COPEing With Housing Policy

April 9, 2018

Making policy democratically can be a messy business; it is always cleaner and more efficient to dictate policy from the top and simply have the underlings sign off on it. But that is not democratic, and COPE is nothing if not democratic. And so it was that I spent a couple of hours watching membership rather messily go through Housing Policy proposals on Saturday morning at the WISE Hall.  Policy development, though arguably the most important part of politics, is not a “sexy” enterprise to many and there were fewer than three dozen members in attendance. However, they more than made up for the small numbers by their enthusiasm and passion for the topics discussed.

Co-chair Connie Hubbs began by noting a number of dates that are of interest. The Vancouver District Labour Council is holding a “mediated” meeting on May 6th in their continuing attempt to create an alliance between COPE, the Greens, One City and Team Jean. I’m guessing Vision may also be invited even though their mayoral candidate — laughingly called an “independent” — has made it clear she doesn’t want to meet with COPE.

In the meanwhile COPE and Team Jean are continuing to meet with Patrick Condon who, in my opinion, would make a very good mayor; I suspect he would be attractive to the Greens too.

The COPE nomination meeting is set for June 10th, with more details to follow. If you are interested in participating, you need to be a COPE member thirty days prior.

Then, onto policy. A long document was circulated with a number of different proposals.  It was revealed later in the meeting that some of the proposals had already made their way to the Policy Committee and had already been incorporated into their document which will be brought before the membership. This meeting was dealing with a very wide range of topics from Housing through Economy, Transit to Indigenous Relations. I was only able to stay for the Housing segment.

The first set of proposals from a member, included a call to increase the cost of CACs and DCLs “to reflect true benefits to developers,” a luxury of “mansion” tax on super-expensive homes, a moratorium on condo building and gentrification in the DTES, an immediate moratorium on demolition “in single and multi-family zones”, a major push in rental construction, rent controls on “large developments”, and changes to regulations to make in-house suites easier to build.  This was such a large and complex set of proposals (I have merely traced the high points above) that it was clearly destined to be referred back to the Policy Committee for refinement and further consideration. (see my comments at the end of this review)

A second proposal from a member concerned a city-wide plan and neighbourhood consultation prior to re-developments, including a final veto by neighbourhoods.  There was some serious discussion about the problems with a city-wide plan, and no-one seemed to recognize that if a neighbourhood can say “no” to development then Shaughnessy and Point Grey and others could just as easily say “no” to social housing. This motion, too, was referred for more work.

A proposal to increase use of co-ops was approved.

Team Jean submitted a number of proposals including a four-year rent freeze (approved), and making rents tied to each unit rather than to each tenancy (approved).  Team Jean also proposed a mansion tax, the stopping of renovictions by giving the right of return at the same rent to any tenant displaced, better checking of rental condition by City Building Department, moratorium on demolition of rental properties when vacancy rate is below 4%, a proposal to end discrimination against pet owners in rentals, the building of 4,500 affordable units per year for the next four years, and the development of a progressive commercial property tax to assist small business owners.

Proposals from others also included allocation of foreign buyers’ tax and speculative taxes to purchase of land for affordable housing, and upzoning all city owned land.

Unfortunately, we were just going through Team Jean’s proposals when it was decided to refer to the Policy Committee’s updated document. This meant essentially starting again. What eventually brought discussion to a halt was a proposal by Policy on the allocation of speculative tax revenues which included, at the very end,  the notion that some funds should be used to “start the process” of returning indigenous land to the indigenous people.   No one was opposed to the principle but the meeting got bogged down in semantics and a discussion about indigenous rights.

By the time this had gone on for a while, I had used up all the time I had and I had to leave.  There were some valuable discussions at the meeting but I was struck by a few things.

