EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION | Since publishing Part I of this three-part series, other publications have followed suit, with similar columns appearing in the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier. The articles signal a recognition that the phenomenon of affordability-scapegoating is quickly losing ground in Vancouver. There is a growing realization that, to quote Pete McMartin, “race is the unspoken issue surrounding real estate prices.” At the same time, those short articles fit into a mode of commentary increasingly associated with Vancouver: oblique and evasive, identified by an ability to ask questions rather than provide answers. Either by the practice of method journalism, faux-naïveté, or the constraints of journalistic neutrality tinged with what Am Johal calls “the epidemic of politeness,” such writing cannot help but come up short of its target. Here in Part II, Crompton shows that while racialized scapegoating relies on unsubstantiated anecdotes, the economic facts clearly show that Asian buyers are not responsible for Vancouver’s housing crisis. Crompton argues that the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of Vancouver’s local ruling-class and its neo-liberal policies.

EDITORAL INTRODUCTION | From the start, Vancouver has been marked by a history of racism against Chinese and Asian immigrants, a fact which few commentators can overlook (although not few enough, as this article demonstrates in its sharp critique of Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk). Part I of this three-part essay by Nathan Crompton reaches into contemporary Vancouver to find that despite the passage of time, original assumptions and archetypes of race and class have proven indispensable for an ongoing history of scapegoating – a history that has, according to Crompton, reached a peak in today’s discussion of housing in Vancouver. Far from signaling the simple break away from the city’s colonial past, the mystical real-estate economy proves fertile grounds for the re-capitulation of the time-tested logic of political scapegoating. This three-part essay is sure to have an impact not only for its use of historical and empirical research to blow the lid off assumptions that Vancouver’s housing crisis can be explained by Asian capital, but for its direct critique of household politicians and commentators. From Sandy Garossino to Gregor Robertson, few are spared in this militant clarion-call to move beyond the present by clearing out the skeletons of history.


At different points throughout the 125 years of its history, colonial Vancouver has blamed its problems on others. The relation between “citizens” and “foreigners” underlying the identity of Vancouver has been at times explosive – as when anti-Asian riots attacked Chinatown and Japantown in 1907. Flashpoints occurred again in the 1880s, the 1900s, the 1930s, the 1970s and 1990s, always with the same result: to draw up new lines of exclusion and discrimination while deepening the political disorientation of the times. At other moments the relationship has been segregated but passive, embedded in the habits and rituals of the city. Today, when it is assumed that xenophobic movements could not gain the same momentum as 100 years ago, the penchant to blame “foreigners” for local problems continues. In an assessment of contemporary Vancouver, Henry Yu once asked presciently, “is Vancouver the future or the past”?[1] If the question reads like a riddle, it is because the answer is equally uncertain. As extreme-right movements today pick up momentum in Europe and elsewhere in the context of financial crisis and long-term economic stagnation, it is now more than ever that we should examine global and local histories of racism and xenophobia.

Fin de siècle Vancouver

There was recently a telling moment when Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk used his column to target Vancouver school board trustee, Allan Wong. Hasiuk attacked Wong for a motion put forward at the school board calling on the province to incorporate the history of British Columbians of Chinese descent into the regular provincial curriculum. Curriculum changes were not needed, according to Hasiuk, since there is already too much Chinese Canadian history taught in the secondary curriculum. Hasiuk moreover mocks the Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Canadian Pacific Railway as a “holy trinity” in both the curriculum and cultural memory of Vancouver.

Yesterday, the Mayor’s Developer Task Force released its interim report. On the surface, the four page pamphlet does not provide anything new, containing only the standard free market jargon and housing bubble diagrams we have seen for the last three years. As former planner Brent Toderian has recently stated, the plan regurgitates much of what the City has already proposed.

Instead of proven solutions, there will be only market solutions to housing affordability built by for-profit housing developers. The same mechanisms that gave us a housing crisis in the first place will now be used to address it.

The report is clear that those who need housing the most will be left out of the mandate of the task force: the task force will only be looking at how to build housing for people with incomes above $21,500. It is claimed that individuals who make less than this amount will have their housing needs addressed by the City’s Housing and Homelessness Plan. The Housing and Homelessness Plan calls for the construction of 38,000 units of housing — 20,000 of these condos — over the next ten years. This amounts to 3,800 units, in other words, less housing than the 4,000 or more units that have been built annually for the past decade.

Teachers across the Province went on strike yesterday and will continue for the next two days. With over 41,00 teachers walking out, the industrial action was one of the largest demonstrations in decades. Teachers withdrew services in protest of Bill-22 — provincial legislation against collective bargaining for salary, benefit improvements, class size and quality of education. The bill seeks to immediately force teachers back to work without a contract, but also undermine public education in the long-term.

Yesterday’s demonstrations followed on the heels of a powerful, diverse student walkout last Friday on the Vancouver Art Gallery lawns. Despite uncooperative rainy conditions, the student walkout saw an enthusiastic show of politicization by the province’s youth along diverse lines of class, race and ethnicity. The students made an overwhelming call for justice and equality for fellow students and teachers across the province who have been adversely affected by eleven years of neoliberal austerity measures, cuts to education, anti-union legislation, coupled with generous corporate tax cuts.