Benjamin Bolliger: Progressive cooperation in Vancouver civic politics as crucial as ever

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      By Benjamin Bolliger

      Vancouver is facing a set of complex challenges: an opioid epidemic, a housing crisis, and wages that are staggeringly low for a city that has become increasingly unaffordable.

      Vancouverites expect their municipal government to tackle these issues head-on, but Vision Vancouver’s efforts have been far too timid, resulting in housing inequality and insecurity on a massive level.

      The message from the results of the October civic by-election was clear: there is widespread discontent toward the status quo. We need to elect a genuinely left-of-centre mayor and council in 2018. In order to lay the groundwork for this, Vancouver's progressives need to cooperate heading into the October 2018 civic election. 

      The lack of action in tackling affordability in this city and diversifying our local economy beyond the real-estate ‘boom’ has meant Vancouverites are being priced out of and excluded from the life of our city, with many leaving while others are left to fend for themselves in the ruthless housing and rental market—not to mention the thousands of residents who are homeless.

      We need a council that is going to act quickly to actually address the housing crisis (not just talk about it and pepper us with half-measures). We need a progressive council that believes and acts to ensure housing is treated as a human right and not a commodity that can be bought and sold for absurd, irrational profits by the ultrawealthy. We need a council that recognizes and respects all our city’s residents, including those marginalized by homelessness, addictions, and mental-health issues.

      We are well aware that our current at-large party system meant the progressive plurality of votes was splintered across four candidates in the by-election. Vancouverites expect and deserve much better.

      Only progressives can bring forward the kind of pragmatic solutions that will produce the quick action we need. With a more proportional split across various parties, we would see more issue-by-issue cooperation and less power concentrated in the mayor's office, which would be a welcome change.

      There is enough common ground in areas of policy that could mean a progressive council and mayor could work together to bring positive change on the issues that need the most attention, such as eradicating homelessness. There could be an emphasis on affordable housing and increasing the amount of rental stock both through new construction and with strong social-housing policies.

      Other areas of overlap between parties and candidates could include aggressive rent controls, building more temporary modular housing to deal with the urgent homelessness disaster, advocating for the province to implement a progressive tax on wealthy property and landowners and using the revenue to build nonmarket housing, and being clear that affordability means no more than 30 percent of family income.

      We finally have a provincial government that is ready to partner on some of the critical municipal issues we are facing—this along with important campaign-finance reform that has taken big development money out of municipal politics and helps level the playing field. It’s essential that progressives cooperate and avoid a split that could see a regressive NPA government come in to power.

      The 2018 civic election presents an opening for transformative, socially just politics at city hall. As progressives, we need to seize this crucial moment, transforming our city into one that houses, cares, and fights for everyone.


      Ben Bolliger is a two term member of the City of Vancouver Active Transportation Policy Council and a member of the OneCity Organizing Committee. He recently announced his intention to seek a OneCity nomination for city council in the upcoming municipal election.  Ben works in project management within the public-healthcare system and lives in the West End.