  • There seemed to be no recognition that developers do not pay the CACs — they pass them on and the end user pays, thus adding to the already unaffordable prices.  The calls to increase CACs will not harm developers, but simply make things worse for all of us.  I have stated often enough my belief that CACs should be dropped entirely (this immediately lowers the price of housing) and we should return to the highly successful and democratic process of bi-annual bond plebiscites to determine what community assets we are willing to pay for through property taxes: let the people decide, not the developers in cahoots with Planning;
  • Other than a rent freeze (which leaves things in the sorry and expensive state they are) and a vague call for rent control, there was no discussion about affordability of new rentals. In fact, there was a call for just the building of more rentals as if that will solve matters.  We need to build more rentals, it is true, but we also need to amend Rental100 so that incentives are given to developers ONLY for rentals that can be afforded by the median and lower income earner with at most a 30% of median income limit;
  • The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods has already produced an excellent set of principles for consultation and neighbourhood consultation and approval of new development. Why re-invent the wheel?

I am glad to have gone and wish I could have stayed longer.

 

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A Progressive Unity? Maybe, But ….

March 11, 2018

It was a busy day in the world of Vancouver politics, with at least three meetings — the Vancouver Greens AGM, the COPE unity conference, and the GWAC AGM — all within hours of each other, and each overlapping.  The most important, perhaps, was the COPE meeting.

Meeting downstairs at the Russian Hall, COPE invited the Vancouver Tenants Union, Team Jean, One City, the Vancouver Greens, and the Marpole Students for Modular Housing to each give 10 minute speeches about their organizations and their thoughts on a unity left position for the next municipal election.

Before the speakers began, the COPE chair was firm in noting that no decision has been made on anything approaching a unity slate, and that “left unity” is just an aspirational phrase. She quite specifically noted a separation with Jean Swanson and Team Jean. The sole purpose of the meeting, she said, was to talk and to listen, and that later COPE members would be allowed to decide which way they should go.

Derrick O’Keefe of the Vancouver Tenants’ Union kicked it off with a rousing speech. He announced they already had more than 1,000 members and that renters now had somewhere to go for legal assistance and a clear political voice.  The Union was pushing for a 4-year rent freeze, rents to be attached to suites rather than tenancies, and for a lot more social and public housing.  He closed off with a passionate call for unity to ensure that developers were no longer in power at City Hall, and to make the city a movement leader.

Jean Swanson spoke next, thanking COPE for its endorsement and support during the last by-election. She also approved the idea that the City and its structures should be used as a movement generator, and noted that a rent freeze was a centrepiece of her by-election campaign. She called for a return to door-to-door voter registration (to register as many tenants as possible), and for easier access to polling stations in the election period. She also had much to say about using the city to better embrace and further indigenous reconciliation.

One City split their time between two speakers. Christine Boyle was a founder of One City having been a longtime COPE member. She said their campaign would concentrate on renters and affordable housing, including a realistic definition of “affordable.” They supported a rent freeze and she thought Once City’s “luxury tax” was similar enough to Jean Swanson’s “mansion tax” to bring them together. They approved the idea of all public land being devoted exclusively to social housing. She aligned herself with thoughts of making the city a movement leader, and specifically suggested using the City structures to beef up the Tenants’ Union. She called for a coalition.

The other One City speaker, their co-chair Alison Atkinson insisted that the market was the problem not the solution to the housing crisis. She also reminded the meeting that the Vancouver School Board was a vital target for this election. She declared herself “scared” that NPA developers would take over control of the City. However, she said that discussion of “a combination” should hang fire until the unity discussions organized by the Vancouver District have been completed (see below).

Ishman Bhuiyan of the Marpole Students for Modular Housing announced that he was too young to vote, but showed himself a great speaker. He went through the history of the Marpole project and how the students had come tigether to help — and continue to welcome the new residents. His message to loud applause was that activist students need to be taken seriously.

Pete Fry of the Vancouver Greens arrived straight from the Greens AGM. Regular readers here will know that I am a great admirer of Pete’s but his message wasn’t I believe what we needed to hear. He made it clear the Green’s were not open to any form of coalition. However, he mentioned several times that a motion from the floor at their AGM has suggested Adriane Carr as the “consensus” mayoral candidate. On each occasion the most charitable view of this meeting’s reception to that idea would be “impassive.”  Pete warned the meeting that the developers always played divide and conquer with the progressives, and that there are massive loopholes in the election financing legislation.

The best part of the meeting was seeing half the 100+ audience under thirty. The talk of unity and supporting policies was great. But there was a disappointing lack of actual concerted action.

