Despite years of work by tax-cutting governments at both the Federal and Provincial levels, Canadians remain a highly-taxed people. The top marginal income tax rate in the Province of British Columbia is 45.8%. That rate, incidentally, comes in at the (given the cost of living in Vancouver) decidedly low level of $151,050 per year of income in 2015. The combined Federal and Provincial sales tax comes in at 12% here. When one adds in property taxes, MSP “premiums” (really a tax by another name), and the highest gasoline taxes in Canada it is easy to see how people making less than $100,000 a year could easily end up remitting well over a third of their total income to the government each year. In other words: our taxes are already too damned high.
Given the tremendous amount that we already pay in taxes, adding another .5% to the sales tax rate that we already pay can seem inconsequential. For someone making $30,000 a year in taxable purchases it adds up to “only” another $150 per year. However, I should hasten to add, given the scale of the projects that Metro Vancouver plans to use this to fund, we would be very foolish to believe that the Mayors of Greater Vancouver will stop there. Once we have agreed to the levying of a regional sales tax increase there will be little, if anything, to stop them from going to that well again and again. Is it not rather easy to imagine, over the next few years, that the local tax rate would go up a little bit each and every year? After all, it isn’t at all uncommon for American localities to have local sales taxes set at a rate of a few percentage points. If, come 2020 or so, this new Metro Vancouver sales tax had been raised to 2.5% then the cost to someone making $30,000 a year in taxable purchases would suddenly increase to $750 each year.
I am certain that some will suggest that the scenario above is alarmist. I will respond by suggesting that those people are either naive or dissembling. The issue here is not the amount of the tax – though I find that objectionable in and of itself – but that by allowing for its imposition we will have created a pernicious precedent. Like other insidious taxes — with the gas taxes levied by Metro Vancouver in support of TransLink being another notable example — it will simply rise and rise with time. In having allowed the imposition of such a tax we will soon come to understand what Kipling meant when he wrote, “That if once you have paid him the Danegeld, You never get rid of the Dane.”
Two years ago the voters of British Columbia rose up to reject the Harmonized Sales Tax. I supported that tax since I believed that it was more economically efficient and might allow for the reduction of the overall rate in the long-run. This proposed tax has none of those virtues. In fact, this proposed tax manages to be the worst of both worlds. As a blanket increase in the sales tax it is, of course, sharply regressive in that it will fall most-heavily upon those with the lowest incomes. Yet, at the same time, it is also notably redistributive in its character as it, in essence, is a tax that takes money from people who don’t make use of public transit uses it to subsidize the fares of those that do. In other words, this method of funding public transit manages to be unfair to everyone except for a small slice of middle-class transit users who will gain more in subsidies than they will pay in taxes. Given this, the voters of the metro Vancouver region should head to the polls to reject this tax with even greater force than they did the HST.
TransLink is already supported by a massive subsidy from the people of the region. Every time I fill up the tank of my car I indirectly pay enough to them to cover around three train or bus tickets. If that isn’t enough to cover the cost of transit and then some, I put it to you that TransLink must therefore be both excessively ambitious and generally mis-managed.
Only 43.4% of eligible Vancouverites voted in the recent municipal elections. Voter participation was even lower than that in some of the other municipalities of the region. Because Metro Vancouver is required to put this proposed tax hike to a referendum, we now have a second chance to rebuke the air-headed utopians who have foisted such foolishness as the Vancouver bike lanes upon the innocent commuters of this city. Let’s seize that chance and vote down this cash grab,
In reading Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything – a friendly-looking tome with a sky-blue cover – I couldn’t help but recall what Whittaker Chambers’ remark, in reviewing Ayn Rand’s classic that, “(f)rom almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “to the gas chambers — go!”” This is a book that will seduce many people with its tales of various indigenous people standing up against further development and its surface-level commitment to humanitarian aims, but it is also the work of profound evil. This is a totalitarian book that aims to advance totalitarian aims in the guise of combating a supposed emergency. As Klein herself admits, she herself truly began to engage with these issues only when she realized that the aims of environmental radicalism provided a rationale for the adoption of ultra-left positions more generally. In writing this book, Klein has done the world a profound service in a surely-unintended fashion: she has set out in crystal-clear fashion the slightly-hidden agenda that lies behind most so-called “environmental” initiatives: the destruction of capitalism and Western Civilization.
