Andy Yan, the analyst who exposed Vancouver’s real estate disaster: Terry Glavin

Nowadays he’s the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, and while he’s too modest to boast about it, along the way he’s picked up a couple of exceedingly rare civic distinctions.

The first is the enduring enmity of all the politicians, real estate speculators, white-collar currency pirates and money launderers who have turned Vancouver into a global swindler’s paradise for real estate racketeering, a city that is now also one of the world’s most hopelessly pathetic urban landscapes of housing affordability. The second thing Yan has earned is an unfettered and unimpeachable right to say “I told you so.”

Three years ago, Yan was anxious to get a handle on the role foreign capital was playing in Vancouver’s weirdly convulsing real estate market. At the time, Yan’s main gig was his work as an urban planner with Bing Thom Architects, on contract as an urban planner. When Yan published the results of his research in November, 2015, it came as a shock, for two main reasons. It seemed to conclusively prove what everybody knew but nobody was supposed to say out loud. And it broke a taboo that was enforced so absurdly that Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson resorted to dismissing Yan’s research as racist.

Yan found that buyers with “non-Anglicised Chinese names” had picked up two-thirds of 172 houses sold over a six-month period beginning in September 2014 in Vancouver’s posh west side neighbourhoods. Contrary to public perception, however, the buyers weren’t just showing up with “bags of cash” to make their buys. Some of Canada’s biggest banks were in on it. Roughly 80 per cent of the deals involved a mortgage, and half of the mortgages were held by two banks – CIBC and HSBC.

Canada’s banks have mastered the manipulation of clandestine back channels around China’s currency control regulations—the same routes that well-connected Chinese multi-millionaires have been using to shift up to a trillion dollars’ worth of yuan out of China every year. What wasn’t clear about what was happening on Vancouver’ s west side, however, was who the real buyers were, exactly. The new homeowners’ most commonly stated occupation: housewife or homemaker.

Fast forward three years. The weirdness that Yan documented in Point Grey, Dunbar, Kerrisdale and Shaughnessy has rapidly spread southward and eastward, decoupling the bonds linking incomes with housing values across Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, all the way out to Surrey and White Rock on the Canada-U.S. border. Metro Vancouver’s real estate market is now a dystopian tableau of panic buying, tax fraud, property flipping, overseas pre-construction condominium sales, stone cold speculation and elaborate, multiple-account money transfer rigmaroles that are the conduit of choice for drug cartel tycoons. Not even the heaviest regulatory hands at the controls of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state seem capable of shutting the networks down.

It’s not just about shady Chinese money—not by a long shot. Vancouver’s old establishment property developers and real-estate companies fed the frenzies and made a killing. Along the way, they greased the skids by pouring buckets of money into Gregor Robertson’s now-dying Vision Vancouver civic party and Christy Clark’s Liberal Party. Robertson is now a sad figure, his legacy a shambles, his term up in October, and even his celebrated relationship with his glamorous girlfriend, the Chinese pop star Wanting Qu, fell apart last year. Qu’s mother, a Communist Party official in Harbin, remains on trial on charges of embezzling $70 million in a land swindle. Christy Clark is history, too. Her government was toppled last year by John Horgan’s New Democrats. With at least 60,000 Chinese immigrant investors sloshing their money around Metro Vancouver real estate over the past few years, federal politicians, too—Liberals, mainly—have been more than happy to rake it in at cash-for-access soirees and in generous donations to election campaign war chests.

In these ways, in Vancouver’s political circles, and in polite company, one simply didn’t mention the way the city’s housing market was being restructured to serve as an offshore investment bolthole for billions of dollars’ worth of shadow currency being spirited out of China, Iran, Russia and other such kleptocracies. But back in 2015, when the profoundly caucasian Mayor Robertson attempted to dismiss Yan’s findings—“I’m very concerned with the racist tones that are implied here,” Robertson said—it was a smear too far.

Yan’s great-grandfather was allowed into Canada only after being obliged to pay the infamously racist head tax Ottawa put in effect to keep out working-class Chinese immigrants. Students, merchants and diplomats were exempt. The head tax was in place until 1923. Yan wasn’t going to put up with Robertson’s backchat, and by that time, Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese community leaders had similarly lost their patience. White real estate moguls and politicians like Robertson persisted in proclaiming their anti-racist bona fides and purporting to be the champions of Vancouver’s Chinese community by shutting down public debates about the region’s housing catastrophe. Brandon Yan, a civic activist and volunteer on Vancouver’s planning commission, put it best: “Let’s leave it to the rich white dudes to decide what’s racist, right?”

