David Beers on Vancouver Eating its Young

David Beers published a piece entitled “Why Does Vancouver Eat its Young?” in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. I agree with David’s sentiment, Vancouver does eat its young. Moreover, and many of his points are valid (e.g. the NPA’s closure of the Child and Youth Advocate office). But I chaffed at the partisan perspective of a news editor who founded a newspaper because he didn’t like the partisan perspective of other BC newspapers. I like the Tyee and even publish there, but its hard to not grow tired of its relentlessly partisan approach (Raif Mair, a balanced newspaper does not make) and its simplistic view of BC politics: Liberal=bad, NDP=good (or at least, not bad). While the investigative journalism is needed and deeply appreciated, I’m often left wondering if the Tyee is simply trying to become a left-wing version of “The Sun.”All the more so since it is funded by a silent, and secret, partner – rumored to be the BC Federation of Labour.

Take for example his op-ed. Both the provincial NDP and the BC Liberals have invested in social housing (the Liberals may be late to the game, but they’ve stumped up some serious cash). But neither has a track record of addressing affordable housing – the issue that could help Rachel, the op-ed’s protagonist.

In addition to the partisan swipes, the piece is premised on some highly problematic analysis and is factually wrong. Nowhere is this better illustrated than Beers choice of Montreal as a viable alternative to Vancouver. For an article whose theme is how Baby Boomers are shifting problems and costs on to young people, choosing Montreal as a positive counter example is, at best, questionable.

Montreal is a fun city to live in – I know, I’ve lived there. It has a vibrant arts scene and great nightlife. It is not however a utopia or sustainable policy alternative.

Montreal – and the province of Quebec – has the largest debt/per capita and deficit/per capita in the country (it ranks second highest in dept/gdp ratio) Despite having the highest tax rate in the country, Quebec is about to leave the next generation a whopping $117billion(!!!) debt, and a $2.1billon deficit (in 2005). If there is one place in the country that is mortgaging its young to satisfy the needs of Boomers, it is Montreal. Why? Because almost all this money goes into operational spending. Little is invested into infrastructure for the future. This is a city and province where, literally, bridges fall on citizens and universities place mesh nets around buildings to prevent crumbling cement from falling on students. Quebec’s tuitions may be low, but its universities are bankrupt.

Montreal is also not a homeowners’ paradise. It has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Canada: only 50% percent of Montrealers own their home vs. 61% of Vancouverites. While public policy – such as the adoption of row houses – helps depress rents, one reason rental apartments remain easy to find is that an astonishing 200,000 people (11% of the population) left the city between 1971 and 1981. That loss still impacts the city today. It has yet to recapture it’s 1971 population peak of 1,960,000. Indeed, three and a half decades later it is still shy by 100,000. Not only has the city yet to recover demographically, it only recently climbed out of the referendum induced recession which saw jobs – for the young and old – dry up. This is a dramatic price to pay for affordability and it offers little in policy guidance to Vancouver’s city planners. (In contrast, Vancouver has grown by an astounding 35% since 1971)

Beers’ sentiment is right. Vancouver is not affordable. But is scoring cheap political points off the issue really the role for a newspaper editor? Especially one that is seeking to reframe the debate in British Columbia? There is a lot that can be done to tackle this issue… something I’ll dive into tomorrow while discussion the solution oriented speech Larry Beasley’s gave at the Imagine Vancouver conference this past weekend.

12 thoughts on “David Beers on Vancouver Eating its Young

  1. LGD

    This blog made for a great read, and brought with it some interesting supplementary reading, including David Beers’ piece. As homeownership in our generation is something that I have a personal interest and stake in, and Montreal and Vancouver are two cities that I love, I was very interested in one statistical statement that you made. “Montreal is also not a homeowners’ paradise. It has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Canada: only 50% percent of Montrealers own their home vs. 61% of Vancouverites.” In a short read of the document you used to support that statistic I noticed while the overall home ownership percentage is lower in Montreal than Vancouver, that over the course of 20 years the home ownership in Montreal increased by 14.7%. Whereas in Vancouver home ownership over that same course of time increased only 2.2%. I am not sure what this means exactly, but it could mean everyone in Vancouver who could afford a house in the 70’s when prices were reasonable, still own them. Whereas the Montreal home ownership market shows growth- Potentially in the younger crowd? (I think I would either need to read the document more, or see more analysis to fully appreciate the meaning of those stats) Having lived in Montreal for 7 years, I can attest, you are absolutely correct to point out Montreal’s shortgivings from deteriorating infrastructure to a healthcare system on the brink. Beers makes some interesting points, but with your comments in mind I think when he suggests that low tuition costs in the province is enviable is dubious at best. There is no such thing as a free lunch and if ever spend a night in an emergency room in Quebec, you might want to pay more for your education. And indeed that enormous debt you speak of is not, but in this argument we are talking more about the Quebec government, and less about the city politics. So in the spirit of discussing municipal politics and home ownership it is worth noting one unique program that Montreal does offer: . The Home Ownership Program “[This program] provides financial assistance to help first-time buyers purchase affordable housing in Montréal… The city also offers financial assistance to tenants who wish to purchase the existing rental building in which they live…”. This grant can be up to $8500.00. It is also worth noting that the city has a number of other programs targeted at improving residential infrastructure, access to housing for seniors and the disabled etc. For all its downfalls Montreal is still a great city to live in, and certainly one that I could afford to buy a home in. Vancouver is a remarkable city, but unfortunately the salaries for young professionals in the city are not comparable to the cost of owning a home, and unless one has parents willing to help with the purchase of a home in the city, many of Vancouver’s successful young people/families are closed out of the market. As for what Montreal has to offer to the Vancouver in the way of policy guidance, I can only say, I think that there may be a few nuggets to be salvaged and much also to be learned from its mistakes.

    Reply
  2. David Beers

    Hey David,

    You sure seem to have a lot of problems with The Tyee and me. Who’s really “scoring cheap political points”? I’ll keep my responses brief:

    The Tyee regularly provides critical analysis and reporting on the government because it is the government — one that is given light treatment by the Canwest media that contributes money directly to the BC Liberals, is in business with the Olympics corporation, etc. That’s our job, as an independent publication, to devote our limited resources to watchdogging the party in power. However, please point me to an “NDP is good” article in our pages. There’s more debate about what the opposition should be doing in the Tyee than in Canwest’s pages, which choose to ignore the whole discussion. And by the way, we’ve never made any secret of receiving a small portion of our funding from the BC Fed so don’t pretend we have.

    As for my analysis, you come off as, dare I say, a self-important wonk rather than someone open to the authentically arrived at sentiments I’ve heard from dozens of young people in Vancouver, and cited in my column. Rents and tuition are cheaper in Montreal and Vancouver’s housing market is crazy, don’t you agree? And today the BC Libs shot down a two dollar increase in the minimum wage, a bill the (sorry) NDP tried to introduce. If you are as bright as you want us to believe, David, please exhibit a more nuanced view of the role of independent media when it comes to covering who controls the levers of power. Or if not, stop with the personal attacks.

    Reply
  3. LGD

    This blog made for a great read, and brought with it some interesting supplementary reading, including David Beers’ piece. As homeownership in our generation is something that I have a personal interest and stake in, and Montreal and Vancouver are two cities that I love, I was very interested in one statistical statement that you made. “Montreal is also not a homeowners’ paradise. It has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Canada: only 50% percent of Montrealers own their home vs. 61% of Vancouverites.” In a short read of the document you used to support that statistic I noticed while the overall home ownership percentage is lower in Montreal than Vancouver, that over the course of 20 years the home ownership in Montreal increased by 14.7%. Whereas in Vancouver home ownership over that same course of time increased only 2.2%. I am not sure what this means exactly, but it could mean everyone in Vancouver who could afford a house in the 70’s when prices were reasonable, still own them. Whereas the Montreal home ownership market shows growth- Potentially in the younger crowd? (I think I would either need to read the document more, or see more analysis to fully appreciate the meaning of those stats) Having lived in Montreal for 7 years, I can attest, you are absolutely correct to point out Montreal’s shortgivings from deteriorating infrastructure to a healthcare system on the brink. Beers makes some interesting points, but with your comments in mind I think when he suggests that low tuition costs in the province is enviable is dubious at best. There is no such thing as a free lunch and if ever spend a night in an emergency room in Quebec, you might want to pay more for your education. And indeed that enormous debt you speak of is not, but in this argument we are talking more about the Quebec government, and less about the city politics. So in the spirit of discussing municipal politics and home ownership it is worth noting one unique program that Montreal does offer: . The Home Ownership Program “[This program] provides financial assistance to help first-time buyers purchase affordable housing in Montréal… The city also offers financial assistance to tenants who wish to purchase the existing rental building in which they live…”. This grant can be up to $8500.00. It is also worth noting that the city has a number of other programs targeted at improving residential infrastructure, access to housing for seniors and the disabled etc. For all its downfalls Montreal is still a great city to live in, and certainly one that I could afford to buy a home in. Vancouver is a remarkable city, but unfortunately the salaries for young professionals in the city are not comparable to the cost of owning a home, and unless one has parents willing to help with the purchase of a home in the city, many of Vancouver’s successful young people/families are closed out of the market. As for what Montreal has to offer to the Vancouver in the way of policy guidance, I can only say, I think that there may be a few nuggets to be salvaged and much also to be learned from its mistakes.

    Reply
  4. David Beers

    Hey David,You sure seem to have a lot of problems with The Tyee and me. Who’s really “scoring cheap political points”? I’ll keep my responses brief:The Tyee regularly provides critical analysis and reporting on the government because it is the government — one that is given light treatment by the Canwest media that contributes money directly to the BC Liberals, is in business with the Olympics corporation, etc. That’s our job, as an independent publication, to devote our limited resources to watchdogging the party in power. However, please point me to an “NDP is good” article in our pages. There’s more debate about what the opposition should be doing in the Tyee than in Canwest’s pages, which choose to ignore the whole discussion. And by the way, we’ve never made any secret of receiving a small portion of our funding from the BC Fed so don’t pretend we have.As for my analysis, you come off as, dare I say, a self-important wonk rather than someone open to the authentically arrived at sentiments I’ve heard from dozens of young people in Vancouver, and cited in my column. Rents and tuition are cheaper in Montreal and Vancouver’s housing market is crazy, don’t you agree? And today the BC Libs shot down a two dollar increase in the minimum wage, a bill the (sorry) NDP tried to introduce. If you are as bright as you want us to believe, David, please exhibit a more nuanced view of the role of independent media when it comes to covering who controls the levers of power. Or if not, stop with the personal attacks.

    Reply
  5. Danistan

    While I’d never want to get in the middle of a Vancouver tête-à-tête, I do have to say some of the conclusions about Montréal are, well, a bit loopy. Except for the part about Montréal being a fun city to live in. That’s bang on.

    While there are lots of little things I could nitpick, the one big thing which I think Dave E. gets wrong is the reason why rents are low and it’s easy to find an apartment in Montréal. Blaming it on a post-PQ exodus after their election in 1970 seems like a facile and more importantly, incorrect argument.

    I would submit that the population of Montréal proper has not recovered to pre-1970 levels because the migration pattern over the last 25 years, but most particularly the last 15 years has been to the suburbs of Montreal. The metropolitan region has over 3.6 million souls living within its confines according to the last census. That’s up from the 2.7 million who were around to see René Lévesque never feel so proud to be a Quebecker.

    It was actually near-impossible to rent an apartment in Montréal as recently as five years ago when the vacancy rate was between 1.0-2.0%. There were simply not enough available apartments, particularly of the affordable kind. It got so bad the city had to put people up in motels and community centres when their leases expired. That problem has since been alleviated by the condo boom of the past five years.

    The reason rents are low in Montréal is because Québec is the most tenant-friendly province in Canada, with a legislated increase in rent that barely keeps up with inflation, if that.

    All that said, I don’t necessarily disagree with Dave E.’s overall thesis that Québec’s debt is too high, its taxes too, with a poor infrastructure investment record (which the Liberals have now committed to correcting…and paying for by issuing more debt). I just question the need to reach back into the annals of history to take a swing at the separatists when there are enough objective and more accurate statistics to support your position.

    In any case, if you wanted to put the blame on separatist politics, the tuition fees issue would have been a much better choice.

