Vancouver’s two developer-funded parties, the NPA and Vision, are identical on core policy issues. Both put developers before people, and hold their breath for the market to solve our affordability and homelessness crisis. With an election on the horizon, the NPA is desperately attempting to distinguish themselves from their Vision doppelganger. In the absence of substantive differences, much is made of minor sideshows, especially environmental ones. The NPA first opposed backyard chickens, then eschewed downtown bike lanes, and recently denounced the Greenest City Neighbourhood Grants program.

But now the riot has given the NPA a new way to frame its opposition to these environmental sideshows. The NPA team is arguing that the mayor was too distracted by environmental concerns to pre-empt the Stanley Cup riot. But it is the NPA who is directing the sideshow, and it is the public who is distracted. Even with respect to the riot there is little meaningful difference between the NPA and Vision. Despite criticizing the Mayor for inviting masses of people into a confined area downtown, it was an NPA candidate who proposed the idea. He even claimed that opening up BC place stadium could be paid for through food and alcohol sales. At bottom, the NPA’s claim is that it would have implemented a different crowd management strategy involving more aggressive policing. Looking to history, we saw the results of such an approach in 1994 when riots exploded under the nose of NPA Mayor Phillip Owen: police over-reaction led to more cracked heads than windows.

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.


This article was first published in The Mainlander May 6, 2011

Last week Sean Antrim outlined how the past three years of a Vision government has been anything but progressive. For reasons of principle and policy, he argued, COPE should not enter into another coalition with Vision. In addition to principles and policy, there are also strategic questions to consider.

What, then, are some of the strategic reasons COPE’s executive has negotiated a proposal with Vision to run a joint slate in the upcoming municipal elections? There are several possible strategic reasons, all of which don’t hold up under analysis.

1. At least COPE will have a “voice” on Council.

In the 2008 election, COPE and Vision made a coalition agreement. Vision ran 8 and COPE ran 2 candidates for City Council. Both of COPE’s candidates won seats, and yet have wielded no decision making power on Council. Vision holds a majority of seats, and all decisions are made in private by Vision’s caucus, without consulting COPE.

Although powerless in terms of voting, COPE Councillors could theoretically use their position to voice opposition. NPA Councilor Suzanne Anton has used her position to criticize from the reactionary right. But COPE has been an ineffective opposition voice. COPE often votes against Vision, but quietly. You have to follow the live audio-visual feed of Council meetings to hear about it.

COPE’s role has been as “conscience” of Council. Unfortunately, COPE’s alliance with Vision only makes them the fig leaf for Vision’s aggressive pro-developer, anti-resident agenda. There is nothing noble in propping up that status quo.

“The Canucks’ Cup run, like war, has brought us together.”

The local newspapers have given the troops their marching orders. Over the past few weeks, Canucks “news” has been consuming trees faster than a biblical swarm of pine beetles, with news desks putting reporters’ assignments on a loop: Give me something with a hockey tie-in, and give it to me yesterday! Recipes, fashion statements, trips down memory lane, cultural events — as long as it is tinted blue and green, then it’s a tie-in that’s a shoo-in.

But I just about did a spit-take of my official soft-drink of the Vancouver Canucks when I read the above headline in Doug Todd’s A4 column of Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun. Curious. Todd, the paper’s religion reporter, is one of the few columnists who asks hard questions, often dipping his quasi-Christian sandals into the philosophical and ethical questions that our phantasmagorical culture arouses (i.e. painted Canuck faces), and doing so with the closest thing a newspaper writer (as I once was) can come to an emotion like compassion. (That’s when you care about things, right?)

Here, however, in tackling the phenomenon of sport, Todd makes some long jumps in logic that seem bush league. His main thrust, as the headline declares with bravado, is that the Canucks have united our multi-ethnic city around the rallying and trademarked call, “We Are All Canucks.” Despite my own four-decades-long irrational following of this team, however, I can’t read or hear “We are all Canucks” as anything but an insidious (and of course corporately created) slogan with a tell-tale totalitarian ring. It’s about as heartfelt as the response to the computer-generated noise meter. And Todd himself knows the peril that surrounds sport when mass noise is channeled through the wrong regime.

Habitat 67, on the shore of of St. Lawrence seaway in Montreal, was originally designed to be an affordable community. Similar to Vancouver’s Olympic Village, Habitat 67 has since been sold off to the private market and is now considered a ‘failed dream‘.