Vancouver’s “condo king” Bob Rennie—a primary financial backer of Robertson’s NDP-tilting Vision Vancouver team and also the chief fundraiser for the NDP’s adversaries in Christy Clark’s Liberals—had cultivated a particularly brazen habit of it. “So you had these whispers about racism being used to shut down a dialogue about affordability and the kind of city we want to build here,” Andy Yan explained. “It’s a kind of moral signalling to camouflage immoral actions. It’s opportunism, and it’s a cover for the tremendous injustices that are emerging in the City of Vancouver and across the region. It’s a weird Vancouver thing. It’s very annoying. It’s kale in the smoothies or something.”

While the politicians and their friends in the property industry were making speeches about diversity and the importance of having sensitive feelings, foreign ownership grew to account for more than $45 billion dollars’ worth of Metro Vancouver residential property. Within Vancouver city limits, 7.6 per cent of all residential properties are now owned directly by individuals “whose principal residence is outside of Canada,” by the definition of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Roughly one in ten Vancouver condos are owned by non-residents. And that’s just the owners we know about.

Transparency International reckons that perhaps half of Vancouver’s most expensive properties are owned by shell companies or trusts, with the nominal owners commonly listed as student, housewife, or homemaker. Roughly 99 per cent of the single detached houses within Vancouver’s city limits are now valued in excess of $1 million. More than 20,000 Vancouver homes are vacant, year round. Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate is hovering just below one per cent.

“I’m always careful about using biomedical analogies,” Yan told me the other day, “but what was like a little skin ailment, if you will, over the last 10 or 15 years, has become a full fledged cancer.” Over just the past four years, throughout Metro Vancouver, homes worth $1 million or more have risen from 23 per cent of the housing market in 2014 to 73 per cent of the market now. Yan has been putting together a series of maps that show how the $1 million “red line” has been moving inexorably across the region, deep into the suburbs. “But what those maps don’t do is they don’t factor in transportation costs,” Yan said. “The top two expenditures of any Canadian household is shelter and transportation. God help you if you factor in child care. The whole map might as well be red. A number of factors have all come together to produce this catastrophic situation, but what was a small concentrated pattern in the west side of Vancouver has now metastasized to hit every single part of the region, and it’s similarly metastasized into the rest of the economy.”

As for where things are headed, Horgan’s NDP government has raised expectations, mainly because of Attorney-General David Eby’s avowed determination to chase dirty money out of Vancouver’s housing market and bust up the gangland playground B.C.’s provincially-licenced casinos have become—money laundered through casinos has also been pouring into residential property acquisitions. In Tuesday’s throne speech,  delivered by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, Horgan’s government directly addressed tax fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in the real estate market, hinting that a speculation tax is in the works. Next week, the New Democrats release their first full budget. The housing file, however, falls mainly to the more timid Carole James, former NDP leader and now deputy premier and finance minister. Preliminary indications aren’t particularly promising.

With short-term AirBnB rentals swallowing up long-term rental inventory, Yan was less than impressed with James’ solution, announced last week: short-term rental outfits will now pay the eight per cent provincial sales tax, and two or three per cent in municipal taxes. “That’s like taxing cigarettes to pay for lung cancer treatments,” Yan said.

Developing appropriately punitive taxes to discourage property-flipping and offshore pre-construction sales – those are obvious fixes. But knowing how to fix things requires a clear understanding of what’s wrong, Yan says, and closing the “bare trust loophole” that allows property owners to hide their holdings is a must-do. Ontario closed the loophole back in the 1980s. Clark’s Liberals promised to close it, but they never did.

In the meantime, Yan is focusing on converting hidden-away data into publicly comprehensible information. Some key information Yan has drawn from a trove recently released by Statistics Canada’s Canadian Housing Statistics Program, for instance, shows that simply building more condominiums won’t do. A condo building boom in Metro Vancouver has kept the property developers happy, but there’s no evidence that the boost in supply has lessened demand or beaten back prices. Nearly one in five condos built in Vancouver since 2016 were snapped up by non-residents.

To a certain extent, there’s nothing new here,” Yan said, pointing to the Guinness family’s financing of the Lion’s Gate Bridge in the 1920s, and the opening up of the British Properties on Burrard Inlet’s north shore. “But what is new is the hyper-commodification of residential real estate, mixed in with an intensification of global flows of people and capital. It’s just a statement in fact. We’re talking about the globalization of the Chinese economy and its impacts.”

Yan says there may be some solution—a mix of remedies, new laws, purpose-built rental housing, tax adjustments and so on—that does not mean a collapse in Metro Vancouver’s real estate prices. Channelling foreign investment in such a way as to serve the public interest might be possible. “But whether this comes out as a bubble-popping isn’t the point. That’s a secondary concern to the kind of society we want to build. “We need to go back to civic virtues.

“We need to talk about the sacrifices we are willing and we need to make for the greater good of the community. We need to have a discussion about what the public good is, and what we are willing to sacrifice to make it happen.”

Source: Andy Yan, the analyst who exposed Vancouver’s real estate disaster


B’nai Brith Canada condemns rash of pro-Nazi postering in B.C.

Another disturbing incident:

B’nai Brith Canada has condemned the actions of whoever put up anti-Semitic posters and chalkboard drawings at the University of British Columbia over the Remembrance Day weekend in Vancouver.

On Nov. 11, the student newspaper called the Ubyssey reported that the entrances to the War Memorial Gym were plastered with posters glorifying Nazi Germany.

One poster touts Nazi soldiers as the “true heroes of WW2” and offers links to hateful websites. Another bore a swastika and described Nazism as “anti-degenerate.”

The posters were found Saturday, the same day the school hosted Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Philip Steenkamp, vice-president of external relations for the University of B.C. — said campus security took down the posters as soon as they were made aware of them, and that the university takes incidents of hate and racism very seriously.

Two days earlier, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht or the “night of broken glass” on Nov. 9, 1938 in Germany — the night violence broke out against Jews which resulted in thousands of businesses and synagogues trashed and looted — a chalk drawing was found in the UBC forestry building with a “Heil Hitler” message.

RCMP investigated both incidents, but could not find any suspects, said UBC RCMP Const. Kevin Ray.

“Once again, we see anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism raising their ugly heads at a B.C. university,” said Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada.

A neo-Nazi poster put up at the University of British Columbia just before Remembrance Day. (The Ubyssey)

“These disturbing incidents constitute a threat to Jewish students and other minorities on campus, as well as an unforgivable insult to Canadian veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice to defeat Nazi tyranny.”

Earlier in November, posters targeting Jews were found at the University of Victoria.

Publicity around the removal of those posters was followed by a “tidal wave” of hateful comments on social media, according to anti-racism activists, who fear the far-right rallies seen this summer in Charlottesville, Va. — which saw similar posters plastered around many U.S. universities — may be emboldening racists in Canada.

via B’nai Brith Canada condemns rash of pro-Nazi postering in B.C. – British Columbia – CBC News

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

Vancouver accused of paying lip service to multiculturalism amid clash over plan to build condo block in Chinatown | South China Morning Post

Interesting dynamics within the Chinese Canadian community:

The new building at 105 Keefer Street – close to the Dr Sun Yat-sen Garden, Chinese Cultural Centre and Chinatown Memorial Square – would have been 12 storeys high, making it the tallest building in the vicinity. Although it was to have included 25 social housing units, only eight were earmarked as affordable housing subsidised by the provincial government. There were also plans for a “temporary” activity centre for elderly Chinese living in the area.

Almost 200 people – an unprecedented number – registered to speak at public hearings on the proposal. Given five minutes each, the hearings stretched to more than 26 hours over three days.

Speakers’ objections included the building’s height, the displacement of low-income senior citizens in the area through gentrification, the small number of social housing units, and the blight it would impose on Chinatown’s architectural character.

Karen Hoese, acting assistant director of planning for the city’s Vancouver Downtown Division, sat through the entire hearing. A large number of young and elderly people turned up, she says, and things got heated.

Melody Ma of community group #SaveChinatownYVR, one of the speakers, says councillors had probably not seen such large, passionate crowds, and were overwhelmed. “There were a lot of young people and people of colour [Chinese]. It was a unique situation for city hall and elected officials.” Some councillors described the young people as “a mob”, she says, which carried negative and violent connotations.

Vancouver-born councillor Kerry Jang chastised the young Chinese objectors, saying, “some of the Chinatown activists, the youth in particular, were very disappointing in their behaviour”.

“You do not represent Chinatown to me and the Chinatown I know. And don’t forget, I was there long before a lot of you. I worked down there, I did everything down there,” Jang said.

To have a healthy city strategy in Vancouver, it’s not just about art. When I looked up ‘culture’ on the City of Vancouver’s website, I could only find ‘bike culture’ and ‘horticulture’

“He was saying that young people’s voices didn’t have a place at the table,” Ma says.

She was proud to see so many people with connections to Chinatown from different generations come together in solidarity to oppose the application for 105 Keefer Street.

Andy Yan, director of the city programme at Simon Fraser University and an urban planner, sat through some of the hearings, and says the speakers were a socially and economically diverse group.

