Sunday, July 17, 2016

Vancouver’s housing debate not about ethnicity, but public policy

Vancouver’s housing debate not about ethnicity, but public policy..hmm

We bantered around a few arguments, including that the hundreds of thousands of transnational migrants and investors who have discovered Metro Vancouver in the past decade cannot be morally blamed, individually, for the city’s astronomical housing costs. That is, except for those involved in corruption or tax evasion.
citizenship, are simply doing what anyone in their situation would do if they could afford it: Investing in Canadian real estate to create a safe economic landing for their families outside their often-troubled countries of origin.
Our coffee group recognized some people from certain countries, especially Mainland China, we acknowledged the most crucial thing is to get up to speed on the multiple factors behind runaway housing prices — so we can encourage governments to finally do something to ease them.
Our discussion led me to conclude that the debate over housing affordability does not need to be dominated by race or ethnicity.
It needs to focus on public policy.

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It should zero in on public policies that will help Metro Vancouver be a real community — a place not only of ethnic diversity, but of economic diversity, where power is mostly in the hands of the people and the gap between the poor, middle class and rich does not widen more than it has already.  
That means discussing policy options, such as whether and how to impose a tax on foreign speculators, tax empty houses, stop international money laundering and tax avoidance, curtail Quebec’s immigrant-investor program, enforce rules in the real-estate industry, add social housing, increase zoning density, adjust immigration levels, shift interest rates and stop foreign donations to B.C. politicians.

Britain’s Legatum Institute is one of several international organizations to rank Canada as the most "tolerant" country in the world.
Britain’s Legatum Institute is one of several international organizations to rank Canada as the ‘most tolerant’ in the world.

But many Canadians don’t seem comfortable with such debates, unlike many in Europe and elsewhere, where it’s generally expected one will be up for a rousing dinner-table discussion about politics, money and power.
Rather than talking about overriding issues such as economic equality and justice, Canadians seem to find it easier, more socially acceptable, to talk about so-called identity politics; which emphasizes ethnicity, gender and individual freedoms.
As a result, in Canada, racial discrimination, or the possibility of it, is often the go-to topic. That’s so even while international agencies continue to rank Canada the most “tolerant” country in the world in regards to immigration. See the recent global surveys by Britain’s respected Legatum Institute and the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based non-profit.
When it comes to housing, why do a relative few British Columbian voices remain fixated on racial issues?
It’s easy to dismiss real estate industry lobbyists who accuse those worried about high housing prices as racist or xenophobic — since their vested interest for the past three decades has been to distract politicians from imposing policies that might cool the flow of foreign money into the market.
Some other Canadians concerned about racism don’t have such dubious motives, but I’m convinced much of their super-vigilance arises out of a misunderstanding of the definition of racism.
The Oxford Dictionary understanding of racism is quite specific. It’s not as sweeping as believed by some people, including the liberal arts academics who build their careers on alleging that “undertones” of racism exist where they may not.
The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as: “Prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
While the housing crisis may trigger some hard-core racists — people who actually do discriminate based on the belief their ethno-cultural group is superior — there is no evidence such behaviour is widespread in Canada or Metro Vancouver.
Residents of Metro would have a right to be morally concerned no matter where the billions of dollars flooding into the city’s housing market was coming from.
If, theoretically, it were pouring in from tens of thousands of Caucasians based in Kelowna, strong feelings, including resentment, and ethical concerns, including in regards to equality, would be justified.
A number of prominent Canadians who are committed to ethnic diversity and social justice tend to agree.

Vancouver’s housing debate “is not about racism. It’s about a difference in economic power,” said Clarence Cheng, former chief executive officer of B.C.’s SUCCESS Foundation, which supports program for immigrants. “It’s about the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer.”

Albert Lo, head of the Canada Race Relations Foundation, says there’s nothing wrong with collecting information on the national origins of people buying and selling houses in Metro Vancouver, in part because it could combat tax evasion.
“In Canada, we are so used to the idea of tolerance that we sometimes find it odd to look at nationalities. That causes some people to jump up and start using the word ‘racism.’ I don’t think it’s helpful,” says Lo.
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, lambastes politicians and property developers who misuse the word “racist” to stifle debate over important issues. He says people have to acknowledge the great distance Canadians have come in overcoming bigotry of the early 20thcentury.

Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, lambastes politicians and property developers who misuse the word "racist" to stifle debate over important issues.
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, lambastes politicians and property developers who misuse the word “racist” to stifle debate over important issues.

UBC planning professor emeritus Setty Pendakur, who has advised the Chinese government, says hyper-vigilant worries about inter-cultural tensions provide a convenient coverup for wealthy investors, whether Canadian-born or from abroad, who “park illegal money here or avoid Canadian taxes.”
Vancouver’s Justin Fung, a member of Housing Action for Local Taxpayers or HALT, says “cries of racism” sidetrack British Columbians from facing the hard policy decisions that will be necessary if we are to ever again link Metro Vancouver wages to housing costs.
So, if as a society we can manage to stay focused on the central issue, how do we institute policies that will help Metro Vancouver become a place where average families can afford to buy or rent decent housing?
Even though it’s ethically fine to collect data on the nationalities of buyers and sellers — and, more importantly, on the country in which they are “residents for tax purposes” — any policies to cool down the housing market must, of course, be universal.
We should expect colour-blindness in all policies designed to counter runaway housing prices — including those that deal with speculation, empty houses, international money laundering, real estate trickery, social housing, political party financing or immigration policy.
The problem is that some hyper-vigilant peoples’ understanding of racism is so sweeping that even after I wrote last week about how B.C. politicians should stop being among the few in the world to accept political donations from foreign companies — someone suggested such a ban may be “xenophobic.”
If that’s the case, virtually the entire world is xenophobic. That includes those who operate The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which covers 35 countries, including Canada. 
The OECD, a defender of democracy and sovereignty, recently made it clear that citizens of a nation have a perfect right to protect themselves from transnational powers and money.
As a February OECD report plainly said: “Political parties need to be responsive to their constituents and not influenced by foreign interests.”