The dark horse in all this is of course the Vancouver District Labour Council (VDLC) which was first mentioned, in passing, in the COPE chair’s introduction and the backroom dealings of which were confirmed by One City’s Atkinson.  From what I can gather, the VDLC is actively pursuing an alliance between One City, the Greens, and the remnants of Vision Vancouver. It is hard to believe that a genuine and progressive COPE Board would be in favour of giving Vision a break, but who knows what might happen if the unions press hard enough.

One can almost smell Geoff Meggs behind all of this, and a possible Don Davies mayoral run. Depressing.


COPE Meeting: 11th March

March 6, 2018

A special COPE General Meeting will be held from 1:00pm, on Sunday 11th March at the Russian Hall, 600 Campbell Avenue.

The first half of the meeting will include speakers from Vancouver Green Party, One City party, Team Jean [Swanson], Vancouver District Labour Council, Vancouver Tenants’ Union, and the Chinatown Action Group.

Members will then be asked to consider the following:

  • Should COPE run a Mayoralty Candidate in this year’s municipal election?
  • What is the right number of candidates for COPE to nominate for Council, School Board and parks Board?
  • Should we endorse candidates not running with COPE?
  • What would need to be the basis of electoral cooperation with another electoral organization in terms of policy and platform?

In other words,  they will be fixing their position regarding a progressive unity slate to face the boisterously optimistic NPA in October’s municipal election.

Unfortunately, this meeting partially clashes with the GWAC AGM.  I hope to spend the first hour at COPE and then wander back to the Drive for the remainder of the GWAC.


The NPA’s Meet & Greet

March 3, 2018

I attended the NPA’s meet and greet session at the Drive Coffee Bar this morning , and what can I say?  The coffee was great!  [I am still practising with my new camera so the following is the only half decent shot I got!]

It started slow, but by the time I left the place was packed.  Most of the crowd were clearly NPA caucus members, their friends and families. Obviously there were a few interested civilians but perhaps not as many as they would have hoped for.  Much of the NPA’s time was taken up with talking among themselves.

I was disappointed not to see George Affleck there; he’s always fun to chat to.  However, I did spend some time chatting with long-time Parks Commissioner John Coupar who complained bitterly about the huge cut in City funding that Vision imposed on the Parks Board.

I was with a Twitter buddy who has serious concerns about housing affordability for professionals like himself, and he asked John about it.  Coupar propounded what I assume will become the NPA line:  a history lesson that the beautiful Vancouver we all grew up to know and love was created by NPA Councils and that only the Vision reign has caused the problems.  He, of course, skipped over the fact that this current sequence of disasters actually started with the NPA and Sam Sullivan’s infamous Eco Density project.  Vision fought and won their first election with a campaign against Eco Density. However, as we all now recognize, once in power they actually fed massive steroids to the same policy and got us to where we are today.

Prospective NPA mayoral candidate Hector Bremner was there, surrounded by his acolytes from AHV and elsewhere, several of whom seemed keen to look like mini-Bremners. Unlike an old pro like John Coupar who was working the tables, Bremner mostly stayed where he was and had people brought to him. Noblesse oblige, I guess.

The other prospective NPA mayoral candidate, Glen Chernen showed up around 11 and did his best to meet and greet. However, the tiny space was so packed with Bremner’s people that it was hard to get around.

If they have more of these types of events, they have to do one of two things:  (1) use a space that is not long and very narrow; or (2) have their reserved tables near the back of the space rather than blocking up the front.

 


Election Review #2

February 27, 2018

We are now less than 8 months away from the next Vancouver municipal election and the line up for both Mayoral and Councillor seats are still unclear. I will start with a discussion about Councillors because getting a majority of those is what counts in our system.

George Affleck

Both Vision Vancouver and NPA are in disarray. Vision has lost all but two of its incumbents, the rest having run for the hills unable to withstand any further scrutiny of their ten-year reign of disaster. The NPA, who should be shoo-ins with the collapse of Vision, have a couple of problems. First, the hated BC Liberals have embedded themselves in the party, and now an outsider is forcing a contest for the mayoralty. Besides that, their most popular and best-known Councillor, George Affleck, is retiring.