“The city councillors’ response to the ‘boisterous youth’ threw them … because these young people don’t normally come to these meetings. They were articulate, diverse; a mobilised group of young people,” he says.

The campaign appeared to have been a success, when the city councillors – including Jang – voted down the rezoning application eight to three.

A few days later an open letter addressed to Mayor Gregor Robertson, signed by many who spoke at the hearings, expressed disappointment at remarks made by Jang and other councillors.

Hoese says the 105 Keefer application looked good on paper. “It met the objectives, included social housing, an activity centre and set-back upper floors,” she says. “But what’s changed over the last few years is the tension between what people want. It was difficult for councillors to make the decision, because they didn’t want to see greater division.”

She admits there have been changes in Chinatown since the application was submitted a few years ago.

For the past 20 years, Chinatown had been falling into neglect – fewer people come to shop at Chinese grocery stores because they can buy the same goods in other areas, such as Richmond, East Vancouver and Coquitlam, where later Chinese immigrants have settled. Shops and restaurants are closing because of the drop in visitors. At the same time, drug addicts in the adjacent neighbourhood of Downtown Eastside have drifted into the area and petty crime has led to security concerns among businesses and residents.

To counteract the decline, approval was given for small condo developments, while Western restaurants have opened next to Chinese grocery stores. One latest addition is Dalina, an Italian-style coffee shop that also sells gourmet food and wouldn’t look out of place in New York. But it’s questionable whether it’s right for Chinatown, which is the second largest in North America after San Francisco.

Source: Vancouver accused of paying lip service to multiculturalism amid clash over plan to build condo block in Chinatown | South China Morning Post

Douglas Todd: How to ensure non-residents pay tax on Canadian real-estate profits

Hard to understand the blindness or unwillingness of the British Columbia Liberals on this issue. Too many donations from those who benefit from the this lack of regulation and appropriate policies?

It should be easy to ensure that offshore property speculators pay capital gains taxes on their Canadian sales, but the B.C. government has given no sign it’s prepared to make the fix.

Immigration lawyers and Opposition politicians are pressing the province to start an information-sharing system that would make it much harder for house sellers to evade capital gains taxes by claiming they are “residents of Canada for tax purposes,” when they are not. Some critics estimate the tax loss at hundreds of millions of dollars.

This tax avoidance was at the centre of a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling. Justice Kenneth Affleck ordered notary Tony Liu to pay $600,000 to a house purchaser he had represented.

That was to cover the capital gains tax the Canadian Revenue Agency demanded from the buyer, which should have been paid by the non-resident seller of a $5.6-million Vancouver mansion.

A property seller who does not pay income taxes here is required to pay a capital gains tax on 25 per cent of their profit on a house sale. Theoretically, the law is designed to advantage domestic buyers and sellers over speculators, particularly from offshore.

In practice, the capital gains rule is rarely enforced, in large part, lawyers say, because B.C. doesn’t collect or share up-to-date information on whether property sellers pay income taxes in Canada.

That task is inexplicably left to a real-estate industry “honour system”involving buyers, sellers and their agents, says Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman, who is among several experts offering a simple solution.

“How complicated is it to require a seller to produce proof they paid their income taxes as a Canadian tax resident?” asked Richard Kurland, a lawyer who produces the immigration newsletter Lexbase.

“This really spotlights B.C.’s unchanging position, which is that it refuses to include on government (property-transfer) forms the question: ‘Are you a tax resident of Canada?’” Kurland said.

“B.C. fails to create data that can be checked by Canada Revenue Agency, by not asking the right question. Instead, the B.C. government has begun asking, ‘What is your citizenship?’ But that’s irrelevant.”

In a city in which 45 per cent of the population is foreign-born, Kurland said, it would be straightforward for CRA to run a data match on people who claim they are tax residents of Canada to see if they are really paying income taxes.

“But if B.C. doesn’t go after the data, CRA can’t do its job.”

When B.C. Finance Ministry spokesman Jamie Edwardson was asked Friday if he thought there were problems associated with B.C. buyers being unable to prove sellers pay income taxes, he declined to answer and said the question should be directed to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Source: How to ensure non-residents pay tax on Canadian real-estate profits | Vancouver Sun

How Indigenous people are rebranding Canada 150

Not particularly surprising that Vancouver is taking the lead here. Remember the 2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony which started with Indigenous dances and drums:

Believe it or not, Indigenous people are responsible for salvaging Vancouver’s sesquicentennial bash. For a time, the city considered boycotting Canada 150. Two years ago, when Ottawa put the squeeze on the city to sign on to the grand jubilee, city staff registered serious discomfort. Exalting Canada’s colonial past two years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered its calls to action seemed regressive, and potentially harmful to the city’s new relationship with local First Nations. Vancouver had recently designated itself a “City of Reconciliation,” 70,000 had marched in support of rapprochement and Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer was learning Squamish. Staff came to her proposing the opt-out.

Reimer wasn’t opposed, but wanted input from the city’s Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee first, she says. The nine-member panel, which advises city council on how to better include Indigenous people and perspectives in city life, came back with a different idea—one council unanimously approved: Why not celebrate the city’s Indigenous history and culture instead?

So Vancouver, whose Indigenous population of 53,000 ranks third-highest among Canadian metropolises—after Winnipeg (78,000) and Edmonton (62,000)— [note: in percentage terms much less] is doing just that, with a $7-million event it’s calling Canada 150+. The plus symbol—another Advisory Committee suggestion—was added partly to counter the enduring myth that Canada prior to contact was empty and in need of civilization.

So, far from being another hurrah for Canada, the event is deliberately challenging our collective amnesia. And it’s receiving federal funding to do so (costs are being split between the municipal and federal governments, as in other cities). Canada 150+ launches in English Bay on July 19 with a traditional canoe welcome, followed by a nine-day arts festival in Vancouver’s downtown. Nightly headliners include acts like Cree icon Buffy Sainte-Marie, but the focus is the history and culture of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, the three Coast Salish nations on whose unceded territories Vancouver is built. They have been here longer than the English have been in England. Their culture was thriving when Dublin belonged to the Vikings and Sicily was ruled by Muslims.

“We are taking a huge risk—we don’t know how the public is going to react,” says Ginger Gosnell-Myers, the city’s first manager of Aboriginal relations. She is Nisga’a and Kwakwaka’wakw, a cousin of another Kwakwaka’wakw powerhouse, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. Reimer, for her part, doesn’t seem to much care whether the event sparks controversy. Whether or not you have the compassion-based belief that Canada has a moral responsibility to change, she says, it’s clear the traumas of the past are crippling the present, financially and otherwise. “We need to start doing things differently.” And after all, Gosnell-Myers adds: “None of us is going anywhere. We have to learn to live together—in a respectful way, and in a truthful way.”

Underlying the work of the most expensive reconciliation project the city has ever undertaken is a multi-year attempt to re-root Vancouver in the culture of its earliest inhabitants. The next step, a process that could see key place names replaced with Indigenous ones, is potentially more controversial. “Bridges, streets and buildings” are all open to consideration, Reimer says. Emotions will run high, but many believe it’s time.

Vancouver sits near the heart of Canada’s pre-contact capital. By the 18th century, twice as many lived in thriving, well-fortified villages of fishers, tanners, potters and toy-makers surrounding the Georgia Strait as in the rest of Canada combined (more, even, than in New York). But while some 200 B.C. place names commemorate the voyages of Captains Cook and Vancouver, who arrived toward the end of that century, there isn’t even a plaque to commemorate a smallpox plague that wiped out all but 10 per cent of B.C.’s Indigenous inhabitants—arguably the most significant event in the province’s history.

No surprise, then, that Canada 150 is spurring a creative outpouring among Indigenous artists to shine light on some of these painful chapters. “Remember, Resist, Redraw,” a cross-country poster project led by the Graphic History Collective, is putting an Indigenous lens on key events in Canadian history. #Resist150, a multimedia project led by Metis artist Christi Belcourt, features poems, shared histories and other “acts of resistance,” like the 150 traditional tattoos Belcourt is aiming to ink over the coming year. And the year’s most talked-about art exhibit, Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, which opened last month in Toronto, uses the sesquicentennial to ridicule and expand Canada’s rigid, national narrative.

Monkman, a Winnipeg-raised Cree artist, reimagines the grand chronicle, sometimes by inserting his flamboyant, drag queen alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. You’ll find Miss Chief, lover of Louis Vuitton and pink heels, in, for example, a cheeky send-up of Robert Harris’s famed portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. She’s nude, seated facing them, her legs akimbo. The men look on in horror, and in lust. He called it The Daddies.

It’s not all fun and transgression, though. In The Scream, a visceral comment on residential schools, Mounties and Grey Nuns tear Indigenous children from their mothers’ arms. Five spectacularly large oil portraits depict all the ways Winnipeg’s colonial history is infecting its future—the racism, violence, alcohol, despair. To Monkman, apparently, the sesquicentennial is synonymous with all that has been lost.