The Olympic Village was initially designed as a mixed-income housing complex capable of offsetting the displacement and surge in real-estate prices associated with the 2010 Olympics. The original development plan called for two-thirds affordable housing, with a full half of that set aside for those who need support through social (“deep core”) housing. The Village was set to be an ‘inclusive’, socially sustainable community that Vancouver could be proud of. Now, the project has turned into the opposite – an exclusive, luxury complex. Today, few would argue that the Olympic Village has been a success for Vancouver.

A brief look at the history of South East False Creek shines some light on why we have the Village today. The land upon which the Village sits was once an industrial zone, but starting in the 50s and 60s there was increasing industrial disinvestment until eventually the land fell out of use. Taking advantage of unused urban space to create room for people to live, in 1970s the City actively consolidated multiple lots and rezoned the area for housing. The City then remediated the soils and made other public investments.


This month City Hall passed a policy on upzoning the full length of Cambie Street, thereby lining the pockets of developers and speculators. This was no easy task: it required that the Planning Department devise and implement a ‘consultation’ strategy to preempt, co-opt and neutralize resident organizations.

There are many reasons residents might oppose top-down free-market gentrification of their neighbourhoods. Some will be shaded out, some priced-out, while others are faced with more complicated dilemmas. For example, when a bungalow is upzoned to accommodate 12-storey towers, the land value multiplies, but so too do the property taxes, leaving the owner no option but to sell-out to developers trying to consolidate lots. While some home-owners may have legal recourse, residential or commercial tenants have no hope.

Planning has progressed slightly since 19th century Paris, where the younger Napoleon would send in the army to secure and build proto-planner Baron Haussmann’s corridors without a modicum of commune consultation. Today Gregor sends in Toderian to consult corridor residents and secure community buy-in – a useful stamp of approval. To this end, City Planning collaborated with concerned residents to form the Riley Park South Cambie (RPSC) Visions Group, which began consulting area residents about their aspirations and concerns.

However, it turned out that Vision Vancouver was not interested in the visions of this ‘Visions group’, as the visions were pre-determined. Norm Dooley, one of the most active members of the RPSC told The Mainlander: “The Stage 2 process started with a pre-determined set of outcomes and did not vary significantly from its stated goals. There was no room for alternative ideas.”

The City supported the RPSC Vision Group so long as it funneled information in one direction – from the City to residents. But once RPSC began collecting feedback, criticisms, or (heaven forbid) visions, the City was less supportive. According to Norm Dooley:

The opening stage of public meetings that provided information was straight forward enough, but the Riley Park South Cambie Visions Group had to exert pressure to be allowed a presence at those sessions with our information on the larger picture of growth in the immediate area beyond the strict physical definition of the Cambie Corridor (Heather to Manitoba Streets). This made it seem that the Planning Department did not want the public to grasp just how much change our area is in for.

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce” – Karl Marx, in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver were thrown into power in the fall of 2008 by a populace demanding change. Robertson talked about ending homelessness, creating affordable housing, and even tackling real-estate speculation. Many residents, inspired by Barack Obama’s contemporaneous campaign for President, knocked on doors for Vancouver’s would-be change-maker.

But Vision-in-power has squandered its mandate for change. Vancouver’s affordability crisis has deepened, so that people young and old can neither afford a mortgage nor rent. Outrageous land prices inflate costs across the board, from food to art. Meanwhile, Vision has refused to take bold action on affordability: nearly no new non-market housing has been built or planned; only token amounts of unaffordable market rental are on the agenda; the Olympic Village has been a social housing betrayal marketed by ‘condo king’ Bob Rennie; Council has refused to tackle speculation, while lining the pockets of speculators through massive uncontrolled upzonings; and property taxes have been repeatedly shifted from businesses to residents.

Despite these and other failures, many of us in Vancouver feel that Vision is doing a good job. And who can blame us? Vision’s pro-developer ‘veneer-reform’ is shiny enough to appease all but the most vigilant political hacks. Fool us once, shame on the developers.

But fool us twice, shame on us.

In fact, this same brand of pro-developer ‘veneer-reform’ fooled Vancouver in the 1970s. In the fall of 1972, after 35 years of dominance, the NPA was swept out of power by citizen reform movements that grew out of the struggles to introduce a ward system, to save Chinatown and ‘historic’ Gastown, and to stop real-estate corruption on the CPR lands of False Creek, Coal harbour, and Kitsilano.