I have recently been involved in the campaign for an independent COPE. There have been many arguments for a coalition with Vision Vancouver, but all of them boil down to a financial argument: if COPE separates from Vision, there will be no money from labour to run against Vision’s unlimited developer backing and strong foreign campaign donations. But honestly, do the members of Vancouver’s unions agree with the idea that their leadership will fund only Vision?

I have been asking everyone I talk to: do rank and file union members really agree with corporate tax cuts? Do members of CUPE 315, for example, agree with staff layoffs, P3’s and service cuts at a time of growing inequality? Do members of CUPE 378 agree with the three years of neoliberal reforms that have worsened the situation for everyone except the richest Vancouverites? Do the diverse members of the Vancouver District Labour Council really agree with the massive demolition and sell-off of social housing in our city? As poverty deepens, do rank and file union people agree with a developer-driven planning agenda that worsens the already-dire affordability crisis in Vancouver? Do they agree with closed shelters, and a homeless rate that increases year after year as people are pushed out the bottom in the world’s most unaffordable city?

No, they don’t agree. If there is a plan of action, union members and working people will break with conservative deals and go with what is possible: an independent COPE to win the November elections.

Above all, it is a strategic choice for COPE to reject a coalition with Vision. Currently it is COPE who is forced to argue that “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em.” This is the attitude that has allowed for a coalition despite the wide ideological gap between COPE and Vision. But if COPE takes a stand and refuses to go along with the game, it is Vision who is forced to adopt the survival attitude of joining opponents, and it is a much smaller ideological gap separating the opponent. Vote after vote, decision after decision, Vision and the NPA come together on the big issues, whether it’s corporate tax cuts, property upzoning, or the demolition of public housing.

Let’s face the voting record and compare the NPA term of 2005 – 2008 with the Vision term of 2008 – 2011. By every standard, Vision’s term has been a continuation of the NPA’s mandate, except that in many cases it has been worse. Take at least three areas that matter: taxes, housing, and public sector employment.

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….

Vancouver City Council’s two standout issues in the first half of 2011 landed for wrap-up on the same afternoon of 19 April 2011 as Unfinished Business.

Dozens upon dozens of speakers had come out for the public hearings on development proposals for their adjacent areas: Northeast False Creek and the Chinatown portion of the Downtown Eastside. Postponement of conclusion to a daytime afternoon meant that few of those speakers had the live opportunity to watch Council’s discussion and decision.

The Northeast False Creek items ran for eight sessions between February 17 and April 10. Out of a total of 193 speakers, 114 were recorded as “in opposition” — 59% against. Zoning for new height in Chinatown ran for five sessions between March 17 and April 14. Out of a total of 112 speakers, 82 were recorded as “in opposition” — 73% against.

Comparison of these two issues and their outcomes offers striking lessons in social class, exercise of power, and switcheroo politics of deferral. In both cases, affected local residents spoke up to defend the interests of their own communities, with considerable support from other concerned people across Vancouver.

The Northeast False Creek situation brought together a spectrum of formally educated professionals who rallied to the issue of gambling expansion under the leadership of the Vancouver Not Vegas coalition. As early as the February 9 public forum, it became apparent that focus on Council’s power to approve or disapprove gambling expansion would be key strategy. And that proved to be the wedge that made it possible for Council to intervene, at least in appearance. Along the way, Concord Pacific’s years of egregious foot-dragging on agreed-to amenities emerged as a strong secondary concern.


It wasn’t til the next day that I realized what had happened the day before. I went to the City’s Renter’s Roundtable at the Downtown Library [May 26 2011]. I thought it was supposed to be a place to comment on the city’s draft housing strategy, which I’d read. I thought there were some problems with the strategy. For one, it seemed to have backed down from the Homeless Action Plan’s goal of getting 800 units of social housing a year between 2005 and 2015. The new strategy was only talking about a goal of 1200 units between now and 2020, less than 200 units a year. And it was only talking about supportive social housing, not social housing for people who have low incomes but don’t have other issues.

So off we went, me and 4 people from Carnegie. We signed in. Then the people at the sign-in table asked us to sign a waiver because the event was to be filmed. I took a look at it and it said the film might be used for a number of things including advertising. I didn’t want to be in an advertisement for something I might not agree with so I didn’t sign and walked into the room.

