Monday's mayoral debate on homelessness and affordable housing was a heated fight -- not between the two candidates, but between the City and its residents. Mayor Gregor Robertson and mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton were supposed to face off and debate the issues, but the real debate was with the people of Vancouver.
Rather than reveal disagreements, the event brought to the fore the overlapping politics of Robertson and Anton. If before tonight there was a sense that the candidates' two parties -- Vision and the NPA -- were different in their respective policy platforms, tonight's debate showcased agreement on housing strategy: let the market do it. When asked in vague terms if the market could provide all the solutions, both candidates hesitated, and Anton frequently brought in her party's history of buying sites throughout Vancouver for social housing -- admittedly more than could be said for Vision. But on actual concrete politics, the candidates converged more than they differed. Most importantly, both candidates stressed that they do not support a speculator tax on housing and do not support inclusionary zoning in Vancouver.
Inclusionary zoning is an urban planning policy used in cities throughout the world -- including Vancouver's Oppenheimer district ("DEOD") -- mandating the inclusion of affordable housing in all new multi-unit housing developments. In exchange for pushing up property values and exposing low-income renters to evictions, developers are forced to build a percentage of new units as affordable. In Oppenheimer it's 20%. At the debate, the question was: "Would an inclusionary zoning policy, one where you require developers to build a certain percentage of affordable units into their projects like Richmond does, be workable in Vancouver?" Gregor and Anton said categorically: no.
Gregor was referring to city staff's current review of inclusionary zoning in the Oppenheimer district. Earlier this year head Planner Brent Toderian stated that the city will have to make "tough decisions" about inclusionary zoning in the Oppenheimer district. At the debate Gregor repeated this plan for affordability: replace affordable housing in East Vancouver with $300,000 condominiums. Like Anton, who tonight argued for a "common sense revolution" of "removing red tape" for the developers, Gregor wants further de-regulation to accompany more STIR tax breaks.
Throughout the debate, however, dozens in attendance disagreed with Robertson and Anton, shouting slogans like, "Housing is a Human Right," "Stop the Evictions," "Drown Out the Developer Parties," "Gregor Lies," and "Three More Years of What?" A big theme of the night was the debate format itself, pitting two candidates "against" each other in a false opposition. Attendees -- dozens of them from #occupyvancouver, arriving at the debate with the recent announcement that Mayor Roberston has ordered an eviction of Occupy -- rejected the format of the debate, which excluded any political party or candidate not funded by developers.
When Vision ran in 2008, they promised a speculation tax and and End to Homelessness. This time, Gregor has made clear that the speculation tax is explicitly off the table, while the Obama-era pretense to hope and change has been emptied out, peirced by three years of broken promises. Now there is only popular discontent, and rage against what the occupy movement calls, "politics for the 1%." For three years, Vision has abandoned their promises, demolished and sold off social housing to the market, and toed the line with NPA on tax cuts for the rich.
Last June, after three years of collaboration between Vancouver's two ruling class parties, community organizers and members of COPE mobilized against what they called the Vision-NPA voting block, citing the voting record of the two parties: "The city council voting record of 2008 -- 2011 highlights a three-year collaboration between parties who agree on corporate tax cuts and a pro-developer zoning approach that continues to make Vancouver the world's least affordable city. COPE's strong stance against corporate tax cuts and developer-driven planning have been countered by a Vision-NPA voting block." Tonight, the block was on display. It was not the candidates who rebutted, but the people.
Injunction to be issued to Occupy Vancouver
While the debate was taking place -- literally at the same time -- City of Vancouver officials were handing out legal documents to those currently tenting at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In plastic Ziploc bags, members of the Occupy movement were handed photocopies of a 227 page document made up mostly of legal affadavits from City staff.
According to the documents, Occupiers are in breach of the Fire By-law, having been instructed to remove unoccupied tents and leave space between remaining tents. Secondly, the City Land Regulation Bylaw, which governs the Art Gallery, states under Section 3:
3. A person must not, without the prior written consent of the manager:
(a) cut, break, injure, damage, or destroy any tree, shrub, plant, turf, or flower on city land;
(b) remove any rock, soil, tree, shrub, plant, turf, or flower from city land;
(c) deposit any garbage, refuse, litter, or other waste material on city land, except in containers provided by the city for that purpose;
(d) construct, erect, place deposit, maintain, occupy, or cause to be constructed, erected, placed, deposited, maintained or occupied, any structure, tent, shelter, object, substance, or thing on city land; or
(e) light any fires or burn any material on city land.
The Mainlander has previously discussed the legality of the Structures By-Law, which will not be used to evict the occupiers. This time, it is an injunction for relief, as the City leases the land from the Province of British Columbia. The injunction would require occupiers to remove all "structures, tents, shelters, objects and things owned, constructed, maintained, placed or occupied by them which are located on the Art Gallery Lands."
The repeated justification for the eviction is "deteriorating" health and safety standards. If anything, however, the quality of health services has only improved over the course of the Occupy Movement, since the first day on Oct. 15, with donations and resources ensuring that the camp can deal with any emergencies that arise, including and especially drug overdoses.
What has also improved is the resolve against the City and muncipal government, increasingly seen as the centre of inequality in Vancouver. At the mayoral debate, before the final question was asked from the floor, a speaker from the Occupation announced a march for this coming Saturday entitled "Housing is a Right, Not a Commodity." The question posed to Gregor in the press scrum after the debate was: will the Occupation still exist by the time of next week's march? The answer is that Occupy may be attacked by police as soon as Tuesday.
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