But his art—gratifyingly—is no longer truly subversive. A truer, less simplistic Canadian narrative is finally starting to emerge. It rejects the idea of 1867 as a starting point, acknowledges the country’s many sins and returns the Indigenous perspective to where it belongs: front and centre, as the best and most enduring part of the Canadian story—a tale that stretches back not 150 years, but 12,000. That’s the version Vancouver is hoping to tell.

ICYMI: 82 per cent of BC minorities have experienced racism, survey finds

Not surprising, and likely similar in other major centres. No gradation regarding the degree or seriousness of racism encountered. These regional studies, as useful as they are, suggest the need for a new Ethnic Diversity Survey (the last one was carried out in 2002):

As multicultural as Canada may be, it appears we are not immune to racism.

According to a new survey conducted in B.C., 82 per cent of visible minorities say they have experienced prejudice or some form of discrimination, while 56 per cent of all respondents reported having overheard racist comments.

Of those who identified themselves as visible minorities, 46 per cent said they believe they face social disadvantages because of their background, and 33 per cent said they have been a target of abuse. Another 29 per cent reported facing discrimination simply based on their name, while 10 per cent have dealt with disadvantages because of their religious beliefs.

And 11 per cent said their experiences with discrimination were traumatic enough to prompt thoughts of moving to a new location.

“The majority of British Columbians are welcoming and embrace multiculturalism. However, it’s clear that racism is alive and well in our communities and we need to call it out when we see it,” said Catherine Ludgate, a spokeswoman with Vancity. The report was commissioned by the credit union as part of its community investment efforts.

 Some 82 per cent of all those who responded said they felt multiculturalism has been “very good” or “good” for Canada, though three-quarters thought the population of immigrants should remain the same. Just over a quarter thought the population should increase.

…The numbers are from a new report released today, conducted in January by Insights West and is in anticipation of a community roundtable series to be launched by SUCCESS B.C., an immigrant assistance organization, and sponsored by Vancity.

Dates for the roundtable series have yet to be announced, but the series follows a forum on immigration hosted by SUCCESS in February.

Queenie Choo, CEO of SUCCESS BC. According to a new report conducted in B.C., 82 per cent of visible minorities have experienced prejudice or some form of discrimination, while 56 per cent of all respondents have overheard racist comments being made.“We didn’t want to host the forum and the forget about it,” said Queenie Choo, CEO of SUCCESS, who was quick to note that it’s important to continue discussing these issues lest history repeat itself.

Choo said the discussions would be a chance for immigrants to share their experiences with social groups and government, which in turn could help shape programs and policy. She also noted it’s important to ensure Canadians speak up for social justice in light of events taking place in the U.S.

“I truly believe that we (Canada and the U.S.) hold shared values of diversity and inclusion. If those are no longer our shared values, then there is a big question mark,” she said. “We need to make a stand. By not raising the issue and creating this opportunity (to discuss racism), it will signal to people that it’s acceptable.”

For every individual that joins Vancity between now and May 30 and sets up a pre-authorized payment or deposit, the credit union will donate $100 to the Vancity Humanitarian Fund to support refugee families. The donations are in addition to $100,000 already donated to the fund, part of which has already helped refugees settling in Victoria and Abbotsford.

Source: 82 per cent of BC minorities have experienced racism, survey finds | Vancouver Sun

Women-only English program in Metro Vancouver hopes to expand

Good initiative:

A unique English program for immigrants and refugees in Metro Vancouver is hoping to expand after finding success with women-only classes where participants can also bring their children.

The focus is not just on language, said teacher Diana Jeffries, but also on supporting mental health.

“So learning the language through taking care of yourself … making connections through community, through working together in this classroom.”

Unlike federally funded language programs like Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC), there are no eligibility requirements or tests to join the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society’s community English classes for refugee women.

“We’re different in that we’re trauma informed, that we allow young children in the classroom, we don’t have the same kind of assessment processes the LINC has,” said program director Amea Wilbur.

“We are specific to women and also we can be a lot more responsive in terms of curriculum.”

The program is open to refugees and immigrants from any country.

Farzana Fakrhi said the flexible atmosphere is the main reason she’s able to attend the classes in Burnaby.

“It’s very helpful — especially for the women who have small kids. They have daycare for the small babies, which the other classes didn’t have it.”

Some federally funded classes do provide child minding for children, but they usually have to be 18 months or older.

Community english classes

The female-only language program in Metro Vancouver allows women to bring their children to class. (Bal Brach/CBC)

Outreach worker Zarmina Ali said some of the women have never stepped foot in a classroom before arriving in Canada.

“This program is very important for them because most people haven’t been at school in their life — this is the first time they come to school and they enjoy it so much.”

