SNC-Lavalin scandal drowning out housing crisis concerns, Vancouver Granville candidates say

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Image: Jody Wilson-Raybould/Facebook

Believe it or not, some candidates running in Vancouver Granville in this year's federal election wish the media would pay closer attention to the city's housing affordability crisis rather than the political drama following the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

The NDP's candidate, Yvonne Hanson, believes the focus on incumbent Jody Wilson-Raybould's ejection from the Liberal caucus earlier this year -- after the former cabinet minister refused to halt corruption charges against engineering giant SNC-Lavalin -- is drowning out the concerns of ordinary voters in the riding.

"The media is absolutely, completely distracted," Hanson told "The average person I talk to doesn't really care about the political drama."

Perhaps less surprisingly -- since his party was at the centre of the scandal -- the Liberal party's candidate Taleeb Noormohamed, agrees.

"One of the tragedies of all this is the titillating stories from the media have taken away from the issues that really matter in this riding," he said. "I tell reporters to come and knock on the doors with me, and hear what people are actually concerned about."

"People certainly say they've lost confidence in the Liberals," the Green party's candidate Louise Boutin noted, "but it's a multitude of issues that have brought them to that decision."

Since Wilson-Raybould announced her intention to run as an independent, plenty of mainstream news coverage in the riding has focused on her defiance of Justin Trudeau's attempts to politically interfere with the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, which resulted in the federal ethics commissioner finding the prime minister to be in violation of ethics rules. However, the preoccupation with Wilson-Raybould's profile as a political independent, the other candidates say, has tended to bury concerns about sky-high rents, low vacancy rates and shortages of affordable non-market housing units in Vancouver near the bottom of some news articles.

"We need to start being tested on the issues," said Noormohamed. "There's a real systemic set of problems that need to be addressed."

Vancouver Granville encompasses some of the least affordable residential areas in Canada. In July, a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that a full-time worker needs to make $35.43 per hour to afford rent for an average-priced two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver. In South Granville, one of the neighbourhoods within the boundaries of the Vancouver Granville electoral district, the rental wage for a two-bedroom rises to $40 per hour. 

As a renter herself, Hanson experiences those out-of-control rates first hand. Though she considers herself to be in a relatively fortunate position, the NDP candidate, like many other tenants in the area, lives in rent poverty.

"I don't make very much working retail, so I'm still paying about 50 per cent of my income on rent," she explained.

Noormohamed conceded that the results of the Liberal government's 10-year National Housing Strategy -- which aims to create up to 125,000 new housing units and refurbish more than 300,000 public units -- are not immediately apparent, but insisted that's partly because new housing developments are slowed down by red tape at the municipal level.

"In the city of Vancouver, things don't move particularly quickly when it comes to building things," he claimed. "The results on the ground are a little bit tougher to see tangibly."

However, Hanson pointed out that a large portion of the Liberals' spending commitments for affordable housing is not scheduled to take effect until after the election, meaning that many struggling renters are being left behind.

"A lot of people that need homes now, and needed homes in 2017 when that was promised, can't afford to wait," she said.

The NDP promises to build 500,000 units of affordable housing in 10 years, beginning with an immediate $5 billion investment. The federal government's role, Hanson believes, is to streamline funding mechanisms, and to ensure the right kinds of homes are being built.

"We're looking to incentivize co-operative housing, social housing and non-market housing," she said. "We want to reclaim the federal government's position as a housing provider."

Boutin, who works as a realtor in Vancouver, said another issue is the fact that paycheques are not keeping up with high costs of living.

"The money is all going to the one per cent, and there's not as much distribution as there was in past decades," she said. 

The Green party wants to strengthen the National Housing Strategy by reinstating the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's mandate to provide support for more affordable housing.

Wilson-Raybould, meanwhile, has not yet released a platform on housing. Although she could not be reached for comment for this story, the "Housing" section on her campaign website currently reads as follows:

"Our city is one of the most expensive in which to live and our riding one of the most expensive areas within the city. What are you thoughts on housing issues in our community?"

For the other candidates, it seems that questions about the affordability crisis have already been answered loud and clear. How will Wilson-Raybould address the issue?

The Conservative party's Zach Segal did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Jody Wilson-Raybould/Facebook

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