Douglas Todd: How religion cuts into politics in B.C.

Tend to agree that more studies needed with respect to visible minorities and religion (some obvious links, Canadian Sikhs, evangelical or more fundamentalist Christians among Chinese Canadians), and the political impacts:

Did Christy Clark increase her popularity by 10 percentage points when she stopped attending Vancouver’s giant Pride parade?

That’s one of the more spicy possibilities raised in a new book that delves into how religion makes a big difference in politics in Canada, even in unusually secular B.C.

The authors of Religion and Canadian Party Politics, from UBC Press, devote a chapter to the ways conservative Christians have been a crucial factor in B.C.’s political dogfights, with a glance also at Sikh influences.

The University of Toronto’s David Rayside and Carleton’s Jerald Sabin and Paul Thomas explain how Clark, who had been happily attending Pride parades, abruptly stopped doing so in 2012.

With Clark painting herself as more socially conservative, her polling numbers went up and those of the then-robust B.C. Conservative party plummeted by 10 percentage points.

The ex-premier did more than snub Vancouver’s Pride parade to cement the “religious vote” in the pivotal 2013 B.C. election, however.

Clark’s advisers obtained an endorsement from Stockwell Day, a preacher and former Conservative cabinet minister. Clark also appeared on the evangelical TV show of David Mainse, host of 100 Huntley St. In addition, the book cites my report on her speech to the Christian organization, City in Focus, in which she said it’s “tragic” more people don’t worship God.

Perhaps most importantly, Clark aggressively propped up private religious schools, and not only because her son attended Vancouver’s St. George’s, an upper-class, nominally Anglican institution.

Religion and Canadian Party Politics cites how B.C.’s private schools, which are mostly conservative Christian, with some Sikh and Muslim, are growing to the point they now educate 13 per cent of all the province’s young students.

The tactics of Clark, an Anglican, were not only aimed at white Christians, but also B.C. Filipinos (95 per cent of whom are Christian), Koreans (64 per cent Christian) and ethnic Chinese (22 per cent Christian, 59 per cent not religious).

As for the B.C. NDP, Religion and Canadian Party Politics points to polls suggesting they appear to disproportionally rely on non-religious voters.

That is significant since the portion of British Columbians who are atheists, or unaffiliated, is arguably the highest of anywhere in North America, at 44 per cent.

It should be noted, though, that despite the tendency of B.C. Liberals to attract religious voters and the NDP to do the opposite, polls suggest all the province’s parties are capable at different times of drawing support from across the ethnic and faith spectrum.

It’s too bad, in an era when almost all politicians are going out of their way to court minority religious and ethnic groups, the book touches only briefly on Clark’s early success with Sikhs.

It quotes a source saying 30 per cent of the B.C. Liberal party’s membership was made up of Sikhs, even though they comprise just five per cent of the B.C. population. Metro Vancouver’s Sikhs number almost 200,000 and their large gurdwaras often host political gatherings.

Unfortunately, since Religion and Canadian Party Politics was published in 2017, it was not able to report on the way many Sikhs seemed to feel betrayed by Clark during this year’s B.C. election.

The NDP this May won all eight Metro Vancouver ridings with significant Sikh/South Asian populations.

An even more recent overlap of Sikhism and politics in B.C. occurred with the October election of Jagmeet Singh, an orthodox Sikh, as leader of the federal NDP. Singh won in part because he signed up 10,000 new members in B.C., many of them Sikhs.

It’s paradoxical that Singh is now leading a progressive, morally liberal party, even while he’s a baptized Sikh loyal to a faith devoted to conservative sexual ethics.

Even though Singh, 38, is unmarried, the Sikh religion emphasizes orthodox males are expected to be married, emphasizing they should not have sex until then.

Homosexuality is also not accepted in Sikh teaching, and abortion is seen as generally wrong.  Nevertheless, Singh appears to express the kind of tolerance promoted by Sikh teachings about not hating anyone based on their race or sexuality.

How do Canadian Muslims vote?

That question may not be quite as significant in Metro Vancouver, where the Muslim population is three per cent, as it is in places such as Montreal and Toronto, where Muslims make up eight per cent of the population.

Even though Religion and Canadian Party Politics doesn’t delve into it, polls suggest many Canadian Muslims support patriarchy, reject homosexuality and discourage mixed unions.

So it initially appears contradictory that 65 per cent of Canadian Muslims supported Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, (a Catholic) who frequently shows solidarity with feminists and LGBQT people.

The paradox is partly explained by Stephen Harper’s campaign, however. The federal Conservative party took a stand against the face-covering niqab worn by some Muslim women and, as Rayside said in an interview, showed “very one-sided support for Israel.”

Such is the complicated world of religion and politics in Canada.

While Religion and Canadian Party Politics is strong in critically assessing the influence of conservative white Christians on politics, sometimes by stealth, it’s not as useful on the impact of minority ethnic and religious groups.

Rayside acknowledged many scholars are reluctant to appear to criticize ethnic-based faiths.

But whites are now a minority in Metro Toronto and Vancouver. And about 17 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents, and 22 per cent of Torontonians, follow a non-Christian religion.

As scholar Reginald Bibby points out in his new book, Resilient Gods (UBC Press), in the decade leading up to 2011 more than 478,000 immigrants arrived who were Catholic (mostly Filipino and Chinese), 442,000 had no religion (mostly Chinese and Europeans), 388,000 were Muslims (mostly Iranians and Pakistanis), 154,000 were Hindus (from India) and 107,000 were Sikhs (India).

Scholars may have to overcome their cautiousness and more seriously study the impact of such fast-growing ethnic and religious groups.

It’s not just conservative Christians who have been quietly changing the face of Canadian partisan politics. So have Sikhs and Muslims: Many would expect they would be the hot new thing in political research.

via Douglas Todd: How religion cuts into politics in B.C. | Vancouver Sun

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Douglas Todd: Who decides the land is ‘sacred’?

Todd on the Ktunaxa/Jumbo Glacier case:

Ktunaxa elder Chris Luke Sr. lives in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains, about 1,000 kilometres east of Vancouver. He doesn’t speak English and he knows how to keep his silence.

Still, Luke is a powerful man.

For eight years, the elder’s religious vision has seized the attention of Canada’s top courts, demanding the focus of hundreds of lawyers, judges, civil servants and politicians.

Their work became necessary because Luke said he had an epiphany in 2004 — which he did not reveal to his people until 2009 ­— that the grizzly bears that inhabit a large chunk of public land in the Purcells are sacred, divine protectors.

As a result, Luke’s small tribal group entered into years of hard political negotiations with the B.C. government, which turned into a precedent-setting court case against developers of a ski resort called Jumbo Glacier.

The case, which Luke and his people lost this month in the Supreme Court of Canada, not only raised profound questions about Canada’s commitment to protect religious freedom, it opened a bigger cans of worms. It highlighted philosophical, ethical, anthropological and religious issues.

Four of the broad questions from Luke’s case are: Who decides what is “sacred?” Are religious beliefs static? Is Indigenous spirituality monolithic? Do aboriginals consistently respect the land?

In the case, known as “Ktunaxa Nation versus British Columbia,” the elder was put forward as the sole source of religious truth.

“The record is clear that the Ktunaxa (believe) only certain members of the community, knowledge-keepers, possess information about spiritual values, and that only Mr. Luke could speak to these matters,” wrote the judges.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed the Ktunaxa were “sincere” in following Luke’s vision of the “Grizzly Bear Spirit.” But the judges noted the Ktunaxa had believed for less than a decade that the grizzly territory they call Qat’muk was of utmost spiritual significance.

The judges concluded timing didn’t matter, though. “Whether this belief is ancient or recent plays no part in our analysis. The Charter protects all sincere religious beliefs and practices, old or new.”

In other words, Canadian courts are obliged to take seriously almost anybody who convinces their followers that land in B.C., or anywhere, is absolutely sacred.

Theoretically, Luke could have been a New Age guru from, say, Los Angeles, who persuaded a group to “sincerely” believe parts of Saskatchewan, or Mississauga, were untouchable. The potential is high for arbitrariness.

Even though the Ktunaxa lost their case, two of nine Supreme Court judges (and many aboriginals and their supporters) believe the majority made a mistake in one of the reasons they refused to stop the ski development for religious reasons.

In general, I tend not to champion giant ski resorts, nor shopping malls nor casinos, whether on public, private or Aboriginal land. Like many Canadians, I also strongly support reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous populations, along with the treaty process.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed the Ktunaxa were ‘sincere’ in following their elder’s vision of the ‘Grizzly Bear Spirit.’ But the judges noted the Ktunaxa had believed for less than a decade that the grizzly territory in the Purcell Mountains was of utmost spiritual significance. Determining ‘sacredness’ is subjective, and the courts justifiably don’t want to take a stand on it.

But, with the Ktunaxa case, it’s hard not to think the majority of judges were more reality-based than the dissenters.

One of the flaws in the Ktunaxa lawyers’ arguments was in the definition of sacred. Who decides what is sacred? And what rights does that give those who claim it?

The court concluded understandings of “sacred” are subjective. In a pluralistic society, one person’s sacred is another person’s profane.

So, instead of legally protecting a physical place or object that some claim sacred, the only thing Canada’s courts rightly felt justified in guarding is religious expression (which includes giving Sikhs the right to carry kirpans, or ceremonial knives).

Beyond the legal angles, which are many, the Ktunaxa case also brings up many broad religious issues, including about whether faiths are static.

Though many think religions such as Christianity or Islam are set in stone when they’re founded, many other believe they change over time. The Ktunaxa case inadvertently confirmed how a group’s theology can dramatically evolve, since the court found no evidence they believed in the “Grizzly Bear Spirit” before contact with Europeans.

The case also touches on the question: Are Canadian Indigenous beliefs monolithic?

The two dissenting judges seemed to assume so, with Judge Michael Moldaver saying things such as, “There is an inextricable link between spirituality and land in Indigenous religious traditions.”

But no judge mentioned the wide religious diversity among Canada’s 1.7 million Indigenous people, including that two of three are Christian. That includes many Ktunaxa.

Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality, by Philip Jenkins, is one of many books describing how eclectic and syncretistic Indigenous spirituality has been, including in the way such things as smudging rituals have been loosely borrowed and adapted.

We cannot assume religious uniformity among Indigenous people or anyone else, even though the dissenting judge appeared to do so — somewhat naively, romantically.

Canadian scholar Rod Preece’s Animals and Nature has detailed hundreds of ways North American Indigenous people have through the centuries mistreated the land and animals.