This confusion among both Vision and NPA should open a door for the genuinely progressive left to move en masse into Council.  But there is a catch: if the various progressive parties and independents each run under their own banner, they will — guaranteed — split the vote and allow the NPA to take over. There needs to be a unity alliance, not just in policies but in the candidates that are run.

My own hope is that a progressive alliance runs for all 10 seats under a single brand, and I would suggest a breakdown more or less as follows:  3 Greens, 2 COPE, 1 OneCity, 1 YPP, and 3 independents.  If they can get six elected, we are on the path to salvation.

Gregor Robertson

Gregor Robertson is finally bowing out, with his failed legacy dragging along behind him, and so there is plenty of talk about who is going to run as Mayor. Raymond Louie is a non-starter given that he would have to wear Vision’s past almost alone; I suspect they will not run a candidate this year (or, probably, ever again).

Libby Davies has been loudly touted as a favoured choice of the left. But seriously, much as I respect her, how many Gen X and millennials have even heard of her? Her candidature would come across as the last nostalgia-laden kick of the can for the boomers scrambling to hold on to power.  If we need an

Adriane Carr

NDP warhorse, then surely a younger and more active Dave Eby would be a better choice.

I am hoping that Adriane Carr stays as a Councillor, mainly because her popularity guarantees that seat, but she would definitely make a fine mayor too.

On the centre right, it looks like a battle between the BC Liberals under Hector Bremner and the anti-corruption crusader Glen Chernen for the NPA nomination. Whoever wins that campaign will probably have a lot to say about who runs for the NPA as Councillors, and whether the NPA drifts to the center or moves even further to the right.

It is time for the progressives to act. We cannot wait much longer before raising the flag of a united brand.

 

 


The Politics of Deliberate Exclusion

February 24, 2018

As we begin to gear up for the Vancouver municipal election in October, it is good to be reminded that most of what we consider to be voter apathy is in fact the politics of deliberate exclusion. Dave Meslin explained it well eight years ago:

 

 


The Vancouver Election Starts Now

January 11, 2018

In exactly 40 weeks’ time, a new Vancouver City Council will be hatched. And just like any pregnancy, while it may start off in a quiet way, we all know — or should know — that the more preparation we can do before the fast-breaking activities on the big day, the more likely the event itself will be a joyful experience.

Vision seems in disarray with Robertson, Meggs, Reimer, and Vdovine no longer available, a terrible by-election result behind them, and the big promises of homelessness and affordability shoved aside by the greed of their financiers.  But they are a real full time party with more than a decade of dark money behind their operation. I’m sure that Joel Solomon and his big money buddies will do their best to attract what Solomon calls “extraordinary world class candidates” and, with an established GOTV operation in place, with a more than friendly Meggs-driven NDP government in Victoria, and helpful nods from Trudeau looking for Vancouver votes, Vision could pull off another victory, but …

The NPA seem likely favourites going in this time. Although popular George Affleck is stepping down, they have the new found weight of BC Liberal organizers, and the renewed interest of businessmen such as Peter Armstrong behind them this year. The newly drafted electoral financing rules might cause some dismay but, with the blatant third-party spending loopholes, I’m sure their Postmedia buddies will make sure their message gets through. And what will their message be?   George Affleck laid out one line of attack — an end to “excessive” taxation due to “wasteful” spending. Meanwhile the progressive-minded Glen Chernen is running a far more attractive platform, though it is doubtful that Armstrong et al would be happy to see him as their candidate. On the other hand, I’m sure we will see and hear a lot more of newly-elected snake oil salesman Hector Bremner pushing some supply-side trickle-down Reaganism as the panacea for all our ills. That could be enough.

And what of the Greens?  I would love to see the Vancouver Greens hammer out an agreement with Jean Swanson, COPE, and perhaps some other independents and go for broke, seeking both the Mayoralty and control of Council. Unfortunately, the history of progressives working together has shallow roots in Vancouver municipal politics, though, and in 2018 I am guessing the best they could achieve would be a controlling three-way split on Council; but that would be infinitely better than either a Vision or NPA majority.

The real point to this is that if we want to ensure the developers and businessmen have their control of Vancouver City Council ended, we need to get organised NOW.