The era of Gregor Robertson is now officially almost over, and for those of us who have been critical of the Vancouver, B.C. mayor's tenure, it's also reasonable to consider the positive achievements — but they have been so few and so secondary to the main issue of sustainably growing this beautiful city that they become relatively insignificant. As we move forward, I think it's important to remember what has happened to our city under 10 years of Vision Vancouver stewardship.
Initially, I enthusiastically voted for the cool small-biz guy who promised to end homelessness by 2015. He seemed to be down to earth, socially responsible and, being a business guy, would understand those needs, too. On top of that, not a bad looker. What could go wrong? It started well with the feel-good Winter Olympics, but then...
Robertson categorically promised to end homelessness and we know how that turned out. He often buffers this failure by blaming other levels of government, but he knew he had to deal with two Conservative levels of government. He even spoke of this specifically when he campaigned, so his excuses rings hollow. Under Robertson's watch, homeless numbers are at record highs.
You can't make that bold promise and then not own it — and sorry, I don't buy that at least his heart was in the right place. Naïve, empty gestures are even worse.
This has been fundamentally damaging to our city in a profound way, like a non-violent major earthquake.
Robertson has engaged and supported development which was often marketed to overseas investors. Any suggestion of an issue with foreign capital was met with cries of racism by our mayor. Instead of addressing an issue all of us could plainly see, Robertson dodged and weaved.
His party fundraising was managed by "condo king" Bob Rennie and his party benefited from many contributions from developers. Was there self-interest in cozying up to developers? Duh. Vision's connection to Rennie and development-fed funding mirrors the B.C. Liberals' blinkers on the subject of overdevelopment. It's strange but true that this so-called left-of-centre civic party has been so hand-in-hand with the B.C. Liberals on this housing crisis.
Over Robertson's term, Vancouver's housing affordability has become the third worst on earth, never mind Canada, and this has been fundamentally damaging to our city in a profound way, like a non-violent major earthquake. Housing unaffordability drives out young people, which results in breaking up families and homogenizes our city as a playground for the foreign rich. Well, not even playground — more like an investment vehicle. Mind you, Burrard Street car dealers have done very well, I'll give Robertson that.
We have also had the wholesale demolition of so many perfectly good heritage homes, often in favour of mansions which remain empty for years. It's civic policy which allows this to happen in what is supposed to be, ironically, "the greenest city." That's another thing!
They are demolished because insane land values make it feasible. Lengthy waits for permits and demanding code regulations for renovation are so onerous that it can't help but encourage demolition over renovation. Remember, this is the administration which banned round door knobs and mandated that every new home must have a shower somewhere on the ground floor. I'm not kidding. Wait times for permits are around a year in Vancouver, triple what they are in Burnaby.
Robertson's branding of Vancouver as "greenest" has been an exercise in marketing over substance. Truly, what is Vancouver doing that most other cities do not do? Recycling, bike lanes? These are not unique to Vancouver; but to Robertson and Vision, it has become a mission statement which guides their overall ethos, no matter the shallowness of the results.
It's killing our city and it's a direct result of Vision policy.
The city routinely manufactures and spins stats to suit its agenda. StatsCan revealed recently that only about 2.3 per cent of Greater Vancouver Area commuters in 2016 use bikes, up from 1.7 per cent 10 years before, but you would never ever hear such low figures quoted by Vision. Instead, they'd be the types to spin growth from 1.7 to 2.3 per cent into a whopping 35 per cent increase — their website claims a nebulous "40 per cent increase" from 2008 to 2011. It might be true, but in real terms, that is hardly a seismic shift in number of commuters over 10 years.
Vision has set out to "ban" natural gas, which will be costly, inconvenient and make absolutely no difference to global emission levels. Vision will look you in the eyes and tell you that they aren't enacting a ban — but they absolutely are. It's an anti-science policy, but it fits the green branding. Vancouver's total emissions are so fractional on a global scale where all of Canada contributes are a mere 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so banning natural gas really does nothing but cost people more in order to feel good about doing nothing meaningful.
City taxes have gone up at a rate in excess of inflation. Small businesses are driven to close because of massive tax increases, sometimes as much as 92 per cent from year to year. This is related to overdevelopment and speculation because businesses suddenly find themselves occupying space which has magically doubled in value because of potential value from rezoning. It's killing our city and it's a direct result of Vision policy.
Remember how excited we were about being able to buy beer and wine in supermarkets? Have you noticed it hasn't really happened? That's because Vision won't let it. They made the terms so onerous that there are only two supermarkets in the city which meet the criteria because they actually don't feel we should have "easy access" to alcohol like this. It makes Vancouver feel like it's own little nanny state.
Vancouverites are being driven out of the city while rich foreign investors have been shown the red carpet. So much alleged corruption is now being exposed to show just how bad this situation was allowed to become. Local real estate firms have offices in the far east to attract investors, and Robertson has frequented China to encourage investment. He has only now, after 10 years, admitted that foreign capital has a role to play. Slow clap.
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The city allows illegal cannabis shops to flourish. The chief of police says gang crime is the worst he's seen in 10 years, and Vancouver has become the least affordable city to purchase a home in in Canada. Hardly a point of pride.
The city's revenue clearly benefits from real estate speculation, and yet property taxes have gone up way faster than inflation — and what is it spent on? Numerous pet projects like millions spent to beautify the most expensive postal code in Canada. Nice for Point Grey Road home owners, who, according to this report, didn't want it.
Economically, the city sits at the bottom rung for home affordability and jobs. We actually have a job crisis because so many young people can't afford to live here.
This is the Vision Vancouver legacy, and Mayor Gregor Robertson is their leader. I hope his leaving is the start of change, big change.
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