Yesterday was the one year anniversary of when I attended my first Harsha Walia protest– I’ve been confounded by it ever since. The protest was in front of a development named Sequel 138 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). It seemed like a sound project to me- the developer was taking down a derelict, unused, building and putting up a mixed-use condo with 89 reasonably priced (for Vancouver) private suites and 18 social housing suites.
I lived in a very similar building on the Uilenburg when I first moved to Amsterdam. It’s a great concept, and it works. What impressed me most was how equalizing these kinds of buildings are. There were separate entrances for the residents, but they acknowledged each other and engaged in lively discussions. Their conversations migrated from the sidewalk, to each other’s apartments- kids from both sides of the building had a large part in bridging the gap.
So, if this works elsewhere- why are Vancouver’s radical left so hell bent against it?
The DTES is in the Vancouver-East riding- currently held by NDP MP Libby Davies. Here there’s a mix of some expensive condos, middle-class homes and some of the poorest people in Canada. Along with it’s sister riding, Vancouver-Kingsway, these neighbourhoods have become the power base for the NDP’s radical Old-Left.
The social services & housing industry is a large part of the Old-Left’s power. There are many good people working in the industry- but, equally, there’s a significant number of people & organizations taking special benefits. This is particularly true of Vancouver’s anarcho-socialist community. People like Harsha Walia and Lauren Gill who both work in the industry and organize clients of their employer’s for political demonstrations.
Many people believe that this is a conflict of interest. It would be considered highly-unacceptable if those working with marginalized people were selling them religion, right? It’s equally unacceptable for them to be selling their political beliefs. They may not see this- but, they’d be the first ones at the bullhorn if a state-funded church handed out pro-life pamphlets at a DTES soup kitchen.
The unions are strong supporters of the poverty industry- the shelters, community spaces, clinics, drop-ins and food banks provide jobs to a lot of their members. They push hard for the expansion of what I’ll label the Old-Left Saviour Industrial Complex® (OLSIC®).
The radicals circulated a petition with the following demands:
- The city should buy-back the property from Marc Williams (the developer)
- Build a 100% resident controlled social housing that’s exclusively for low-income people
- Provide a low-income community space (perfect for sadomasochist parties!)
Most of the radicals aren’t so transparent about it- but, a good chunk of the people who work in the OLSIC® believe this. But, even those who aren’t so radical have one thing in common with them- they all believe in the expansion of the OLSIC®. More facilities means more jobs, this means more union members, and more people to recruit for their political goals. Everybody wins.
Except, of course, the poor…
There’s another big conflict of interest. It’s more economically beneficial for the OLSIC® to help people in poverty maintain their status than it is to help them get out of it. This is another reason why people working in the industry shouldn’t be engaging in political evangelism with their clients. It’s scary to think that it happens.
The radicals want this property to be turned into a 100% resident controlled building. People like Harsha Walia, Naomi Klein and Gregory Williams are hardcore socialists who believe that all property should be owned by the state. They’re not only campaigning for the type of residences that should be built- they’re looking to make a small-scale socialist revolution.
As much as they hate the developers, they have a full scale hate-on for BC Housing- the government agency that’s providing a $23 million loan to the developer. The loan is at a favourable 1.29% and is payable when the construction is finished and the residents move in. Jean Swanson wrote an article expressing her displeasure about it in her article in The Mainlander last week.
Swanson was a founding member of the Downtown Eastside Resident’s Association (DERA)- along with Libby Davies and Bruce Erickson. DERA was a community run social housing organization that’s the poster child for what happens when an organization is overrun by radicals.
They were invaded by the entryist Anti-Poverty Committee- the same group whose violence Harsha Walia bravely defended after the 2010 Olympics when DERA’s offices were raided by the police in a search for a stolen giant Olympic flag. Eventually, DERA was shut-down after allegations of misuse of government funds and failing to pay rents and taxes. They were sued by BC Housing.
It’s the same crowd who were behind DERA who are against the Sequel 138 development today.
Besides the fact that it’s not a socialist cooperative, there’s one other detail about Sequel 138 the Old-Left hates. Mixed-use buildings produce less jobs, and subsequently less political power. Dan Maxwell, the CFO of BC Housing explained it best when comparing Sequel 138 with the OSLIC®:
“Unlike those investments, projects like Sequel 138 don’t require grants or ongoing subsidies from taxpayers, Maxwell said.”
Projects like this can also build healthy communities. Kids who live in mixed-use buildings aren’t stigmatized for living in ‘the projects’. Ideas and communities intermingle- people learn to better tolerate and accept each other. This isn’t a utopian ideal- it actually works in many cities. Sequel 138 won’t bring us salvation- but it’s an important step forwards.
So, considering this- why are the radicals so hell-bent against this project? Is it just the jobs?
Of course not, it’s about their base of power. Think about it- if developers build 20 Sequel 138’s in Vancouver-East they will bring a significant change to the riding’s demographics. Despite creating 360 high-quality (and low maintenance) social housing units, they’ll bring hundreds of less radical (and less malleable) home owners. Many of those home owners will be less likely to vote for fringe candidates like Libby Davies.
The Old-Left fights so hard against Sequel 138 because they have no other choice. It’s unfortunate they have to do it on the backs of the poor…
Note: None of this implies an endorsement for BC Housing. In my opinion, they’re corrupt, and just as much a part of the problem. The whole system needs to be fixed- I’ll be writing more about them in the future.