If you think my last sentence was hyperbolic, you should read the book yourself. In it Klein advocates a program that would see a radical redistribution of wealth, not only from the “1% to the 99% within the advanced industrial nations, but on a global basis. She approvingly quotes one academic as, “envision(ing) that “hours of paid work and income could converge worldwide at substantially lower levels than is seen in the developed countries of today.””
When I read that sentence, I was temporarily floored. It is clear enough to myself that the aim of a notable portion of the present-day left is to take what you, I, and our families have and give it away in the name of “social justice”, but it’s rare to see it admittedly so openly. How many in the West would ever willingly accept having our standard of living “coverage” with that of Liberia?
She tries to put as kind a spin on this as possible, writing that, “(w)e will need to return to a lifestyle similar to the one we had in the 1970s” in order to attempt to pull back the shock a little bit. But, I ask you, how many among us would sincerely and willingly see our standard of living rolled back by four or five decades? She does her best to disguise the sort of pain that she’s proposing to inflict upon the majority of Canadians, Americans, and other citizens in advanced nations, as well as the fact that it is more or less it is impossible that such measures would ever be adopted on a voluntary basis. Here and there, however, the mask slips, which was when she writes that, “if these sorts of demand-side emissions reductions are to take place on anything like the scale required, they cannot be left to the lifestyle decisions of earnest urbanites.”
Ah, there it is! These decisions, Klein and her ilk believe, as so important that they cannot be left to the people. Nowhere in her book, beyond in laying out a vapid and shiny vision of a mass-movement of various native peoples and local townspeople resisting oil development, does she ever get too explicit about how the practical politics of this change should be managed, but it doesn’t take too much of a leap to infer that it would be impossible for her anti-capitalist revolutionary movement to operate in accord with basic constitutional liberties and the rule of law. What she proposes, in essence, is for a revolutionary mob to come along and take by force the property of others in the name of the Earth. What she proposes is for a massive increase in the powers of the state over the affairs of the people – one that could not be possibly gained by democratic consent in the timeframe that she suggests (before the end of his decade). When Klein invokes the increase in transit usage and home production of food that occurred during the Second World War as an example, she shows a little more of her hand: those measures were only possible within a context of near-absolute government control of society during a total war.
It is a cliche to invoke Martin Niemöller in a political debate, yet it is irresistible here. Her first targets – the oil companies and select billionaires – may have some aspects about them that are unappealing, but this is really about everyone. This is a vision for a Khemr Rouge-like Year Zero society that will harm practically everyone if even a small fraction of it is allowed to come to pass.
“It is a matter of the well-off 20 percent in a population taking the largest cuts,” Klein writes, but soon enough she adds that, “(t)his does not mean the middle class is off the hook. To fund the kind of social programs that will make a just transition possible, taxes will have to raise for everyone but the poor.” Later she add that this, “is precisely why, when climate change diners claim that global warming is a plot to redistribute wealth, it’s not (only) because they are paranoid. It’s also because they are paying attention.”
Yet, strangely, Klein fails to ever truly engage with the sort of tenacious resistance that such measures would face not only among the oil barons and the other villains of her work, but among ordinary people who do not wish to see the work of generations and their own lives destroyed or stolen and “redistributed” to others. If you would like to see your lifestyle “converge” with that of Nepal, you are more than free to make such a thing happen immediately. If you wish to require that my standard of living be reduced until it is roughly the same as the global average, than you are going to not only need votes but also guns and armies. This is the single greatest flaw of this book: Klein unveils a totalitarian and world-transforming vision and acknowledges that there are ideologues whose ideas differ from hers that she is willing to accord at least intellectual respect to, but she never engages with the reality that there are millions of people – ordinary citizens – in the Western world who would die on the battlefield before they would ever consent to live in her nightmarish version of the future.