Sharing stories of loss

Jeffries said the supportive environment in the class has given students the confidence to share their stories of loss and struggle.

“[They talk about] the era of the Taliban and wearing burkas,” she said.

“And experiences of great loss, family members, of even children. They carry around a huge weight of their past but [they are] just looking to Canada as an opportunity for a better future for themselves and their children.”

Wilbur created the program after witnessing a gap in services for newcomers.

Source: Women-only English program in Metro Vancouver hopes to expand – British Columbia – CBC News

CMHC head says foreign buyers a ‘scapegoat’ for high Vancouver prices

Although he is right to point out that other factors are involved, I am not completely convinced by the data he uses to downplay the role of foreign investors,  compared to the data used by others such as David Ley (see The Asian force behind Vancouver’s housing boomBlame politicians for Metro Vancouver’s housing price crisis):

High housing prices in the Vancouver region stem from a variety of factors, with foreign buyers shouldering a disproportionate amount of blame, says the president of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Evan Siddall said he is concerned about “unhealthy tensions” pitting existing residents against recent arrivals, and also older homeowners against younger families priced out of the market.

“Who is to blame for Vancouver’s affordability problems? To some, the scapegoat is obvious – blame foreigners,” Mr. Siddall said Wednesday in prepared remarks to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

“While it would be convenient to hang all of the blame for high prices on others – offshore buyers – it’s just not that simple. Sure, it makes for a tempting narrative. Them, not us. And while foreign investment clearly is a factor, it is not the only one.”

Mr. Siddall listed a wide range of factors that he sees as contributors to Vancouver’s expensive real estate: domestic residential investing, population and economic growth, low interest rates and housing supply constraints.

Some industry observers argue that buyers from China are the primary drivers behind Vancouver’s housing boom that spilled into the suburbs.

Mr. Siddall said evidence points to housing investor activity in Canada originating from predominantly domestic sources, yet foreign investment is often seen as the culprit in Vancouver. Going off script, he added: “When a white person buys a house, we don’t notice. If somebody of a different colour does, we do. And that’s not good economics.”

During a news conference after his speech, Mr. Siddall said the debate over housing affordability is contentious. “This contrast between us and them is a factor. We notice things that are different better than we notice things that are similar,” he said.

The CMHC president added that the federal government has policy tools, with the Minister of Finance knowing not to use economic stimulus to unduly influence the real estate market.

“Our analysis confirms that the most important factors accounting for house price increases over the long term are economic,” Mr. Siddall said in his prepared speech. “We believe two income-related factors are at play: An increase in high-paying jobs and a tendency of these jobs to concentrate in cities. This is an important and statistically robust factor in Toronto, less so in Vancouver. The impact in Vancouver may differ because wealth, rather than income, could play a much more pronounced part here.”

The B.C. government implemented a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver in August. On Tuesday, the province said purchasers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents accounted for 7.1 per cent of the total deals in Metro Vancouver closed between June 10 and Oct. 31.

British Columbia, which began collecting data on June 10 on foreign purchasers, noted that in the seven weeks leading up to the tax’s implementation on Aug. 2, foreign purchasers accounted for 13.2 per cent of the region’s total. The regional statistics, including transactions that involve buyers from China, are based on closed deals registered with the province’s land title office.

The price for detached houses sold in October within the City of Vancouver averaged more than $2.6-million, or double the average price for detached properties in the City of Toronto. The market in and around Vancouver remains the most expensive in Canada, despite prices dropping recently for detached houses, condos and townhomes.

“Our attachment to low-density single-family housing in many neighbourhoods represents regressive urban planning and makes the problem worse. This is basic economics. The more we hold back supply, the faster prices will rise in response to increased demand. And Vancouver’s supply response is among the weakest in Canada,” Mr. Siddall said in his speech.

In a new survey released on Wednesday, CMHC said the share of foreign buyers in Canada’s major markets is still low. The federal housing agency said foreign condo ownership in the metropolitan area of Vancouver has declined to 2.2 per cent in its latest survey of property managers and condo boards, compared with 3.5 per cent in the fall of 2015. In the Toronto region, the proportion of condos owned by people whose primary residence is outside of the country decreased to 2.3 per cent from 3.3 per cent, while dropping to 1.1 per cent from 1.3 per cent in the Montreal area.

Beyond the three largest markets, CMHC found that the share of international condo buyers has remained small in places such as Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax.

Source: CMHC head says foreign buyers a ‘scapegoat’ for high Vancouver prices – The Globe and Mail

Douglas Todd: Canada’s public guardians have failed Vancouver [investor immigration and housing]

Good long read by Todd on some of the major policy and operational failures that have contributed to housing prices in Vancouver:

The main dereliction of duty by Immigration Canada has been its refusal, until it was too late, to properly assess the Business Immigrant Program (BIP).