That includes the way Prairie natives killed thousands of buffalo at a time, wasting their meat, sometimes just taking their tongues. It also entails recent events, such as the Inuit hunter on his snowmobile who chased 162 wolves to their deaths and B.C. aboriginals joining non-Aboriginals in overfishing.

North American aboriginals often ambivalent approach to nature also suggests itself when tribal groups erect unsightly billboards and casinos on what is supposedly “sacred” land, along with huge commercial developments, such as the new Tsawwassen mall.

Such troublesome realities, however, didn’t stop Judge Moldaver from playing the role of a religion expert when he insisted Aboriginals are unique in their firm belief physical things are sacred.

That’s unlike those who follow “Judeo-Christian faiths,” Moldaver claimed, “where the divine is considered to be supernatural.”

Thousands of religion scholars would disagree with the judge’s generalization. They might cite the Christian theology of “incarnation,” which teaches God is embedded in every natural thing, not to mention the commitment of Jews and Muslims to their holy lands.

Moldaver’s awkward attempts at theology serve as a reminder of why Canadian courts have decided never to rule on what is religiously “orthodox.”

To be fair, the dissenting judge was trying in his way to further the valuable process of reconciliation with Canada’s aboriginals.

But the majority of judges went ahead and actually did so: By clarifying that ostensibly political claims about who controls public land cannot be made on religious grounds.

via Douglas Todd: Who decides the land is ‘sacred’? | Vancouver Sun

Can Canadians learn from world’s largest Muslim country? Douglas Todd

Todd reflects on his recent visit to Indonesia and possible implications for Canada (one could argue that there may be similar risks with regard to more fundamentalist Christians, whether immigrants or not):

When Canadians think about the Islamic world, they tend to focus on quasi-dictatorships in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran.

But the world’s most populous Muslim nation is actually Indonesia.

This equatorial Southeast Asian country is home to 260 million people, 87 per cent of whom are Sunni Muslims.

It’s been a democracy for two decades, a rarity among Muslim-majority countries.

Canada is a much different country, obviously. Our nation is predominantly Christian, increasingly non-religious, and has been a democracy for at least 150 years.

Indonesia, nevertheless, has surprising similarities to Canada, particularly in the way its moderate Muslim community leaders express commitment to values such as pluralism.

Surprisingly, the Muslim-majority country’s centuries-old motto is: “Unity in diversity,” which sounds a lot like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s go-to slogan: “Diversity is our strength.”

I recently attended a conference of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) in Jakarta, the world’s second-largest metropolitan region.

I was struck by how many times journalists, professors, top Muslim leaders and politicians used words like tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism and interfaith dialogue.

They do so for a reason: Indonesia is at a crossroads.

Its young democracy is increasingly fragile, threatened by rising intolerance and Muslim extremists, particularly those from the authoritarian Middle East.

I lost count of how many times speakers at the conference referred, in an almost casual way, to Indonesian “riots,” largely organized by Muslim radicals, some of which led to killings.

Indonesian journalists who write about religion repeatedly talked about being harassed, threatened, ostracized and having to deal with Muslim-led boycotts.

Journalists from other Muslim-majority countries, like Pakistan and Malaysia, also described backlashes when they tried to write stories about their countries’ laws, which forbid criticizing Islam and treat sodomy as a crime.

The most recent case of mushrooming extremism in Indonesia centres on the once-popular former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian.

Purnama is now in jail after his political opponents’ trumped-up a charge that he blasphemed Islam, merely by saying the Qur’an allows people to vote for non-Muslims.

With moderate politicians living in trepidation of such illiberal Islamists, the latter are taking advantage of democratic freedoms to magnify their power.

Islamists have successfully brought in sharia law in regions of Indonesia, influenced in part by ultra-conservative Muslims from the Middle East.

Scores of drug dealers are being shot on sight. Hardliners in some regions have totally prohibited alcohol, restricted women’s dress, and are punishing homosexuals, adulterers and those who date outside marriage, with whippings.

As these grim examples illustrate, compared to Canada, the stakes are much higher for moderates in countries like Indonesia when they profess a commitment to such things as diversity and pluralism.

Canadians could learn from the courageous Indonesians willing to defend such values, including democracy and cultural sovereignty, from outside religious forces.

Most Canadians take democratic freedoms for granted — in contrast to moderates in Indonesia, like Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi.

She told the IARJ conference: “For a diverse country like Indonesia, harmony is a must, otherwise it cannot survive.”

The increasing power of extremists, external and internal, has also led the leader of the moderate Muslim socio-religious group, Muhammadiyah, which has 30 million members, to call on Indonesians to wake up.

“Moderate Muslims are too quiet. We have to become radical moderates,” Abdul Mu’ti, Muhammadiyah’s secretary-general, told conference delegates. “Moderate Muslims have been sleeping. We have kept silent. We have become lazy tolerant.”

Likewise, a founder of The Wahid Institute for democracy, Yenny Wahid (daughter of Indonesia’s former president), urged Muslims to stop ignoring religious extremists, since acquiescence has given them a bigger platform.

“You have to fight back. You have to defend your own boundaries,” Wahid said.

The immense political power held by religious organizations in Indonesia is largely unfamiliar to Canadians.

English-speaking Canada’s once-predominant mainline Protestants have given up a lot of their influence, particularly in the past 50 years.

Noted religion historian Mark Noll says when Canada’s Protestants, and to some extent Catholics, welcomed multiculturalism and pluralism in the 1970s, they eroded their own influence. These denominations are now minor players on the national scene.

And even though Canadian evangelicals tried, mostly through stealth, to shape federal policy during the heyday of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, they largely didn’t succeed.

Minority religions in Canada — Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus — are now growing faster than Christian denominations.

But they are still relatively small. Muslims make up eight per cent, for instance, of Toronto residents, while Sikhs comprise a roughly equal portion of Metro Vancouver’s population.

As SFU political scientist Sanjay Jeram makes clear, Canadian politicians constantly woo such urban religious groups. But, because they are not majorities, they don’t have the same broad power to sway politics as Muslim groups do in Indonesia.

There is a frank discussion to be had some day over whether hard-line religious organizations, strengthened by their separate schools, may ever really pose a risk to Canada’s democratic values.

There is little doubt many immigrants arrive with more patriarchal practices than domestic Canadians. Polls show religious immigrants generally have a higher aversion to intermarriage and are more critical of abortion and homosexuality.

But the more immediate threat to Canadian democracy, and Canadian values such as equality and fairness, currently has less to do with religion and much more to do with economics.

Witness the housing affordability crises in Metro Vancouver and Toronto. As a result of the globalization of capital and labour, and the anything-goes attitudes of Canadian politicians, locals in these major cities have been priced out of their own housing markets.

Are Canadians prepared to defend their democratic values, including the principle of economic justice? Are Canadians willing to take a stand to protect citizens from trans-national capital and property speculators, domestic and foreign?

Or, as Abdul Mu’ti warns Indonesians, are Canadians instead going to be passive in the face of such threats, the ultimate practitioners of “lazy tolerance”?

Source: Can Canadians learn from world’s largest Muslim country? | Vancouver Sun

Douglas Todd: Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese irked by inequality, tax avoidance

More good reporting on under-reporting of income in Vancouver. Not surprising that Chinese Canadians, likely particularly second generation, are as concerned as any one:

When urban planner Andy Yan spent an hour last week on a Fairchild radio talk show, every Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking person who called was irate about growing housing inequality and tax avoidance.

“It really surprised me. The biggest lesson out of it was that Chinese-speaking people are as concerned as everyone about fairness and transparency and accountability,” Yan said.

The housing researcher said Chinese-Canadians appear as worked up as others about the growing gap between the house-rich and the rent-poor in this metropolis of 2.4 million people, in which one in five people have Chinese origins.

Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, found in a study of the 2016 census that Metro Vancouver led the 10 most-populous cities in Canada in having the highest percentage (16.5 per cent) of residents living in low-income households.

Yan’s study, in addition confirming there are genuinely low-income city neighbourhoods, also added evidence to rising worries about Lower Mainland households that appear to under-report income.

“It’s a total mind-spin,” Yan said. “In Richmond, it seems to be a special concern,” he said, explaining how residents of the municipality, who are 50 per cent ethnic Chinese, are concerned many households may be under-reporting incomes to avoid taxes.

In a large swath of northwest Richmond, centred around Westminster Highway and Gilpin Road, which is replete with new high-end condos, 33 to 50 per cent of residents report living in low-income households. The Canadian average is 14 per cent.

Yan said his study revealed parts of West Vancouver and the west side of Vancouver are also sharp anomalies, with 25 to 33 per cent of individuals in households declaring poverty-like incomes, despite the stratospheric housing prices in those areas.

Yan’s study echoes two reports by veteran real-estate researcher Richard Wozny and UBC geographer Dan Hiebert, which show that residents of core Metro municipalities, where housing is extremely expensive, are often paying less taxes than people in the suburbs, where real-estate values are more modest.

In light of the study by Yan and others, three major factors appear to be contributing to why Metro Vancouver outstripped other major Canadian cities in having the most low-income households.

One factor is the region’s unusually large cohort of poor and working poor, a result in part of tepid wages compared to other Canadian cities.

A second cause relates to neighbourhoods with high-end housing in which some families appear to not be declaring their full worldwide incomes.

A third reason came to light this week, when immigration lawyer Richard Kurland released a Statistics Canada report showing contrasting financial outcomes among foreign-born residents — who make up 45 per cent of Metro’s population.

The report by Garnett Picot and Yuqian Lu showed that immigrants from Asia, who are predominant in Metro, are much more likely to report “chronic low incomes” than the Canadian-born and immigrants from elsewhere.

The disparity was most pronounced among immigrant seniors, who were 15 times more likely than Canadian-born seniors to declare poverty-like conditions.

After Yan pored over the results of his study, he was not surprised to see that more than half the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are on low incomes. It is a struggling zone notorious for high rages of drug addiction and mental illness. It is the most extreme example of several low-income zones dotted through Metro, where old rental apartments are the norm.

The unsettling neighbourhoods to Yan, and others, are those dominated by costly houses and highrise condos, but have 25 to 50 per of households claiming low incomes.

In addition to northwest Richmond, such tony neighbourhoods include Ambleside, Sentinel Hill and Cedar Dale in West Vancouver, and Kerrisdale, Arbutus Ridge and Oakridge on the west side of Vancouver.

Detached homes in these neighbourhoods typically sell for $2 million to $6 million, with condos going for $500,000 to $1.3 million.

“It used to be that income was a driver of real-estate values,” said Yan.

But a phenomenon is occurring in which the riches of many rely on heavy borrowing and are buried in assets such as real estate that are not taxed like income. Yan said President Donald Trump, an international real-estate mogul, is a prime example.

Although Yan said “under-reporting of income is hard to measure,” the fact many Metro neighbourhoods with expensive housing are reporting low incomes may relate to “the perils of wealth-based immigration.”

Immigration lawyers and scholars concur. They emphasize it is too easy for many trans-nationals to buy stylish condos or mansions in Metro Vancouver and Toronto, often in the names of their spouses or children, while reporting tiny or non-existent global incomes to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Yan was heartened by Chinese-speaking callers’ reactions to his report on income and housing disparity.

“Many Chinese people are aware of how income inequity has shown up in China through 3,000 years of history. They understand the instability that goes with it,” he said.

“Some Chinese people are not doing that well in Metro Vancouver. And many are concerned about having a real community. So they want to see fairness.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese irked by inequality, tax avoidance | Vancouver Sun

Todd: Debating immigration wisely means not vilifying opponents

Douglas Todd’s piece on my IRPP article “How to debate immigration policy in Canada”:

Canada is one of the few advanced countries that can’t seem to hold an authentic public discussion about immigration policy.

Canadian boosters of high immigration and those who oppose it are mutually contemptuous. Their verbal boxing matches are dominated by sloganeering and name-calling.

If Ottawa is ever going to take seriously public opinion to fine-tune its immigration policies, the combatants need to follow a few rules. They may need a referee, who acts fairly when others are losing their heads.

Andrew Griffith may not realize it, but he has just stepped forward to be the mediator between those who advocate more open borders and those who seek greater restrictions.

The high-level Immigration Department official, who has helped draw up the country’s citizenship policies, is on medical leave to undergo cancer treatment.

But his time away from the bureaucracy has inspired him to write books and a compelling essay just published by the journal Policy Options, titled, “How to debate immigration policy in Canada.”

I’ve experienced Griffith’s diplomat-like poise. Occasionally, I’ve tried to get him to air stronger opinions, yet he doesn’t take the bait. He’s committed to even-handedness.

But he’s also realistic. To use an edgier phrase than he might, Griffith realizes Canadians are pretty pitiful at openly discussing immigration issues.

Like others, Griffith suggests fear of being labelled xenophobic is the over-riding contributor to Canadians’ unusual silence on mass migration, which has arguably defined this country more than any other.

It doesn’t help the cause of dialogue that almost no politician, and few academics, will critique how Canada’s approach to the complexities of immigration affects the host society.

Source: Todd: Debating immigration wisely means not vilifying opponents | Vancouver Sun

Todd: Tax avoidance behind Metro’s disconnect between housing, income

Another good piece on Vancouver’s housing prices and the underpaying of tax:

After census figures this week revealed alarming gaps between housing costs and average incomes in Metro Vancouver, veteran real-estate analyst Richard Wozny is preparing a speech for B.C. politicians that blames the disparity is in part on tax avoidance.

A reason why residents of Metro Vancouver municipalities with expensive housing tend to report lower incomes than people in less-costly municipalities is that many of the former avoid declaring their total wealth, said Wozny, whose company has produced 1,200 studies on real-estate trends in Canada and the U.S.

“Canada has become a freeloader society” in which some mansion owners have found ways to avoid reporting their total incomes to the Canada Revenue Agency, said Wozny, who will speak on Sept. 25 at the convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in Vancouver.

Census figures released this week show Metro Vancouver, which has one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, lags behind 14 other Canadian cities on average wages.

The census also exposed an apparent contradiction: Residents of Richmond, Burnaby, the city of Vancouver and West Vancouver — which have the most expensive housing costs in Metro — also have on average the highest rates of poverty.

The census data highlights “inappropriate reporting of family incomes” by many property owners in Metro Vancouver’s well-off neighbourhoods, says Wozny, head of Site Economics Ltd., who said governments need to crack down on residential property speculators.

Inadequate Canadian tax laws have allowed owners of houses that sell for more than $2 million or $3 million “to report unusually low taxable median family incomes,” Wozny said in a detailed report titled Low Incomes and High House Prices in Metro Vancouver.

“It is not logical that so many low-income residents buy expensive houses. The analogous situation would be people reporting minimum wage routinely buying Rolex watches and luxury limousines,” Wozny said.

It’s also not fair, Wozny said, that the burden of paying for Metro Vancouver’s transit systems and schools is largely borne by residents of the suburbs, such as Port Moody, where house prices are only average, yet residents have the highest taxable incomes in Metro Vancouver.

“Irrationally high-priced real estate is not harmless,” Wozny said. “There are plenty of victims, from the environment to the middle class. Simply stated, Metro Vancouver is worth more than it charges in property taxes and fees.”

When Wozny speaks to politicians at the UBCM, he will urge better regulations to target real-estate speculators, both domestic and offshore, many of whom shield their wealth from Canada’s tax officials.

“The Americans would never tolerate such free riders. Canada has become a money-launderer’s paradise,” Wozny said in an interview.

“Seattle’s incomes are far higher than those in Metro Vancouver, and its economy is many times larger, yet its housing prices are far lower than they are in Metro Vancouver. The difference is that Seattle is governed by laws that tax worldwide incomes, and which don’t allow un-monitored capital flows.”

Wozny disagrees with real-estate lobbyists who attempt to explain the radical gap between housing prices and wages by saying many mansion owners in Richmond, Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver are seniors getting by on low incomes.