Going through this book I thought of a moment in another work that I’d be willing to bet that Klein is familiar with (since it came out of the febrile imagination of the far-left of the British Labour Party during the 1980s). The late 1980s mini-series A Very British Coup is horribly dated now (it was based upon an even-older novel). It imagines the election of a crypto-communist British Prime Minister (who, among other things, funds his wild spending by taking out a large loan from the Soviet Union) and the resistance to him by the United States and the British establishment. In the climactic showdown between the Prime Minister and the sinister head of MI5, the intelligence chief tells the Prime Minister that his ideals represent a threat to everything that he and his fathers have fought for over the centuries, yea onto the Middle Ages. The Prime Minister closes his reply by telling the head of MI5, “don’t forget: I have ancestors too.”
Klein’s mistake here is assuming that she and her allies have a monopoly on virtue. She assumes that they are the “good guys” in this scenario, much as the old-line Marxists of earlier days held a position that took the virtue of “the workers” as an established fact rather than the debatable and mixed proposition that it was. She forgets, in other words, that I have ancestors too and that those of us who believe in individual liberty and the heritage of the English-speaking peoples have things that we believe in every bit as passionately and that we are certain are just as right as the things that she and her followers believe in. By failing to account for this, her extremism ensures that, at best, those who share her beliefs will remain eternally consigned to the fringes of society and, at worst, if they are ever to gain a mass following and the opportunity to implement her ideals that she will not be ushering in paradise, but instead bring on bloody and brutal civil wars that will resemble, more than anything else, the terrible strife that nearly destroyed the Balkans two decades ago.
Though my last name would indicate otherwise, ethnically I’m at least as much of a Scot as many of the people who actually live in Scotland today. My mother’s maiden name is McKinnon (the spelling was mysteriously changed by an ancestor from the more-traditional MacKinnon in the 19th Century for reasons that are now lost to history) and my grandfather, Hector McKinnon was quite-thoroughly a Scot by blood. Our collective ancestors hail from the Inner Hebrides, specifically the Isles of Skye and Iona. In view of this, I feel entitled to at least weigh in on the present developments in Scotland.
My feelings are mixed. It would be one thing if the Scottish desire for independence was driven by an ambition to achieve national greatness or to assert the liberties of the Scottish people from a tyrannical and oppressive government. If the drive for the independence of Scotland were genuinely about freedom than I would be inclined to cheer every bit as loudly as any of the rowdies on the streets of Glasgow. But, if one listens to the rhetoric of the Scots, this movement is about everything but the liberties of the people. The core argument advanced by the advocates of Scottish independence is socialistic: that is to say that, free of the control of London and the “fucking Tories”, an independent Scotland could be transformed into a standard-issue Scandinavian welfare state where cradle-to-grave benefits are paid thanks to bountiful oil revenues (setting aside the question of whether this is even, given the social condition of Scotland and the questionable long-term future of North Sea oil). Moreover, the advocates of Scottish “independence” do not by any means intend to create a free Scotland: they intend to subject the people of that nation to the control of the European Union, even as the rest of the United Kingdom looks to break free and to reassert its own sovereignty.
Movements for national freedom can be noble endeavours, when they are correctly motivated. But it is quite questionable whether Scotland suffers in any actual respect from its association with the rest of the United Kingdom. The Union has existed for three-hundred and seven years, during which time Great Britain conquered a large portion of the world and made itself one of the most prosperous parts of the planet. Indeed, those Scandinavian welfare states that some Scots so admire are themselves free only thanks, in large part, to the efforts of the British nation. During the years that they have been as one, the peoples of Great Britain have quite literally stood alone against the entire world and won. They have saved the free nations of Europe at least four times. To destroy something of such value, you’d better have a damned good reason. The ambitions of certain politicians is not such a reason nor should a great state be shattered because some people want to spend more on welfare.
To borrow from Thomas Moore, by way of Robert Bolt, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… But for welfare? Does one really imagine the great heroes of the Scottish past enlisting in such a cause? Do you imagine William Wallace – either the real version or the almost wholly-imaginary one created by Mel Gibson and Randall Wallace – shouting, “you may take our lives, but you will never take our welfare!”
Indeed, as I said my feelings are quite mixed. This is not because I have any sympathy for the cause of Scottish independence per se, but rather because anyone who would vote to destroy one of the great nations of the Earth in order to theoretically spend a little more money on social services under the all-smothering supervision of the European Union is unworthy of claiming to be the citizen of such a nation. Indeed, it may be said that succession by statists is a textbook example of a self-limiting disease. If a majority of the Scottish people are so venal and vain that they would vote to destroy the British nation upon such a flimsy and unworthy basis, then they deserve the banishment that such a secession would entail. Indeed, a positive vote for independence would be a thoroughgoing sign that there is no longer a Scottish people to save in any meaningful sense. That is to say that if the “Scots” are to vote for the destruction of the United Kingdom in such a way it would be a complete demonstration of the fact that Scotland itself is no longer Scottish in much the same way that the Rome of today and the last several thousand years is no longer a place inhabited by Romans but rather by Italians who call themselves “Roman.”
However, there may be an upside in a positive vote: if the “Scots” are to choose amputation, it might well be just enough to save England, Wales, and Ulster as the last free places in Europe. Certainly a positive vote would finish David Cameron’s pitiful tenure at No. 10 and perhaps his successor as the leader of the Conservatives would have enough sense to come to some arrangement with Nigel Farage and Ukip, the true heroes of the English-speaking peoples today, and to take the rest of the United Kingdom out of the European Union and then to restore the traditional links between the United Kingdom and the rest of the British settler nations.
Adam Yoshida is a Vancouver-based author. His most recent book is “Shall Not Perish.”
I am a relatively rare creature: a Millennial who owns their own home in Vancouver. I am among the privileged few who has managed, by a combination of luck and work, to purchase a 447 square foot shoebox (plus a parking spot!) in Kitsilano for an amount that would buy a family home on a decent-sized plot of land in most of the rest of the country. Now, let me be very clear: I’m not complaining about the cost (and, in fact, the wild appreciation of Vancouver real estate is actually in my own self-interest) for myself and I certainly don’t think that the government ought to go out and take money from other people in order to support myself. My concern is that a toxic combination of bad government policies has created a situation that has made most of Vancouver wholly unaffordable for any middle-class family that doesn’t have the benefit of substantial family wealth. Poorly thought-out government policies are going to create a future Vancouver whose population consists of the rich, intermittently-resident wealthy foreigners, middle-class people with well-off and generous parents, old people desperately holding on to decaying rent-controlled rental apartments, people living in multi-person ad hoc rental living arrangements, people living in subsidized housing, and the homeless. I don’t believe that that mix is likely to produce healthy results for either British Columbia or for Vancouver. You will notice that all sorts of people, such as middle-class professionals, young families, and comfortable retirees, missing from that list. What can we do to fix this?
Well, first of all, we need to consider why housing is so expensive in Vancouver. The short and most basic answer is the obvious one: the supply of housing available in Vancouver exceeds the demand for it. Therefore, because demand is greater than supply the price of housing in Vancouver steadily increases to bring these two factors into equilibrium. However, without some slackening of demand, prices will increase forever.
Some of this demand is healthy. People want to come to Vancouver because it’s a great place to live. The weather is mild. The streets are safe. The country and the province (if not the city) are fairly well-governed. The city is proximate to both the rest of North America and is accessible from Asia. There are large and vibrant communities here who represent many cultures from all over the world. All of these factors suggest that we should expect much of the demand for housing in Vancouver to remain steady over the long-term. However, there are other less-healthy factors that are also driving prices up. These are ones that we can control.
What are these factors?
First and foremost: the focus of our city government, across successive generations, has been too much upon the top and bottom of our society without any real attention being paid to the middle. Consider the concerns of the city government over the last decade: drug injection sites (and the broader “Four Pillars” approach), bike lanes, homelessness, the greening of the city. The focus of successive Mayors and Councils – both of the NPA and Vision variety – has been either upon the plight of the very poor or the parochial worries of gentry liberals.
When was the last time that Vancouver’s middle class had a Mayor who represented them? For my entire adult life the focus of the government of Vancouver has been focused elsewhere. As a result of this successive city governments have implemented policies that have been very harmful to the interests of the middle class without intending to be so.
Consider, for a moment, the effect of so-called “affordable housing” policies upon the middle class. What happens when a developer is required to set aside 20% of the units in a new development to serve as non-market housing? Do you really expect – indeed, would it be fair to expect – the developer to swallow the cost of this mandate? Of course not. The result is that the market units in the building then are sold at a higher price than they would be otherwise be in order to offset the cost of the social housing mandated by the city.
Likewise, the rent controls that exist through the Residential Tenancy Act are actually harmful to the interests of the middle class, because they ensure that people who are paying particularly favourable rents will never leave. The result of this is that new renters – or buyers – pay much higher prices than they would if the market were allowed to rule the housing market in Vancouver.
To put it in a single sentence: the price of Vancouver housing is kept artificially high by government policies that lock a substantial part of the city’s housing stock away from the normal mechanisms of the market.
That, however, is only half of it.
Another dimension of our housing problem is actually transportation-based. Anyone who drives in this city knows what a nightmare traffic is. When I lived out in the suburbs – Coquitlam in my own case – it often took well over an hour to move thirty kilometres from my home to the Downtown Core. This was largely a function of the fact that traffic along Hastings Street is routinely nightmarish. Likewise, my present commute from Kitsilano to Downtown can take twenty-minutes or more to cover five kilometres. Some of this is a result of long-ago decisions that we can’t do much about now (such as the way in which Highway 1 was allowed to bypass the city core), but at the very least we can have a government that endeavours to not make things worse by creating new obstacles. My personal commute is made worse by the fact that it manages to intersect with three different major bike lanes. The removal of the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts would haul an already-awful east-west commute down to a deeper circle of hell.
There is no inherent reason why the city government needs to be spending its time going about finding ways to make people’s commutes harder: it’s simply that we have, in our foolishness, elected to office people who are implacably hostile to the automobile and therefore are eager to grasp upon any excuse that they may find to make the lives of drivers harder. Our bike lane-loving Mayor and his friends appear to be engaged in a long war against the car. They know that the people would revolt if they tried to make their dream of banning the whole of the proletariat from driving (there must always, of course, be exceptions made for the exceptional), so instead they intend to take the same approach that the government has taken against smokers over the years: using the frog-in-the-pan-of-water trick to slowly extinguish private automobile ownership in favour of forcing us all onto buses, trains, and bikes.
These transportation headaches have broader implications: people who don’t want to spend significant portions of their lives in traffic jams are forced to either move closer to the Downtown core or to cluster around Skytrain stations at a far-greater rate than they would if the city weren’t actively working to make their commute hellish.
If we had a government in Vancouver that was actually dedicated to helping the middle class, we would have some very different policies.
Instead of spending each day looking for new ways to inflict pain upon commuters, one of the top priorities of the city government would be figuring out how our traffic and road arrangements might ease the speed of traffic throughout the city.
Instead of creating boutique developments that, by necessity, cater to the rich or the very poor, the city would be actively looking for ways to open up land to allow for the construction of market housing that could be reasonably purchased by the middle class.
Instead of arbitrarily deciding that anyone from anywhere in Canada who happens to float onto our streets is now the permanent responsibility of Vancouver taxpayers, the city would be looking for ways to create law and bylaw enforcement priorities that focus on the quality of life of the city’s taxpaying citizens.
Someone needs to talk about these issues. My hope remains that Kirk LaPointe and the NPA, as the long-standing representatives of the free market in this city, will recover enough of their courage to do it. They have the money and the campaign infrastructure to do so and win. If they won’t, then someone else is going to have to do it.
There’s nothing like a feel-good story in the local free newspaper to set the blood boiling first thing in the morning. As I was finishing my run I spied the headline on the Vancouver edition of the Metro, “Million-dollar view for $375 a month.” The headline caught my eye because, unlike the majority of the so-called “journalists” working these days I have a skeptical mind and an elementary acquaintance with some basic principles of economics. “If someone is getting a million dollar view for $375 a month,” I thought, “then someone else is paying for it… and that someone is probably me.” And, lo and behold, a quick reading of the story demonstrates the correctness of my snap assessment.
Here’s the tl:dr version of the story in question: BC Housing and the City of Vancouver have built a $28 Million building at 1134 Burrard Street that consists of 141 units of social housing. The story doesn’t bother quoting anyone who thinks that this is a bad idea, but generously allows the building manager to take a pre-emptive swipe at opponents (definitely some balanced journalism there).
