My office window looks out over Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area notorious for being Canada’s poorest postal code. Back when Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympics, we pointed out that the world’s media would be stationed just ten minutes walk away from truly abject poverty, and when the cameras started rolling, it may not be gorgeous mountain backdrops they would be shooting (especially in February when it rains most of the time). With the tag line, “we’ve invited the world, they’re coming, and the place is a mess”, we sought to spur the provincial government to action on fighting poverty and homelessness, if only because of the potential of massive global embarrassment.
The international media are already starting to take note (see this post). But to date our cries have not been met with much action. The Campbell government, in its second term, is much more centrist than its slash-and-burn predecessor. But on the poverty file, it is hard to notice much difference on the ground. The government has shifted from being outright punitive to the poor to merely being neglectful. The press of the Olympics has led to some modest measures, to be fair – ten SRO hotels were purchased by the province, for example – but there has been a gaping mismatch between the rhetoric and action. The biggest budget measure in February’s “housing budget” was an income tax cut three times the size of housing initiatives.
All of this in spite of the fact that BC posted a $4 billion surplus last year, a sum of money that could build 20,000 units of non-market housing. As Seth Klein and I pointed out last week in a pre-budget submission to the provincial Finance Committee, a big part of the problem has been that the government is taking options off the table by dramatically and systematically understating available surpluses – if we take the past four budgets together, the cumulative error between budget time and final results has been $12 billion. An MLA I talked to the other day mused that the government likes to see itself as a business and posting growing surpluses is like posting fatter profits.
For those interested in following the cut-and-thrust of how the BC government and the City of Vancouver are dealing with the cognitive dissonance of the Olympics and the Downtown Eastside, David Eby of the Pivot Legal Society authors the excellent Vancouver 2010 Olympics, displacement and homelessness blog. It is sobering stuff that does not make the mainstream news. Visit and you can also find out the story behind this graphic, which the Vancouver Organizing Committee has tried to ban (relating to this post by Arun Dubois):
- The Staple Theory @ 50: Marc Lee (October 20th, 2013)
- Metro Vancouver needs to walk its “zero waste” talk (October 16th, 2013)
- Why the City of Vancouver should divest from fossil fuels (October 9th, 2013)
- What UBC and SMU’s rape chant scandals say about women in the Canadian economy (September 10th, 2013)
- Linda McQuaig for Toronto Centre (August 6th, 2013)