A massive, global social movement has erupted weeks before a municipal election. Its goal is to bring light to the injustice and unsustainability of a corrupt capitalist system. In Vancouver, hundreds have taken the North grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery, with a general message that change is needed now. The mayoral debate has orbited around the issue without touching it. Like the Czar on the eve of the 1917 revolution, the two most electable candidates are fighting over who is better at getting rid of the protest rather than who will better address inequality. The ballot question they want is: whose autocracy will better calm the masses. It's almost as if they don't understand the issue, and the polls are showing that most people are unhappy with both of them.
What has happened to make Vision sink in the polls? It's not an NPA surge, that's for certain.
Housing. The failure to address our housing crisis. In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver won on progressive values, promising to end homelessness and implement an empty condo tax. But now, without the tax, condo prices are at historical highs, and homelessness is higher than it was three years ago (despite public relations spin to the contrary). Social housing has been sold out at the Olympic Village, and three years on the Village still has hundreds of empty units.
Corruption. The corruption of developer-council collusion is only growing. The two major parties are accepting over $4 million in donations this year, much of it from developers. In the absence of a ward system, councillors answer only to the big money players and aren't accountable to particular neighbourhoods, whether it is spot re-zonings or wholesale giveaways to developers in the form of blanket height changes.
Party politics. The agreement with COPE has meant that instead of competing with progressives for a more equal and just City, Vision must compete with the NPA in a contest to see who can make it more unequal. Perhaps rightly thinking that they will receive the progressive votes by default, Vision challenges the NPA on the right-wing front, guaranteeing three more years of politics for the 1 per cent.
Neo-liberal policy. In lieu of the progressive promises of 2008, Vision is now embracing conservative ideas:
1. Vision's "Safe and Livable Neighborhoods" platform includes an annual $5 million increase in the police budget. Crime has been decreasing in Vancouver for years, largely as a result of prevention, harm reduction, and treatment policies. Adding police officers treats the symptoms of social problems, and is money foregone to real solutions. The big question is: are these new police a preparation for enforcing the federal Conservatives' new omnibus crime bill, which chooses law-and-order over welfare and puts marijuana growers in jail for longer than pedophiles?
2. Despite Vision's claims to support affordable housing, current plans have drastically reduced the city's goals. All recognize the urgency of the housing crisis, but our progressives are espousing inadequate, band-aid solutions. For example, take the "rent bank" idea. Those who cannot pay their rent will be loaned money by the city through a "rent bank." It's fine to help people out in a crunch. But from a big-picture perspective, it's not sustainable to allow rents to continue rising, and then lend money that will go directly to landlords, while renters go deeper into debt. The priority should instead be to bring the price of housing and land down. This can easily be achieved by re-activating the Vancouver Public Housing Corporation, and flooding the market with affordable public housing.
3. Finally, this Tuesday Vision announced its economic policy. Tellingly, the policy was announced at Vancouver's most elite and exclusive condo development: the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which includes $20 million units, and whose prospective buyers paid $10,000 just to get a sales-centre appointment with Bob Rennie. Despite Vancouver's rock-bottom corporate tax rates, the plan calls for even further corporate tax breaks. In 2010, a KPMG report highlighted the fact that Vancouver had the lowest taxes in the world. Many of the members of Vision Vancouver have been fighting tax cuts at the federal and provincial level, yet yesterday Gregor promised to create tax incentives in an attempt to lure business to Vancouver. Does Vision Vancouver feel that Stephen Harper's tax cuts at the federal level, and Gordon Campbell's tax cuts at the provincial level are not enough? It would seem so.
In Vancouver, over a quarter of the population are living below the low-income cut-off, and housing costs are amongst the most unaffordable in the world. In 2008, inequality was an election issue, but this time around candidates from both the NPA and Vision are dodging the issue. Until now there has been little discussion of income disparity or poverty along the campaign trail. Perhaps because neo-liberal policies (such as those listed above) will only deepen these problems.
Unexpectedly for the NPA and Vision, #occupyvancouver has become the main election issue. Though the corporate media has ignored the issue of Vancouver's pro-rich tax-structure, the Occupy movement is exposing it. While politicians claim that the housing crisis is a product of natural causes, beyond their means of intervention, the Occupy movement is highlighting the problems of man-made financial speculation and corporate monopolies, which are responsible for high housing costs in our city (as noted by one independent candidate). The connections between global speculation, real-estate oligopolies, and the connection between campaign funding and policy, are being made. The big parties are trying to talk about the occupation without talking about the Occupy movement's grievances, but it just makes the parties look ridiculous.
These are some of the reasons why Vancouverites feel they have no one to vote for. A recent poll showed that Robertson is one of four mayors across the country whose support is below 50 per cent. His main mayoral competitor, Suzanne Anton, is even less popular. Despite the fact that a majority want neither of them to be elected, developer money ensures that one of them will be. Denial of inequality and poverty will continue, as will pandering to the interests of the developers and super-elite. At least until the corrupt system is overturned.
We are in the midst of an October Revolution; the question that is pressing Vancouver, however, is "what will happen in November?" It's possible Vancouver's left will dance in the snow, just as Lenin did when the Soviets lasted a day longer than the Paris Commune.
Photo credit Flickr user [expletive deleted].
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