That rationalization doesn’t make sense, Wozny said, because most neighbourhoods in North America have similar levels of what he called “old Mrs. MacKenzie who has lived in her house since the Second World War. There are old Mrs. MacKenzies in every city.”

Wozny’s analysis also doesn’t support remarks made Wednesday by economist Iglika Ivanova of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, who speculated the reason municipalities with soaring housing prices also have unusually high percentages of people living below the poverty line ­is the latter want to live near transit lines.

Instead, Wozny’s report supports former Richmond mayor Greg Halsey-Brandt, who was the first to publicly flag how some of his city’s pricier neighbourhoods had almost as many people reporting poverty-level incomes as in Vancouver’s destitute Downtown Eastside.

University of B.C. geographer Dan Hiebert has also discovered a correlation between neighbourhoods with largw foreign-born populations and neighbourhoods that appear to have unusually low taxable incomes, despite their inflated housing prices, such as Richmond and Vancouver’s west side.

Wozny, a real-estate business insider, appreciates the analyses of immigration lawyers Sam Hyman and Richard Kurland, and SFU professor Josh Gordon, who have pointed to loopholes in tax and real-estate laws.

They say unenforced laws allow wealthy speculators to avoid taxes by using trusts or companies to purchase real estate, by falsely claiming they are not “residents of Canada” for tax purposes and by buying residential property in the name of “proxies,” such as low-income spouses or children.

Even though Wozny considers himself a fiscal conservative, he said B.C. and Canada desperately need tax-code updates so that investors who buy multiple residential proprieties contribute more to their communities.

“The public has been cynically abandoned by governments. Real-estate is an essential building block of the middle classes,” Wozny said. But hard-working people are being squeezed out of ownership, he said, by speculators who put too much demand on Metro’s real-estate market and who aren’t carrying their social weight.

“Everybody should be paying taxes,” Wozny said. “Taxes should be a privilege. We should enjoy paying them.”

Source: Todd: Tax avoidance behind Metro’s disconnect between housing, income | Vancouver Sun

Douglas Todd: Three million people snap up Canada’s 10-year visas

A further update on the 10 year visa (Douglas Todd: New 10-year visas stoke housing booms in Vancouver …):

The global appetite for Canada’s new 10-year visas appears insatiable, especially in China.

More than three million people from countries with which Canada has long had travel restrictions have obtained the 10-year, multiple-entry visas since the program began in 2014.

With almost half the 10-year visas being handed out in Mainland China, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government this year opened seven new visa offices, the province of B.C., more than anywhere in Canada, has experienced a surge of visitors.

Immigration specialists say the 10-year visas are having multiple effects on Canada.

They’ve markedly boosted tourism. And they’ve helped re-connect globally far-flung families for extended periods.

But they have also been vulnerable to abuse by rich trans-nationals with families in Canada who seek to avoid paying Canadian income taxes on their global income.

More than 1.4 million Mainland Chinese have gone through the vetting process to obtain Canada’s 10-year visa, which allows visits of up to six months at a time.

More than 716,000 people from India have also obtained multiple-entry visas, followed by 273,000 from Brazil and 140,000 from the Philippines.

The federal government says Mainland China visitors now spend $1 billion a year in Canada. Travel from that country has soared and China has become Canada’s third largest source of visitors after the U.S. and the U.K.

Countries in which Canada’s 10-year visas have proved most popular

George Lee, a Burnaby immigration lawyer who was born in China, says Metro Vancouver hotels, retailers and restaurants are responding to the swelling stream of Chinese visitors by hiring more Mandarin-speaking employees and even making sure their staff “serve Coca-Cola warm,” the custom in China.

In addition, Lee said wealthy Mainland Chinese visitors are increasingly buying hotels, resorts and residential real estate in B.C., particularly in Metro Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.

“Vancouver has become a global village,” Lee said. “When we encounter a new trend … some, if not most, dislike it. They feel challenged and intimidated. But eventually people will get used to it.”

Immigration lawyer Sam Hyman believes the 10-year visas not only help boost tourism from China, India, Brazil and elsewhere; they also help far-flung relatives reunite for extended periods of time in Canada — without having to go through the process of applying for permanent resident status.

For instance, Hyman has worked with many Latin American families who immigrated to Canada in the past couple of decades. Their offshore parents and other relatives, he said, have been applying for 10-year visas to come to Canada as “seasonal visitors,” staying for months at a time.

Would-be visitors from countries that have reciprocal visa arrangements with Canada obtain the multiple-entry visas through a detailed application and vetting process (unlike visitors from visa-exempt countries such as the U.K., the U.S., France, Australia and Mexico, who have more open access to Canada).

Each foreign national who obtains a 10-year visa must prove to Immigration Department officials they have closer ties with their home country than with Canada, a declaration that reduces the chances they would ever apply for refugee status.

Canadian statistics on international border arrivals indicate the exceedingly popular 10-year visas have contributed to a sharp upturn in travellers from key countries.

The number of Mainland Chinese visitors to Canada swelled by 23 per cent in 2016 alone — with 312,000 choosing to come to B.C. out of a nationwide total of 610,000.

More Indian visitors, 71,000, also came to B.C in 2016, out of a national sum of 215,000.

However, Brazilian visitors tended to opt for other parts of the country, with just 17,000 stopping in B.C. out of a Canada-wide total of 214,000.

While Hyman applauds the positive effects of the 10-year visas, he also points to a downside: “People who really abuse the system.”

