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.