Antipoverty activist and former council candidate Jean Swanson delivered the following speech today at Vancouver City Hall:
I'd like to acknowledge that we are on Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, and thank them for caring for this land for millennia.
Thanks so much for coming out everyone. I’m here today to stand behind this amazing platform. It’s called the City We Need. It’s based on the needs of people struggling to make ends meet in Vancouver, struggling to stay here, many struggling to survive.
For too long, city hall has based its policies on the developers who fund their campaigns. Now, it’s time to end corporate-backed policies and politicians, and start a new era of politics by and for the people of Vancouver. That’s why we’re presenting this City We Need platform today.
This platform is about starting from the needs of all of us, and then saying we have to actually meet those needs. This platform doesn’t listen to people who say "there Is no alternative." We need an alternative and, working together, we’re going to fight for it and win it. We’ll never win the city we need if we don’t ask for it, work together for it, and fight for it!
Take homelessness for example. Over 2,000 homeless people live in Vancouver, and just this week the homeless count came out and it's higher than it’s ever been. But the province and the city have a goal of only 600 modular homes.
If we don’t ask for what we need, we’ll never get it. The City We Need platform says if there are 2,181 homeless, then we will build 2,181 modular homes to end homelessness.
Many of the policies in this platform involve multiple levels of government. But to win what we need, we can’t sit back and say “it’s not our jurisdiction” or “our hands are tied.” The only way to make the change we need is to pressure all the levels of government using every tool we have.
The civic government is a great place to figure out what we need, make a plan, and fight like hell to make it happen.
This platform is about putting policies first, before individual politicians. I haven’t decided yet whether I”ll run for council or not. We’re recycling our old T-shirts here. The thing I care about most is not being elected, but actually ending homelessness, getting a rent freeze, taxing the rich, working toward free transit, [and] universal childcare. This platform is about getting other parties and candidates to take these issues seriously.
So we’re going to go out there and get 10,000 signatures by Labour Day, of people in this city who want a revolution in city hall.
I really hope that other other candidates and residents will have a look at this people’s platform, talk to us about it, add to it, adjust it where necessary, and have an election campaign based on what Vancouver needs.
We started this campaign for a political revolution last year calling for a rent freeze now! If average rents keep going up at the current rate a one-bedroom apartment will cost $4,000 a month in five years. It’s crazy and we’ve gotta stop it!
We need to be on the side of the people who are suffering with enormous rents, not on the side of property owners who actually make more money from property appreciation than from working. This means organizing with you, with tenants, with everyone who knows this is unjust, to get a rent freeze, no four percent rent increase, and no rent increase between tenancies—for at least four years. It means using city structures and clout to put a lot of pressure on the province for this.
It also mean stopping renovictions. All the city has to do is put a condition on development permits to stop many renovictions. They said they won’t do it because they’re “consulting the development industry”. If this movement succeeds in October, we can ban renovictions right away!
Homelessness is not inevitable: when I worked for the Downtown Eastside Residents Association in the 1970s, we worked on improving rental conditions and many other things, but you know what we didn’t work on? Homelessness. Why? Because there wasn't much.
The city has to get the money to build enough housing to end homelessness. This platform proposes a mansion tax. A one percent tax on the value of homes over $5 million, and two percent over $10 million. That could fund ending homelessness with modular housing in a year.
In the following years the mansion tax could fund non market housing for people who are spending way too much on rent.
Vancouver should do what Vienna did, and build the homes we need. This people’s platform calls on the City’s housing agency to build 18,000 nonmarket housing over the next four years.
That means that a majority of new homes and apartments built in Vancouver would be nonmarket. And they should be for people who need it the most, people on social assistance, and all of you making under $50,000. This public housing should be high quality, and rents actually affordable, that means 30 percent of net income, and lower if you’re on social assistance.
Meanwhile, this year the percent of homeless people who are Indigenous increased from 30 percent to 40 percent. That is a crime and we can’t let it go on.
And it’s time to start giving back land. The city should work with host nations to create land trusts or restore land to them, and end the housing crisis for Indigenous people.
What else can we do to indigenize and decolonize the city? We should strongly support Indigenous arts, culture, and language revitalization programs; reintroduce Indigenous place names, immediately remove disrespectful colonial place names; and finally build an Indigenous Healing and Wellness Centre in the Downtown Eastside.
With global warming at a tipping point, transit is a more important issue than ever before. We need to get people out of cars by reducing fares and increasing service. The current mayors’ plan is to raise fares to help cover the cost of the Broadway skytrain line. This is absolutely wrong.
The City We Need platform says that transit should be free. We have to work together to get free transit for all. We can start with making it free for children and low-income people like it is in other cities, then make it free for everyone earning under $50,000.
We also need a city where the residents, all the residents, including tenants, see themselves in government and see a government that makes decisions in their interests. That's what creates voter turnout. In our last campaign we called for permanent residents to be able to vote in city elections. Now the current council has called for that too.
We also need a ward system so you don’t need so much money to run for office and so neighbourhoods can have their own representative who sticks up for them or gets unelected. The city has the power to do this right now!
We need door-to-door voter registration of everyone so tenants, who move more often than owners, are sure to get on the voters list. And there are more things we need to make voting easier if you are a low-income person, including more polling stations in eastside neighborhoods, and free transit on voting days.
Every day homeless people get woken up by police and city workers and [are] told to pack up their stuff and move. Sometimes their belongings are stolen. We need to end this practice, stop the criminalization of homeless people, and divert some of the money used to pay for police into services that people need.
Small businesses are suffering and dying, totally changing the nature of our communities. We need a progressive business tax and a rent freeze for them. And we need to start working for it now.
We need a gender and antiracism lens applied to all civic policies so we can work toward an inclusive city and we need to stop all city institutions from sharing info with border security.
The point is that we need to be fearless in pushing for the policies we need to make our city livable for everyone—not just the rich.
There is actually a network called the Fearless Cities Network, which includes cities that use civic structures and power to push for what people really need and that’s what I’m hoping we can do, together, with this platform. In Barcelona, Spain, and Jackson, Mississippi, people’s platforms like this one have won elections and begun to transform their cities. In this model of politics, change comes from the bottom up, and politicians come from the movements and are answerable to them.
So for the next few months, prior to the election campaign this fall, we’re going to take this people’s platform, the City We Need, to every neighborhood in Vancouver.
We hope this platform will gain the support of many candidates running with parties or as independents in October. And we’ve already got some Fearless candidates stepping up! I’m elated that Anne Roberts, a past elected COPE councillor, has agreed to run once again; and Diana Day, who ran a great campaign last year for school board, has stepped up to run again too. They are both amazing candidates with tons of experience in fighting for the city we need.
Now we need to reach out and talk to tens of thousands of people in Vancouver. And we’re going to start petition today for the City We Need. So let’s go out and tell folks about this platform. If we reach out to enough people, I’m convinced that People Power can win in 2018 and clean out the developer-backed parties who have been running city hall for too long.
Together, we can continue this political revolution and win the city we need.