Today the mayor announced that the city will be attempting to end the occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The announcement comes as a surprise for some who have been following. So far the only candidates in the municipal election calling for the eviction of the VAG have been from the right-wing NPA and their blog at citycaucus. In reality the mayor and council have used forced to shut down tent cities ever since being elected in 2008.

In the three years since 2008, Vision Vancouver and Robertson have evicted all major tent cities and arrested dozens of housing activists at shelters and empty housing projects across the city. Maybe the question today is not why the Mayor has announced the closure of the occupation, but rather why it has been allowed to stay as long as it has?

After setting up on October 15, the mayor stated twice in separate sessions at city council that he would not order the removal of the camp at the VAG. In the weeks after the first tent, the Canadian occupations were deemed harmless to the Canadian elite, framed more as re-enactments of Occupy Wall Street than as local interventions. The Prime Minister argued that “we didn’t bail out our banking sector,” and news outlets across Canada doubled down on the talking-point that the Canadian occupations could not last for long, with no anchor in local issues. This was also the sentiment in the air in Vancouver, where the Mayor judged that the occupation was a “symbolic” protest that would disappear as the winter weather arrived.

Despite feeling safe from imminent eviction, we campers still worried about the ‘NO CAMPING’ signs posted about the Art Gallery grounds, which referenced the city’s unconstitutional structures by-law. In response, Mainlander writers posted an article about whether or not the by-law would be used to shut down the occupation, arguing that we should be ready for anything, since “for the police and city managers of Vancouver, every protest is legal up to a point — in so far as the status quo does not change.”

This turning point was October 22, after the first big march of 1,000 people on the banks.

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.

Here Sean Antrim and Tristan Markle of the Mainlander interview Adriane Carr and Stuart Mackinnon of Vancouver’s Civic Green Party. Mackinnon is an incumbent Parks Board Commissioner, and is running for re-election. Carr is a candidate for City Council. On June 26 2011, the Civic Greens rejected Vision/COPE’s offer of only one candidate spot as part of a joint slate. Instead, the Greens are running three independent candidates – one for Council, one for Parks Board, and one for School Board. The election takes place Nov 19 2011.

Sean Antrim: What are you going to do to make Vancouver an affordable City?

Adriane Carr: That’s a big question. It has to be answered, and I want to really focus on that. It’s not an easy set of solutions, because we’ve had programs like EcoDensity from the NPA and the STIR program from Vision, neither are delivering affordable housing. These programs are also creating social conflict, with spot rezonings for incredibly high towers where they don’t fit. People are upset.To get affordable housing you have to work within the zoning that’s there so we don’t get the social conflict. People are okay with four storey or six storey or even smaller high-rises if it fits in with the neighbourhood. So let’s get that straight.

There are incentives that are being offered to developers that include density incentives that I think should be off the table. There are other incentives that could bring down the cost of housing. Those incentives might include reducing parking requirements in areas where you have good transit. You have to make a deal with the developers that says, if we give you these incentives, the cost of construction is going to come down, and that will be passed on, in a lower cost of housing, whether it’s rental or not.

We’ve also got incredibly strong lobbying from the City to the federal government to reinstate the kind of tax breaks that enticed developers to build intentional rental housing. I’ve talked to developers about whether or not that would work, and they’ve said yes, especially if you include some ongoing tax breaks for upgrading and maintaining rental housing, because it’s hard for delopers to say “I could build this condo unit, sell the unit off, make a bundle, or do I build this rental housing unit which has ongoing costs.”

You have to entice private investors, you have to put those tax breaks in place. One idea that Stuart and I have talked about is creating some of those affordable units in neighbourhoods along the transit corridors, near shopping and community centres already are, and create them in a variety of sizes and types so that people who are reaching retirement can sell a home that’s too big and move in to a unit that’s in the neighbourhood they love. We don’t have that in Vancouver right now, that level of affordable housing for every stage of the life cycle.

Tristan Markle: Where are some neighbourhoods or areas where that might work?

Adrianne Carr: You name one it will work. I can’t think of a place in Vancouver where there aren’t people who would relish the chance to do that. Dunbar, Marpole, East Vancouver, all over this city. We are an aging population. There are people who have homes that are too big. Those corridors exist.

Stuart Mackinnon: Look at Renfrew or Nanaimo, that’s a really good example where there are smaller homes. The population in that area is aging. Nanaimo and Renfrew are fairly busy corridors, and people don’t necessarily want a house along there, but you could build town-houses or lower-density buildings and get a lot more people in that neighbourhood, and those people are going to stay there. That’s what makes a neighbourhood strong.

Tristan Markle: I have a tough one now about the Downtown Eastside. Ellen Woodsworth just came out in favor of a moratorium on condo development in the DTES until the community plan is in place, with a strategy for housing people. I was wondering if you had a response.

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: