Vancouver’s civic election on Saturday has brought us a new City Council. But as the five million dollar campaign fades, we should take a look at what this ‘new’ council wants to do. By electing Gregor Robertson and the Vision slate, voters have decided to stay the course on a path started in 2008 — but what exactly is the course?

Though progressives might feel relieved for keeping out an NPA majority, we must remember that Vision has and will implement neo-liberal policies — many of them NPA policies from the 2005 – 2008 term under Sam Sullivan. Residents will have to mobilize against council, or else get more of the same. Over the past three years we saw the donning of Vancouver as the City with the lowest businesses taxes in the world, matching an increase, not a decrease in homelessness, and an almost 20% increase in housing prices last year alone. These losses can be weighed against the positive implementation of the unjustly controversial backyard chicken coops, bike lanes, and food carts. While we will be safe from the NPA’s street-car, we will most certainly not be safe from Vision’s land-use policy predicated on eviction and demolition of affordable housing.

Because council has the same developer-funded majority it has had over the past two terms, we can look at the past six years to loosely predict what we will see on council over the next three:

a) Wedge issues

To create the illusion of democracy and choice, NPA and Vision will have to chose a set of wedge issues, which will redirect the discussion of civic politics away from issues onto superficial gossip and ruling-class infighting. Differentiation will have to take place in lieu of actual difference. Over the past three years, we’ve seen the two developer parties focus on personal smears, bike lanes, $1,000 environmental projects, or most recently, the street-car. Many progressives stand with Vision on these issues, but they are only a distraction from the municipal government’s main purpose, which is to regulate land-use and facilitate affordability.

b) Gentrification

We will see much more displacement in Vancouver, especially the Downtown Eastside. Vision Vancouver wants to build condos in the Downtown Eastside as part of their ‘ten-year housing plan’. The only way they can do this without subsidizing (which they are against) is to build in low-income neighbourhoods where the land is least expensive. Even when there was only one NPA councillor, Vision Vancouver embraced the NPA’s plan to rezone the DTES for condo towers. Already, Vision is set to approve a proposal for a 17-storey condo tower for the corner of Main and Keefer. The developer is Westbank Corp, which held a huge fundraiser for Vision during the election. The two new NPA councilors will agree with Vision’s plan to increase condo development in this low-income neighborhood, while COPE will have to make their critique of gentrification from the sidelines

We will also see large condo towers popping up throughout East Vancouver, justified as part and parcel of the NPA’s EcoDensity program, which Vision Vancouver has adopted since 2008. Massive developments in low-income neighbourhoods are the most profitable form of real-estate development, and are therefore the most desired by developers. In anticipation of this gentrification, shops will raise their rents and evict long-time businesses. This can already be seen on Main Street, along Kingsway, in the Downtown Eastside, and elsewhere.

c) Evictions

Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver have said on several occasions that they are unable to stop evictions. But the truth is that they do not want to stop them, because their housing policy is literally dependent upon evictions. To build affordable housing without subsidizing it, you need to evict low-income tenants — that is the only way. Vancouver has “rate-of-change” bylaws that prevent conversion of rental to condominiums, but do not prevent conversion from low-income rental to medium or high-income rental. Vancouver has created its own portmanteau for this ongoing process: the ‘renoviction.’ This is the simple process of landlords evicting tenants to increase rents further than inflation-plus-2%.



Democracy axis:
City Hall is currently controlled by developers that finance the large political parties. An alternative approach is for council to be responsive to residents, and to promote grassroots democracy. The Mainlander supports candidates who reject corporate control of government in favour of deep political engagement of all affected residents, especially those marginalized by the current system.

Inclusivity axis:

Vancouver needs far more affordable and social housing, as well as social services for those most in need. Some interests organize against having these important things in their own back yard (NIMBY). Others support inclusion of affordable and social housing and social services in their own neighbourhood (YIMBY), leading by example. The Mainlander supports candidates who promote YIMBY politics.

For example, those who support the proposed social housing development at the corner of Broadway and Fraser, or a safe-injection site on the westside, classify as YIMBY, while those who oppose these are classified as NIMBY.

