporters came to the Oct 7 Council meeting to make their case. See here for the video.

The City already owned the land, but Councilors claimed that there was no money to build the housing above. Infamously, Gregor Robertson claimed “there is no money in the drawers” (this was only months after deep cuts to business taxes). Furthermore, Councilor Geoff Meggs argued passionately that it was so urgent to begin building the library that we could not wait even a few more months to secure funding for social housing. As a last resort, housing advocate Wendy Pederson of the Carnegie Community Action Project asked that, at the very least, the material foundations of the library be built such that they could support possible housing in the future. Council voted to proceed with a stand-alone library, with the caveat that the City manager could have an extra month or two to secure funding for housing.

DNC member Dave Murray told the Vancouver Media Coop that after the meeting “we were so let down, they voted 9-1 against us. I remember walking away very depressed thinking that was that.” But activists did not give up. On Oct 21st, a demonstration was held outside the proposed library site, where kids and their parents demanded both books and housing. The next day, activists confronted the Mayor and Councilors at a $500/plate fundraiser lunch with the business elite, demanding that real action be taken to build housing on the library.



Corporate developers are ‘betting’ that they can twist enough arms to transform Edgewater Casino into a mega-casino next to BC Place. But resistance has sprung up from across the political spectrum.

The proponents of the $500M project are: the pseudo-public BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC), and Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming. In this bid, there is no distinction between State and corporate interests, much like when PavCo managed the $400M over-budget Convention Centre project. PavCo is today chaired by BC Liberal-appointee David Podmore, who is currently CEO of Concert Properties. Concert Properties, a major Vancouver development company, donated $8,000 to Vision Vancouver last election (see full list of donors here). Podmore is also the immediate previous Chair of Vancouver’s Urban Development Institute, the city’s leading gentrification think-tank and development lobby.

In early 2009, the Provincial government put out a request for proposal to lease the lands West of BC Place. Only two companies submitted proposals, the winner being Paragon’s mega-casino plan. In March 2009, T. Richard Turner, director of one of Paragon’s gaming entities and investor in Edgewater Casino, phoned BC Liberal tourism minister Kevin Krueger and told him that Paragon would only go forward with the mega-casino project if the government would build a new retractable roof on BC Place (see here and here). Note that while Mr. Turner was negotiating on behalf of Paragon, he was at the same time BC Liberal-appointed Chair of ICBC, as well as director of VANOC. He was also previously Chair of BCLC from 2001-2005.

After receiving the call from Turner, the Provincial government then decided to go forward with constructing a new retractable roof on BC Place for $450M. PavCo’s David Podmore is now managing the ongoing upgrade of BC Place, and has spent this week telling media that the project is on-time and on-budget. Of course, one could argue that the roof was always-already over-budget, since it is a monstrous useless waste of money.


The City of Vancouver stands to profit from selling-off housing units at the Olympic Village that were promised for affordable and social housing. The original Official Development plan for the Olympic Village committed that 2/3rds of the 1100 units would be affordable, half of which would be social housing.

But the City has invested almost no funds toward meeting these promises. Millennium development corporation, which built the Olympic Village, has already paid $29M to the City for the land lease. The City then put forward a similar amount ($32M) toward the few remaining “affordable” units. In short, the City spent almost no new funds on affordable housing. Even worse, these “affordable” units were then transferred to a co-op to be marketed at unaffordable levels.

The City stands to collect another $170M from Millennium for the land lease, but the City has no plans to reinvest any of this profit to meet housing promises. There is ample precedent to do so: the fourteen sites of supportive housing were built by the City putting forward the land without expectation of profit.

Millennium on the hook, not the City
The Millennium development corporation is not bankrupt or insolvent, as many suppose. On the contrary, they remain legally on hook for the construction loan. For now the City has taken control of marketing the Olympic Village properties, but Millennium has many other properties and assets. Instead of going after Millennium’s assets, the City has bailed-out Millennium. Millennium had been paying high interests rates, but the City has waived that requirement. The City is selling off social housing to keep Millennium afloat.

The City has hired condo marketer Bob Rennie to sell-off the ‘broken promise’ units. Bob Rennie claims that he is trying to “protect the taxpayer,” but in fact by liquidating the broken promise units, he is protecting Millennium by ensuring that the City does not go after their assets. [To be continued in Part 2, “Poverty Runs Over-budget at False Creek”]


The story of Chinese investor impact on Vancouver real estate is neither new nor surprising. But recent changes to real estate taxation within China may ramp up hunger for this favored class of investment in offshore locations — and further exacerbate conditions local to Vancouver. In a nutshell, China seems to be on the verge of exporting even more financial froth.

At the same time, China seems to be developing an internal approach to housing affordability that Vancouver needs to emulate.

Beijing has now prohibited residents from buying more than two dwelling units, and non-residents are required to show five years of tax documentation in order to make a purchase (Feb 18: “China home”).

Any Canadian public official who talks about affordable housing in Vancouver should be met with a demand to bring forward similar measures.