In politics, as in our personal lives, sometimes we need to revise our expectations. Other times, we have to admit we are wrong; we are required to concede that we simply did not do enough. In the case of Vision Vancouver’s highly touted and infinitely flexible promise to end homelessness, it appears that a rather shady third option is taking place. Rather than admit fault, Vision is redefining the terms to distract the public while keeping developers as its main allies.
Since its inception in 1937, the NPA (Non-Partisan Association) has been the developer’s party. For the NPA, an attitude of “everyone should enjoy the fruits of their labour” means that a developer’s application for rezoning is rarely turned down. Under the old NPA and relative newcomer Vision, Vancouver has been governed to maximize developer profit, not public well being.
In 1968, COPE (Coalition of Progressive Electors) was founded as an alternative to the developer’s party. Today, the political landscape consists of not one developer party, but two: NPA and Vision. As such, COPE has always run at a disadvantage because the NPA is lavishly funded by developers, as is Vision. Although both of the developer-backed parties make showy presentations of their dedication to free enterprise and good business practice, it is COPE that actually practices truth in advertising. COPE candidates are pledged to uphold the policy positions democratically adopted in open meetings, unlike the developers’ parties, who enjoy the fruits of developing their platform behind closed doors by a chosen few.
Vision Vancouver is a version of the NPA with bicycle lanes. Some observers refer to Vision as NPA Lite. Meanwhile, COPE is sticking to the principles of social justice and offering an unambiguous alternative to these developer parties. COPE is the only party offering a clear and concrete proposal to address the crisis of homelessness. With the creation of a Vancouver housing authority, COPE proposes to build thousands of units of subsidized and affordable housing which would be owned and operated by the city.
Instead of following a plan to produce results, Vision has played games with the issues of housing affordability and homelessness. Here is one example of Vision game playing. Vision simply redefines the term “affordable housing” to include any rental housing so that when a developer applies for rezoning, the bylaw that requires a certain number of units to be affordable is meaningless. Permits are issued because any rental units, no matter how expensive, are being considered affordable when there are actually very few who are able to pay the rent.
Earlier this year, the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count revealed that homelessness has increased in our community. Vision’s 2008 campaign promise to end homelessness by 2015 has been a failure. Scrambling to save face, Vision has changed the message to claim that what they actually intended to do was end street homelessness. Although someone who uses a shelter may not be considered street homeless, they must still be counted as a person without a home. Anyone staying in a shelter is required to leave in the morning and stay scarce until evening is essentially homeless during the day. A home is more than a place to sleep.
Vision arbitrarily changes the meaning of terms at will, in a dazzling example of what the great English satirist George Orwell called “Newspeak” in his classic study of tyranny, 1984. Rumours that the book’s character Big Brother is now on stipend to write press releases for Vision cannot be confirmed at this point, but remain plausible. Regardless, Vision’s underhanded revisions of language are the party’s attempt to convince the public that they are standing firmly on some sort of platform rather than tumbling with the lint in developers’ pockets. Don’t we want a city council that positions itself firmly outside the fiscal influence of developers? It’s COPE that has the real plan to address the important issues of homelessness and affordable housing.