For The Mainlander’s endorsements, click here. In general, we endorsed those closer to the top-right “resident-YIMBY” quadrant, and those farthest from the bottom-left “developer-NIMBY” quadrant.

The Vancouver municipal election takes place this Saturday November 19th. Here the editors of the Mainlander present our endorsements for Vancouver City Council, Parks Board, and School Board.

This election should be considered within the context of the past three years. In 2008, Vision Vancouver candidates for City Council ran aggressively against the NPA’s record. But since that time, Vision has continued the NPA’s policy of business tax cuts, gentrification, “ecodensity,” policing the poor, privatization, and cuts to the public service. Previous relationships with community organizations have been severed, rendering city hall even more out-of-touch. Alas, the two developer-funded parties differ less than hairs plucked from the nose of Pinocchio.

Most disturbing is the broken promises. In 2008, Vision appealed to the best in people, and won a strong mandate to tackle unaffordabiliy and homelessness. Unfortunately, developers and the rich 1% remained in the driver’s seat, vetoing any real change of direction. This is disturbing for two reasons: first, it hurts those who need change right now, and second, it taints the chances of more committed people who may come along in the future to make real change — when that happens, who will believe them?

So what is the way forward? Amidst the short-sighted hysteria of election campaigns, which always demand last-minute capitulation to false choices, it’s best to remain calm and take the long-view. When we do that, standing in the eye of the campaign hurricane, new paths reveal themselves. Vancouver is a city where the poor and working-poor, and especially youth, have little future, with nowhere to build a life. It is a real challenge to work multiple jobs, build up one’s community, and at the same time learn the ropes of our government-for-the-rich.

Out of this, however, new lines of demarcation are being drawn up. A line is being drawn between a system rigged for developers and big businesses and one controlled by residents. This time that line is partly obscured by the Vision-COPE electoral alliance, but in the long run ideas are more powerful than temporary opportunities. Of those candidates opposed to the developer-run system, some have been distracted by NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) concerns. But a few candidates in this year’s race remain focused, exposing the link between lack of democracy and unaffordability. Indeed, the candidates we are endorsing are the ones who show the tip of the iceberg of a movement of renters — the majority of residents, the next generation — intent on speaking for themselves instead of being spoken for.

In the end, through the fog, the choice is clear. A person can support a city based on the principles of equality, justice and liberty, a city that embraces social housing and public schools and public parks across the board; or else go on to build a resort town exclusively for the rich. The space in between those two choices has all but disappeared, and if the historic elections of 2008 Vision held out the possibility of having both at once, that dream has been shattered by reality. Now our stance towards Vision and the NPA has to be the slogan, ‘both are worse,’ and we will not be blackmailed by false distinctions and petty differences. Bikes lanes, backyard chickens, “rent banks” and wheat lawns are not legitimate topics for politics in the most unaffordable city on the planet.

Against this election, we insist that politics is the scene of collective action, based on a number of principles working at a distance from dominant interests. All the more, it has become a pressing task to imagine reaching into the foggy depths of city hall and wrest the commons away from the clutches of privatization. We believe that the Mayoral, Council, Parks and School Board candidates we have nominated will fight towards exactly that.

DTES delegation at the 2011 Vancouver mayoral debate

At the recent Homelessness and Affordable Housing debate (Nov 7, St. Andrew’s–Wesley Church), mayoral candidates Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton said a lot of things, but they didn’t debate much. They both admitted that they will not slow down or pause destructive market development in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). They agreed that a municipal tax on real estate speculation and non-resident property ownership would not be appropriate. They also agreed that inclusionary zoning, a soft and widely used development permit mechanism that forces developers to include affordable housing in all market developments, would not be good for Vancouver. They even agreed that the solution to the affordable rental housing and homelessness crisis caused by the real estate market is to be found back in the market itself. Put simply, their differences were of degree, not principle.

The most troubling thing about the mayoral debate was the way that both candidates addressed the low-income affordable housing and homelessness crisis: by passing the blame onto provincial and federal levels of government. Both Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton avoided the City’s role in building housing, as well as tools in its jurisdiction that could be used to save low-income housing. These are the top-three things the DNC believes a mayoral candidate would do if they were serious about ending the affordable rental-housing and homelessness crisis in Vancouver: