British Columbia·Metro Matters

Housing, housing, housing. Does anything else matter this election?

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Otherwise known as ‘people care a lot less about bike lanes after home prices double in four years’

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The last full week of council decisions across the Lower Mainland before the August break brought with it political debates on a wide variety of … nah, it was mostly just housing.

In the District of North Vancouver, there's now a referendum question asking whether it should spend up to $150 million to create up to 1,000 units of non-market housing in the next decade.

In Burnaby, the city is suddenly pushing staff to develop bylaws for rental-only zoning, less than 10 days after one of its councillors said "it's going to take some time" to get moving.

In Vancouver, city council declared (through a last minute amendment to a motion), that a tower next to BC Place would have to be 100 per cent market rental if the developer applied for it to be higher than 300 feet.

What's the common denominator? Well, part of it is local councillors and mayors showing voters they're responsive to the housing crisis and deserve to be entrusted with another term in office. Four years ago, the benchmark price of a Lower Mainland property was $561,400, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Now it's $1,006,600.

Secondly, it's a continuation of the never-ending feedback loop we seem to be in: new stats come in about the price of homes, voters get angry and demand answers, politicians come up with solutions, media covers them … and then a whole new whack of stats come in, and we start the cycle again.

There are municipalities where this isn't always the case (transportation and crime are shaping up as greater wedge issues in Surrey for instance), but there are seven candidates running to be mayor of Vancouver, and until we emailed all of them this week, only one of them had made any public comments on bike lanes.  

The headlines

In other news...no. Who are we kidding? We're still talking housing.

Haida Gwaii is facing its own unique problem of housing affordability. Despite a declining population, the archipelago has a housing shortage because it's so damn pretty that more and more tourists are going there. And these tourists who are willing to shell out money for short-term rentals are pricing out locals.

— What's the best strategy for affordable housing? Quantity? Pricing? Advocates for the North Vancouver Emery Village housing project say the development will bring in more affordable housing units: basically the current 61 affordable rental units will be replaced with 411 homes including 84 rental units — half of which will be secured as affordable rental. The catch? Opponents say current tenants would have to pay more than they're paying now for the new "below market" housing. The saga is nearing its end.

(BTW, assuming that you're like most people in Metro Vancouver and obsessed with housing and real estate, you can join our CBC Vancouver Facebook group and share your housing woes with us.)

— Finally, in a non-housing headline, Surrey councillor Bruce Hayne has thrown his hat in the ring to become the city's mayor. He quit the ruling Surrey First Party only a month before, saying it wasn't transparent with the public. Hayne will be running up against Tom Gill who was chosen as the party's nominee, as well as Doug McCallum.

Better know a mayor's race

Pretty much every major municipality in Metro Vancouver has at least two declared candidates for mayor — and then there's West Vancouver.

Two-term Mayor Michael Smith hasn't officially announced he's not running again, but he's giving hints as wide as Cypress Bowl that this is it for him. Two-term councillor Mary-Ann Booth *is* running and proudly says she's agreed with Smith more than any other councillor.

In most municipalities, this would mean some sort of populist candidate would have announced by now, attacking the current council and vowing to shake things up. But this is West Vancouver (where a benchmark home sold for $2.94 million last month, the highest in the province), and so far there's been zip, zilch, nada.

That's not to say there aren't issues in the municipality, but right now things are shaping up for Booth to run without any real competition, after two straight elections where Smith ran unopposed.

Do you have any theories as to the lack of competition in West Vancouver for recent elections? Let us know at metromatters@cbc.ca.

You can enjoy some pretty views of the skyline in West Vancouver. You can also, as of this writing, find 159 separate homes on sale for over $5 million. (Reuters)

Percolator (ie. something big on the social medias)

You're running for office, you might want to go back and scrub your social media accounts for any embarrassing tweets or photos. Almost certainly a standard practice for any aspiring politician. That's what Brandon Yan did shortly after becoming one of OneCity's candidates for Vancouver city council. Except that he deleted EVERYTHING before July 15, 2018 and a lot of people noticed.

So why did he do it? He said, on Twitter naturally, what he did as a 22-year-old does not reflect him today.