The ride from Main Street skytrain station into the downtown core of Vancouver traces a line through the city like a razor-thin scalpel. As the train drifts out from the terminal into False Creek, passengers take the place of an elevated group of observers in a surgical operating room. Watching from the gallery—attentively sometimes inattentively—commuters become unwilling observers to a surgery that all too clearly reveals the city’s scared-and-gentrified body, parsed by unsure movements above a hard kernel of class stratification. The city’s undead organs—Vancouver’s Olympic Village, Concord Pacific’s presentation centre, Rennie Marketing headquarters, Roger’s Centre, International Village—become the grossly cluttered death masks of a lifeless yet undead redevelopment process.

Above the skyline, lofted to the top of Bob Rennie’s brick-clad empire and floating amidst the sharp knives of nearly-empty condominiums, a natural sight emerges: Martin Creed’s illuminated sign “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.” The view, delivered in striking fluorescence, is rushed yet conceptually smooth, providing an internal connection between different strands of empire: the thoughtless naïveté of imperial management, the physical dominance of urban gentrification, and the careless hammer-blows of consumption.

renniegallery

Recently Britain-based artrepreneur Martin Creed [1] brought his band into town to kick off a May-to-October exhibition [2] under the auspices of condo king Bob Rennie. This essay focuses on the Creed-and-Rennie performance at the 17 May 2011 Emily Carr and Rennie Collection Speaker Series [3].

Martin Creed started off his solo evening in the art school spotlight with tortured musings: “I just feel like a wanker, you know … It’s much more difficult to wank in public.” A little later: “You can’t talk … I’ll try and be fast … Ah, fuck!”

Further ramblings included: “I didn’t know what I was doing … It wasn’t making me feel good.” And: “I was trying not to decide what I was doing.” And: “If you walk away and have a reason you can take that with you.” This last, for me, was the most interesting thing I heard from Creed. But the kicker is, will Bob Rennie fork out art cash for that non-object?

Eventually Creed set his sights on dialogue and asked for questions or comments. After a few exchanges, he fell into a back-and-forth with a woman who pursued the nature of his relationship with another artist that he had collaborated with. Creed seemed to use the topic to veer off into repetitive put-on. If that is what he was trying to do, he lacked two of the requisites: stellar status and youth. Stellar is much more than a decade-old Turner Prize. Think Bob Dylan for contrast.

One theme that slipped in and out of Creed’s meanderings was making distinctions and separations amid the flux of experience. Creed did manage to describe the satisfaction of taking a shit and believing that the result was not himself.

This month more buildings were added to the list of disappearing affordable housing in Vancouver. On May 1st the Colonial and Seaview hotels were privatized, with rents now scheduled to increase significantly in the coming months. For two years the buildings were run by the Portland Hotel Society on a non-profit contract with the private owners. According to the new building manager of the Colonial Hotel, the $375 rent in the 170 units is now scheduled to increase by a minimum of $50 in smaller units and “exponentially more” for larger units.

In August, the Flint Hotel will also be privatized. However, none of these changes will be registered by the city as reductions in the low-income housing stock. The city claims to adhere to a “one for one” housing replacement policy under the Zoning and Development By-law. The policy gives the appearance of maintaining the number of low-rent units by maintaining a stable number of SROs across the city. However, the number of SROs does not reflect how much affordable housing is available since an SRO is not defined on the basis of affordability, but rather on the basis of size. Dramatic rent increases in formerly low-income buildings are not measured as “losses” so long as they remain “designated” buildings under the city’s SRA By-law.

The Lotus Hotel at Pender and Abbott, for example, which currently falls within the “SRA” category, is undergoing renovations and will be opening in the coming months at market rates far out of reach of the low-income residents formerly living there. The same is true for the American Hotel, Burns Block, and countless other private hotels that have undergone upscaling due to gentrification.

At least one current resident of the Colonial Hotel has already decided to move out despite not having found alternative housing. Others will be forced to leave because their rent allowance will now be less than rent itself. Eviction is also now more likely because the new management explicitly does not believe in harm reduction and have stated they will toughen their approach towards residents who use drugs. When asked about his eviction policy, the new building manager at the Colonial replied, “my boot.”