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On housing: would B.C.’s political parties please stand up?

BC Liberals appear to be reinforcing the urban/rural divide in lead-up to next year’s election
Premier Christy Clark has shown “disdain” for nearly two-thirds of B.C. residents who live in cities, according to columnist Jessica Barrett.

What a difference a year makes.

Roughly 12 months ago the #donthave1million Twitter campaign had finally pushed Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis to the forefront of public discussion where it’s remained ever since. But for all the talk, the intervening months have only seen the problem worsen. The average price of a detached house in Metro Vancouver increased by 27 per cent in the last year and 17 per cent for apartments and condos. Now here’s another timeline to consider: we are less than a year away from the next provincial election. With no telling what will happen to housing prices in that amount of time, affordability will be the central issue for Metro Vancouverites. But that doesn’t mean our political parties will respond.  

The BC Liberals, for instance, seem to have already settled on an election strategy that pits urban against rural in a nasty appeal to baseless stereotypes. Consider Premier Christy Clark’s recent comments at a pro-LNG rally in Fort St. John: “There are those in downtown Vancouver and Victoria who would have us say no ... They say no to everything. They say no to workers. They say no to jobs. They say no to small business,” said the premier, testing out her newly affected folksy drawl. “We need to stand up as the forces of Yes and make that voice heard in Victoria and downtown Vancouver.”

Right. If playing to the tired rural/urban divide is any indication, the Liberals intend to game our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system rather than campaign on actual issues impacting the province. This certainly doesn’t bode well for us ignorant, nay-saying urbanites trying to stay afloat in the midst of a crisis. The Liberals’ stunning inaction on the housing file combined with their disdain for the nearly two-thirds of British Columbians that reside in urban centres has me very much in doubt we’ll see more than token acknowledgement of affordability in their platform.

This leaves the door wide open for the Opposition New Democrats to come in with a bold proposition for meaningful, economically viable change. But first, the NDP has a lot of work to do. A lot. Not only has the party been unable to shed its tarnished reputation from the 1990s, which is out of living memory for many of the millennials most affected by affordability, it seems to have sunk into obscurity since its humiliating underperformance in the last provincial election. Aside from Point Grey MLA David Eby’s dogged dedication to the housing file — which, it should be noted, provides the sole glimmer of hope for the region — the party has done little to boost its recognition and relatability.

Even party leader John Horgan (you did know his name, right?) received a lukewarm response at Eby’s emergency housing town hall back in March. And that was about the friendliest crowd you could garner for the NDP. Rather than portray himself as a champion for the people caught between a rising sense of panic and an astounding lack of political will, Horgan came across as wooden, couching his weak announcement of housing-related bills in a bland stump speech that was utterly tone deaf. Horgan needs to majorly step up his game if he is to be a perceived as a real contender for premier, even among those desperate for an alternative to Clark’s Liberals. Meanwhile the NDP as a whole would be smart to follow the example of Eby, the housing critic, and position affordability not as a regional issue, but a provincial one.

Because it is.

The housing crisis has already crept far beyond Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. In Liberal strongholds like Delta, Abbotsford and Coquitlam, townhouses are now fetching in the neighbourhood of $800,000 and Maple Ridge is now home to the infamous “million dollar line” for single family houses. Victoria, Saanich, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast are seeing the spillover effects of increasing housing prices as people flee Metro Vancouver. With nearly a year to go before the election that could bring yet another double digit increase in the average cost of housing, this issue is too important to be confined to toothless politicking.

The party that is able to propose meaningful change — and to appropriately frame the issue as one that affects all British Columbians — stands to win hearts, minds and, most importantly, votes from a populace aching for some place to channel its rising sense of outrage and frustration. Let’s hope we have one that’s up to the task.

To encourage B.C.’s political parties to make housing a major part of their election platforms, visit and support the non-partisan Code Red campaign.