Started in the mid-1980s, the BIP has arguably been the most crucial factor driving up Metro housing prices. UBC geographer David Ley estimates it has brought more than 400,000 well-off immigrants to Metro.

The first problem with the BIP, say Ley and others, is that it had extremely low standards.

It began by requiring an immigrant entrepreneur to invest only $150,000 in a business and hire one Canadian. The U.S., at the same time, was demanding business immigrants invest at least four times more money and hire at least 10 Americans.

One of the few high-level government officials to sound a warning about BIP applicants, whose first choice is to pour money into “safe” real estate, was David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China.

Asia-Pacific-trade boosters like Yuen Pau Woo, recently named a senator, have long said Canada should do everything it can to attract rich immigrants, calling them “the best and brightest.”

But Mulroney counters that liberally handing out passports “devalues the importance of Canadian citizenship.” And Justin Fung, with HALT (Housing Action for Local Taxpayers), concurs: “We’re practically giving away passports for free, and little benefit.”

In the meantime, Immigration Canada officials have not properly monitored the BIP. Their lax approach went on for decades as wealthy trans-nationals avoided being tested for compliance with even the BIP’s low standards.

A forensic auditor for the World Bank ended up called Canada’s BIP “a massive sham.”

The Conservatives finally killed it in 2014, which Fung called “years too late.”

Fung also worries a form of the BIP lives on in Quebec’s stand-alone immigrant-investor plan, which each year brings thousands more moneyed arrivals to Vancouver.

In addition, the federal Liberals are considering reviving a pilot program similar to the BIP.

Canada Revenue Agency

It gets worse.

While Canadian passports were being sold at bargain-basement prices, the Canada Revenue Agency has been ignoring another red flag — that many BIP newcomers and other owners of Metro mansions have been reporting strangely low incomes.

Even though the tax department had been warned, the politicians responsible did not want to face the reality that thousands of BIP investors and others were hiding most of their assets, which should have been taxed.

Officials have not wanted to admit to the widespread phenomenon of “astronaut” fathers who leave wives and student children in expensive homes in Metro to return to their homelands to do business — without declaring their offshore assets to Canadian tax officials.

An early attempt to bring in a national law requiring residents of Canada to disclose their foreign assets was opposed and not only by centre-right politicians, says Ley. B.C.’s centre-left NDP government of the 1990s also expressed concern such a law would be “culturally insensitive” and decrease B.C.’s attractiveness as a place for migrants to invest.

And even when a national foreign-assets disclosure tax law was finally brought into effect, it has often gone unenforced.

In the midst of Vancouver’s escalating housing crisis, in 2014, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper chopped 262 experienced tax auditors.

One of the first people to publicly expose ongoing tax avoidance by the trans-national elite was former Richmond Mayor Greg Halsey-Brandt.

In 2015 Halsey-Brandt directed Postmedia to data showing residents of one of Richmond’s most expensive neighbourhoods, where most of the population is foreign-born, were reporting poverty-level incomes — and thus putting themselves in position to pay virtually no taxes.

Another revelation came in the fall of 2015 when statistician Jens von Bergmann and UBC geographer Dan Hiebert independently unveiled census statistics showing high portions of mansion owners in ritzy Vancouver neighbourhoods were declaring almost no income.

The figures from von Bergmann and Hiebert showed several neighbourhoods, in which houses were selling in the $5-million to $7-million range, that were generally populated by immigrants, particularly ethnic Chinese.

In 2016, South China Morning Post journalist Ian Young broke open the tax department’s failures. The Hong-Kong-based newspaper revealed Canada Revenue Agency officials had been aware for decades of such tax-avoidance schemes.

CRA officials had admitted, in internal documents, they were not willing to devote auditors to catching these “highly sophisticated” tax-avoiding schemes by Metro Vancouver mansion owners and others.

‘They were scared,” the source said, “of being labelled racist.’”

In addition, a common real-estate scam has gone largely undetected as a direct result of the failure of Canada’s tax and immigration departments to share their information.

Because of the absence of cooperation, many Metro house owners have been avoiding paying capital gains taxes. They have been falsely claiming they are residents of Canada for tax and immigration purposes when they are actually mostly living outside the country and not disclosing their foreign income.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Canada’s immigration and tax departments have not been the only ones turning a blind eye to such unfairness and cheating in Vancouver’s exploding housing market.

Source: Douglas Todd: Canada’s public guardians have failed Vancouver | Vancouver Sun