    Reply
  6. Danistan

    While I’d never want to get in the middle of a Vancouver tête-à-tête, I do have to say some of the conclusions about Montréal are, well, a bit loopy. Except for the part about Montréal being a fun city to live in. That’s bang on.While there are lots of little things I could nitpick, the one big thing which I think Dave E. gets wrong is the reason why rents are low and it’s easy to find an apartment in Montréal. Blaming it on a post-PQ exodus after their election in 1970 seems like a facile and more importantly, incorrect argument.I would submit that the population of Montréal proper has not recovered to pre-1970 levels because the migration pattern over the last 25 years, but most particularly the last 15 years has been to the suburbs of Montreal. The metropolitan region has over 3.6 million souls living within its confines according to the last census. That’s up from the 2.7 million who were around to see René Lévesque never feel so proud to be a Quebecker.It was actually near-impossible to rent an apartment in Montréal as recently as five years ago when the vacancy rate was between 1.0-2.0%. There were simply not enough available apartments, particularly of the affordable kind. It got so bad the city had to put people up in motels and community centres when their leases expired. That problem has since been alleviated by the condo boom of the past five years.The reason rents are low in Montréal is because Québec is the most tenant-friendly province in Canada, with a legislated increase in rent that barely keeps up with inflation, if that.All that said, I don’t necessarily disagree with Dave E.’s overall thesis that Québec’s debt is too high, its taxes too, with a poor infrastructure investment record (which the Liberals have now committed to correcting…and paying for by issuing more debt). I just question the need to reach back into the annals of history to take a swing at the separatists when there are enough objective and more accurate statistics to support your position.In any case, if you wanted to put the blame on separatist politics, the tuition fees issue would have been a much better choice.

    Reply
  7. David Eaves Post author

    Danistan,

    Thank you for the additional analysis and information, the flight of Montrealers to the suburbs is almost certainly a significant part of why Montreal’s population has dropped. But I’m still not sure we can discount the anglophone exodus completely. CBC states that 599,000(!) anglophones have left Quebec since 1971. Although no Montreal specific numbers are given, I have to believe a significant number of them came out of the city and its surrounding areas, dampening the price of real estate and freeing up apartments.

    Indeed what is astonishing (and that suggests a possible public policy lapse) is how Montreal can experience a net loss of 100,000 citizens and find itself with a 1-2% vacancy rate! This is a very counter intuitive fact and I’m struggling to think of an explanation – any thoughts?

    Reply
  8. David Eaves

    Danistan,Thank you for the additional analysis and information, the flight of Montrealers to the suburbs is almost certainly a significant part of why Montreal’s population has dropped. But I’m still not sure we can discount the anglophone exodus completely. CBC states that 599,000(!) anglophones have left Quebec since 1971. Although no Montreal specific numbers are given, I have to believe a significant number of them came out of the city and its surrounding areas, dampening the price of real estate and freeing up apartments. Indeed what is astonishing (and that suggests a possible public policy lapse) is how Montreal can experience a net loss of 100,000 citizens and find itself with a 1-2% vacancy rate! This is a very counter intuitive fact and I’m struggling to think of an explanation – any thoughts?

    Reply
  9. Danistan

    The apparent dichotomy of a 1-2% vacancy rate and a net loss of 100,000 citizens in Montréal is most likely due to the fact that the two statistics probably do not reference the same geographic territory nor the same time frame.

    I agree that you cannot completely exclude the impact of the anglophone exodus, and how this has affected the overall economic condition of Montréal. I just have difficulty believing that these events completely explain low rents and high vacancies.

    Of course, you would be right to assume that anglophones leaving Québec are mostly anglophones leaving Montréal and the surrounding area. A small number might be from the Eastern Townships, but the number is likely statistically insignificant.

    Reply
  10. Danistan

    The apparent dichotomy of a 1-2% vacancy rate and a net loss of 100,000 citizens in Montréal is most likely due to the fact that the two statistics probably do not reference the same geographic territory nor the same time frame.I agree that you cannot completely exclude the impact of the anglophone exodus, and how this has affected the overall economic condition of Montréal. I just have difficulty believing that these events completely explain low rents and high vacancies.Of course, you would be right to assume that anglophones leaving Québec are mostly anglophones leaving Montréal and the surrounding area. A small number might be from the Eastern Townships, but the number is likely statistically insignificant.

    Reply

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