So to recap. It's accepted practice to sanitize your social media account, but do it in such an obvious way and people will notice and ask questions and have suspicions, fairly or not.

But what's even more noteworthy is the sheer hysteria that it generated on the #vanpoli hashtag with partisans talking past each other, rather than engaging with it.

Those most critical of Yan are the same folks that have been in a Jets vs. Sharks online war with OneCity and others abundantly in favour of more housing for several months. And we're in the political season between when most candidates are chosen, and platforms come to the forefront, so the level of what passes for Twitter controversy lowers considerably.  Georgia Straight's Travis Lupick summarized it well: it "reflects the unfortunate consequences of pile-on culture. We're turning good young people off politics."

ICYMI

Do good fences make good neighbours? Dan Ferguson at the Langley Times reports on Langley city council's decision to spend $12,000 to install a" higher, sturdier fence" to stop homeless people from camping next to condos.

There are real links between former Vancouver staffers and the development industry, as Frances Bula points out in a piece that looks at the city's former head of real estate services jumping ship to Aquilini Development. Can you legislate that away? It's what mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart is now proposing.

Meanwhile, which politician hasn't broken into a government office late at night and issued a cryptic statement about it months later? Very few. Here's a story about that from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and a perplexing lack of answers.

Rankings!

Last week, we looked at the 10 mayoral races to watch in Metro Vancouver at this stage, which prompted some of you to ask "are you going to focus anywhere else this election?"

Rest assured, we will. But while Metro Vancouver went crazy this year with the majority of mayors announcing they would step down (and would-be mayors rushing to fill the void) the rest of the province is mostly following the same schedule as previous elections: most leaders quietly saying they'll seek another term, and hypothetical challengers waiting until the end of the summer to declare their intentions.

However, that doesn't mean we can't have a fun mini-list. Here are the five most interesting mayoral races outside of Metro Vancouver at the moment.

5. Squamish: Coun. Susan Chapelle is taking on current Mayor Patricia Heintzman to become leader of the municipality most fit Metro Vancouver millennials think about moving to every three months or so when they think about housing affordability. Chapelle has been for the Woodfibre LNG project proposed for the area, while Heintzman is against it, but both are generally pro-growth candidates.

4. Chilliwack: Coun. Sam Waddington topped the polls in 2014 and is running for mayor in 2018 and he's only 28. Current Mayor Sharon Gaetz has thrown major shade (as the kids say) his way by filing a Freedom of Information request to reveal he spent $160 on fancy networking breakfasts at a conference for municipalities in Ottawa last year. Gaetz hasn't said whether she'll run again, but another councillor, Ken Popove, has also joined the race.

3. Victoria: Lisa Helps is seeking re-election after a term that has featured its share of divisive actions, from the moment she decided not to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. But those who have opposed her actions on building bike lanes and helping the homeless have at least three candidates to choose from at the moment (Rob Duncan, Gary Beyer and Sean Leitenberg), and none have any elected political experience.

2. Saanich: the largest municipality in B.C. outside of the Lower Mainland and Kelowna (look it up, it's true!), has had a pretty clear race for months, as Coun. Fred Haynes will try to unseat current Mayor Richard Atwell. After an, um, eventful first year involving allegations of police spying and computer hacking, Atwell's leadership has settled down, but it will be interesting to see how voters deliver their verdict.

1. Nanaimo: the undisputed king of municipal political controversy over the last four years has a race full of intrigue. NDP MLA Leonard Krog is considered the favourite due to his name recognition, but the other declared challenger, Don Hubbard, has a solid reputation from his years as chair of both Island Health and Vancouver Island University. And current Mayor Bill McKay might run again as well!

A correction: Last week's newsletter identified Guy Heywood‏ as a former two-term mayor of the City of North Vancouver. In fact, he was a two-term councillor.

That's it for us this week! Check out the latest headlines at cbc.ca/bc and follow our municipal affairs reporter, Justin McElroy or social media editor Tamara Baluja on Twitter. If you have any questions about the municipal election, drop Justin and Tamara a line at metromatters@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.