Because of loopholes in Canadian tax law, Hyman said, it is possible for rich foreign nationals to take advantage of the 10-year visa to avoid paying Canadian taxes on their global income.

Because of loopholes in Canadian tax law, Sam Hyman said, it is possible for rich foreign nationals to take advantage of the 10-year visa to avoid paying Canadian taxes on their global income.

Hyman said the popularity of the 10-year visas has come at the same time tens of thousands of foreign nationals, many of whom were the principal applicants for their family’s permanent resident status, are relinquishing the status for themselves.

This would normally mean they give up the chance to become Canadian citizens.

But Hyman and other immigration specialists say several Canadian tax loopholes allow trans-nationals “to transfer unlimited wealth” to spouses, children and other family members in Canada.

And in many cases, said Hyman, those family members use the breadwinner’s money to invest in real estate, particularly in Metro Vancouver.

Meanwhile, the breadwinner, typically the father, can earn money in his homeland or another country while spending up to six months at a time in Canada on a multiple-entry visa.

Since the breadwinner can therefore claim he is not a “resident of Canada for tax purposes,” he is not expected to declare his worldwide income to the Canada Revenue Agency.

At the same time, Hyman said, the breadwinner’s family members receive access to taxpayer-subsidized Canadian educations, health care and social services, without any member of their family paying significant, or any, taxes to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Hyman urges the federal Liberals to close the loophole that allows foreign nationals to relinquish their permanent residents status — but, years later, apply for it again; sponsored by their spouses or children who had become citizens of Canada.

Source: Vancouver Sun

Douglas Todd: Immigrants prosper in Canada’s small towns

Interesting commentary as always by Todd. After correctly rejecting a “sticks” approach (unenforceable given Charter mobility rights), he discusses possible “carrots.”

Not convinced that the “carrots” will necessarily make a major change to settlement patterns:

  • Awarding extra points to immigrants who settle in rural areas, whether through Express Entry or Provincial Nominee Programs,  doesn’t guarantee they will remain;
  • The StatsCan study mentioned that immigrants settling in smaller centres do better may reflect that they had a job offer attracting them to that community, and a smaller immigrant pool. For example, visible minorities in Newfoundland and Labrador have higher median incomes than elsewhere, likely reflecting the small immigrant labour pool concentrated in the professions.

There may be some lessons to be learned from previous efforts, whether with respect to Atlantic immigration (where retention has been an issue) or efforts to encourage Francophone immigrants to settle in official language minority communities in English Canada:

It’s been done before. From the 1870s to 1930s Ottawa offered free land to immigrants and refugees, much of it on the Prairies or in B.C.

The raw land was given to newcomers after they proved over several years they were developing it for homesteading, farming or logging.

A carrot approach is being tried in parts of Scandinavia. Sweden, for instance, has experimented with offering more generous social housing and welfare rates to immigrants and refugees who move to its smaller towns.

It wouldn’t be complicated to offer some carrots in Canada, especially to the one million people living here as permanent residents.

What about fine-tuning Canada’s immigrant point system — which favours those with high educational and skill levels — to grant extra points to newcomers who settle in Canada’s hinterlands?

That’s a suggestion from Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who frequently advises the federal government.

A points system that favours permanent residents who have shown (in part through their income-tax statements) they are committed to making a life in Quesnel, Timmins or St. John’s could do a lot for those cities. The small cities’ schools would fill and their housing and retail markets would strengthen.

Rather than Metro Vancouver and Toronto experiencing unaffordable property and rent ­costs —­ in large part because of high in-migration ­and offshore real-estate speculation — smaller cities and rural areas could enjoy modest boosts from the foreign-born.

Pressure would also ease on Metro Vancouver’s and Toronto’s over-stretched transit systems, as suggested by a StatsCan study that shows immigrants and foreign students rely on taxpayer subsidized transit at double the rate of Canadian-born residents.

A hinterland-related immigration points system is not far-fetched, even in Canada.

Kurland says it’s already virtually in place, in various ways, in B.C.’s provincial nominee program, which oversees a portion of the province’s skilled and educated immigrants.

Citizenship court judges dealing with people who are applying to be accepted as immigrants on compassionate grounds, Kurland adds, have also been known to treat favourably migrants who live in small towns.

The carrot approach would not only breathe new life into the hinterlands, it would give a leg up to immigrants themselves.

A little-known Statistics Canada study by Andre Bernard found that most immigrants who settle in Canada’s small towns do better financially than the majority who choose Canada’s 13 largest cities.

His report, “Immigrants in the Hinterland,” found newcomers who move to small towns and rural areas not only more quickly learn an official language, they soon earn more than other immigrants and those born in Canada.

That not only benefits the immigrants and their children, it does the same for our increasingly struggling small towns.

Source: Douglas Todd: Immigrants prosper in Canada’s small towns | Vancouver Sun

Douglas Todd: Chinese languages gain ground in Metro Vancouver

Further to the StatsCan release (see An increasingly diverse linguistic profile: Corrected data from the 2016 Census Text), Todd delves more deeply into Vancouver data and issues (the Canadian approach has been based upon integration, rather than assimilation, enunciated as early as 1959 – maintaining mother tongues, while knowing one of the official languages, reflects that approach):

Chinese languages are becoming more predominant in Metro Vancouver and across Canada, according to newly released 2016 census figures.