The address and the cost immediately caught my eye – until very recently I lived half a block away in a unit not much larger than those in this new development (350 square feet). It’s a beautiful neighbourhood – and an expensive one. When my 452 square foot apartment (in an older building) was re-rented it was for around $1300 a month. It’s a nice and quiet area, though I should also note that it’s an expensive one in every possible way (the closest grocery stores, for example, are an IGA and an Urban Fare, with lower-cost options like a No Frills located all the way on the other side of the West End along Denman St). In other words, setting aside NIMBY’ism (which, frankly, I’m going to come back to and defend in a moment anyways), it’s probably not a great place for people who, by definition, don’t have much money in the first place to live in. In fact, it would seem to me that tossing formerly-homeless people into a high-end neighbourhood where everything available locally is expensive (thanks, of course, in part to the reluctance of the City to permit various large, low-cost retailers to set up Downtown over the years) is actually kind of cruel to the people “helped.”
But, let’s take a further step back and review the economics of this: what possible sense does it make for the city to build social housing on expensive real estate (and to subsequently subsidize the cost of housing people on said real estate) at a time when social housing is scarce and the count of the homeless in the city is increasing? The best that the article can come up with is that, “homeless people deserve a safe, decent, affordable place to live”, but that line of reasoning would only if you think that the only “safe, decent” place in the city is along Burrard Street. If you’re going to spend $28 Million on housing people at at time when there plainly isn’t enough available social housing for everyone who the city wishes to install in it, why wouldn’t you build cheaper units on less-expensive land that could house more people?
Let’s just do a little bit of math. The rent on these units is $375 a month. The city and province spent $28 Million on this housing. It will house 141 people. If the the city and province, rather than building this Cadillac building, took the same money and spent it on private rent subsidies, they could provide five hundred people with a subsidy of $400 a month through the year 2026. Or, alternatively, given that the city has already sunk $28 Million into the building, if – instead of renting these units out as subsidized units they had built them as market housing units – they could probably have rented them out for around $1200 per month. Minus maintenance costs on the building, the profits from such a social enterprise would probably be enough to pay rent subsidies for around three hundred people.
It is hard to think of a more illustrative example of the idiocy of good intentions than this. Housing the homeless is a laudable enough goal, but this is the most foolish way to go about it imaginable and it does a better job than anything else I could imagine of demonstrating why so many of our present leaders are plainly unfit to administer anything, let alone a great city and province.
It is also, I am very sorry to say, likely to prove to be an act of great cruelty to local businesses and those who already live in the area. As I mentioned above, I lived about a block from this building until last fall. I quite liked the area and actively explored a purchase there before I decided, instead, to decamp for sunny (and slightly, slightly cheaper) Kitsilano. Even without this development, many of the local businesses – especially quick service restaurants and coffee shops – already had problems with street people camping out inside of them all day. I can only imagine how that effect will be multiplied by adding one hundred and fifty people off the streets and out of shelters to the region, especially given the well-known refusal of the authorities to move along even disruptive street people. One wonders if the intent of the city and the police is to allow the sort of open-air peddling that now characterizes much of the Downtown Eastside along Burrard and through the rest of the area. Some, I suppose, will dismiss such concerns as those of a NIMBY elitist, but those who do so will generally be those whose businesses aren’t being diminished or who bought half million dollar condos only to find themselves harassed by street people.
Again, I return to the point of the Building Manager, Mr. Murphy – the one who I quoted at such length in the article. If we are all agreed that we should have, “safe, decent, affordable” places for the homeless to live, is there any reason why it logically follows that those places need to be located on some of the most expensive real estate in the world, or even in the city of Vancouver at all? After all, one of the primary reasons why Vancouver has such a severe homeless problem is the fact that, for some reason, almost everyone has decided that allowing a large portion of the entire homeless population of the nation to migrate to and then congregate here isn’t at all problematic. We all must do our part for those in genuine distress and, if you agree with the prior platitude, than it should naturally follow that some of the cost and effort of housing the homeless ought to properly rest with Surrey, Prince George, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Sudbury, Oshawa, Ottawa, Montreal, Cape Breton, and all of the other places that these people actually came from in the first place. It’s one thing for people to put on a solemn face and say something like, “this is all of our problem,” but it’s another to live it.
This is yet another example of how our leaders – particularly those at the municipal level here in Vancouver – continue to exist in a make-believe world where the sentiment “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if?” is allowed to ride roughshod over the real world that people who aren’t organic juice millionaires have to live in.