The proportion of Metro Vancouver residents who speak Chinese dialects continues to rise and is now more than double those who speak Punjabi.

With almost one third of new arrivals to Metro Vancouver since 2011 speaking a Chinese language, the total number of residents who have Mandarin or Cantonese as their mother tongue has swelled to 373,000.

That dwarfs the 163,000 residents whose mother tongue is Punjabi, which Statistics Canada says is the second largest “immigrant language” in Metro Vancouver.

An analysis of data released last week from the 2016 Canadian census shows the country’s major cities are developing different characters based on languages spoken — Arabic is the leading immigrant language in Montreal, Tagalog (Filipino) leads in Calgary, and Chinese leads in Toronto and Metro Vancouver.

Of Canada’s major cities, Metro Vancouver has the biggest proportion of residents — 25 per cent — who speak neither English nor French in their homes, with the largest group of them speaking a Chinese “immigrant language,” a term that Statistics Canada uses to distinguishes them from English or French, the languages of the early settlers who established Canada’s public institutions.

Across Canada more than 1.2 million people have either Mandarin or Cantonese as their mother tongue (an increase of 18 per cent in five years), while 543,000 have Punjabi, 510,000 have Tagalog, 495,000 have Spanish and 486,000 have Arabic.

The 13 per cent overall increase in the use of immigrant languages across Canada — to the point where 7.7 million people (22 per cent) speak a language other than English or French in their homes — illustrates how public officials are moving away from expecting immigrants to “assimilate,” says Vancouver statistician Jens Von Bergmann.

“Parents are being encouraged to pass on their mother tongue to their children. Generally, it’s considered great to have a language other than English or French,” said Von Bergmann, who speaks to his young child in his native tongue of German, while his wife talks with their son in her native Mandarin.

Von Bergmann, who has created interactive online maps based on census language data, says that immigrants are more likely to hold onto their mother tongues if they live in places such as Vancouver or Toronto, where large numbers of people speak the same language.

The 2016 census data shows that 1.1 million out of Metro Vancouver’s population of 2.44 million (44 per cent) have a mother tongue other than English or French, though most are able to communicate in English.

However, Metro Vancouver also has the highest proportion of residents who acknowledge they cannot carry on a conversation in either English or French (5.6 per cent of the region’s population, or 138,000 people).

The proportion who can’t speak English or French rises to 11.2 per cent in the City of Richmond, which is the highest ratio of any municipality in the country.

Richmond has for years been the centre of controversy over the expansion of Chinese-language signs, as well as over Chinese-language condo meetings.

While University of B.C. linguist Bonny Norton says Canadians value multilingualism, she cautions that people who do not learn one of Canada’s two official languages are unable to take part in important public “conversations.”

In addition, studies by Canada’s immigration department found that newcomers who cannot speak English or French struggle, with one-third lower earnings than other Canadians.

A Statistics Canada study by Edward Ng also discovered that immigrants with poor skills in English or French are three times more likely to report poor health.

Source: Douglas Todd: Chinese languages gain ground in Metro Vancouver | Vancouver Sun

BC college faculty feel pressure to ‘pass’ students with poor English | Vancouver Sun

Conflict between universities and colleges as a business versus maintaining standards?

Veteran college English instructors are routinely receiving passionate, imploring pleas for passing grades from the international students who increasingly fill their classes.

The foreign students’ emotion-filled emails and in-office appeals, often issued in jumbled English, invariably aim to cajole faculty at Langara College and other institutions into giving them a break, so they will be able to move on from their mandatory courses in English literature.

The foreign students often maintain their entire future depends on passing the English course.

Langara College has experienced a five-fold rise in foreign students since 2014, but two English literature and composition instructors say the college’s over-reliance on international fees is not working for many high-stressed foreign students, their anxious offshore parents or for shortchanged domestic students.

Langara College English instructors Peter Babiak and Anne Moriarty are among a small number of Canadian higher education officials who are ending their silence to raise concerns about the expanding business of international education, which now brings 130,000 foreign students to B.C., mostly Metro Vancouver.

“I do feel sorry for the (international) students, of course, but that’s not really the point. When I assign grades, presumably I need to be objective and not let emotions get in the way,” says Babiak, who has been teaching at Langara since 2002.

Like many faculty at universities and colleges, Babiak and Moriarty feel pressure to wave through the full-fee-paying foreign students, especially in mandatory first-year English literature courses, even if they lack fluency in English.

“There is a booming industry dedicated to helping students jump through English-language hoops, which teachers like me everywhere work hard to defend. Being part of this is weighing heavily on my conscience,” said Moriarty.

Langara Provost Ian Humphreys, however, said Tuesday “there is no pressure on faculty to pass students who are not yet achieving learning outcomes.”

Humphreys said he is proud that Langara “is an open access institution that serves a diverse student population – both domestic and international – that has a high proportion of English language learners.” He says the college’s grads have a strong success rate when they transfer to other institutions or the job market.

Moriarty, however, said that even though many of the foreign students work hard in their technical, business and computer courses, many also leave their mandatory English literature course to the end of their multi-year programs, knowing their English is weak.

Both Babiak and Moriarty also agonize over how classroom discussions in English literature courses are often severely restricted because of language barriers. It means, he said, students who seriously want to study novels, linguistics and composition don’t get as much high-level interaction as they could.

Source: BC college faculty feel pressure to ‘pass’ students with poor English | Vancouver Sun