Le Dîner en Blanc Vancouver should be seen as a sign of the times

Last night at the Burrard SkyTrain station, I witnessed a crowd of twenty and thirty-somethings dressed entirely in white for the annual Dîner en Blanc soirée, which was held near Science World.

Nobody's allowed to attend without an invitation, even though it takes place on public land. The exclusivity of the affair rubs some the wrong way.

Keep in mind that many attendees relied on public transit to get to the event, rather than limos. This suggests that some partygoers likely aren't as wealthy as their critics might think.

I can't imagine Canaccord honorary chairman and founder Peter Brown or Future Shop founder Hassan Khosrowshahi schlepping it on the SkyTrain to go to one of their fancy bashes.

Herein lies the real issue: the people who attend Diner en Blanc create an impressive facade—a Potemkin village, if I may say so—that hides the truth for most people of their age.

On the same night that Dîner en Blanc was held, CBC Doc Zone re-aired Sharon Bartlett and Maria LeRose's marvellous Generation Jobless. It focused on a lost generation of Canadian young people whose unemployment rate is double the national average.

Today's youth are being dealt out of the economy because of a scorched-earth approach by the baby boomers. That's according to Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, who appears in Generation Jobless.

Yalnizyan wrote a report in 2010 chronicling the rise of the richest one percent of Canadians, who took in a third of the growth in incomes from 1997 to 2007. Very few are among the millennials or Generation X.

(For more on this topic, I recommend Anya Kamenetz's 2006 book Generation Debt: How Our Future Was Sold Out for Student Loans, Bad Jobs, No Benefits, and Tax Cuts for Rich Geezers—and How to Fight Back. It focuses on America, but many of her points also apply to Canada.)

Growing income inequality was also covered extensively by authors Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks in in their brilliant 2010 book, The Trouble With Billionaires. The losers in this economy are disproportionately the young, who are forced to live at home with their parents into their 20s and sometimes into their 30s.

They and author Robert Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor, have chronicled how government policies parallel what happened in the roaring '20s, creating investment and housing bubbles that burst.

That, in turn, led to the Great Depression.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that The Great Gatsby, which chronicled the wealthy of that era, came back this year as a popular movie.

Similarly, the Dîner en Blanc event is a way for some young people to enjoy the feeling of being rich, notwithstanding all the economic gloom in their midst.

But this one-night affair in no way suggests they'll ever attain the wealth of people like Brown and Khosrowshahi.

Go easy on them. They're probably working their butts off during the day just to tread water in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

If they want to grab onto a little bit of glamour at night by dressing in white, where's the harm in that?



Don Dickson

Aug 23, 2013 at 11:38am

What an absurd analysis.

It's not a generational issue, it's a class issue. Mr Smith hasn't noticed (I guess) the appalling percentage of old folks who struggle to even feed and house themselves.

If 1% of the baby boomers are wealthy, you can be damned certain that 1% of their offspring and their offspring's offspring are, or will be in their day, wealthy.

"Today's youth are being dealt out of the economy because of a scorched-earth approach by the baby boomers."


Sarah B

Aug 23, 2013 at 12:17pm

I was on the skytrainand it was patently obvious for many of the attendees it was the first time they'd ever tried to use it. Many were from out of town. I gave out many direction to yaletown, is all I'm saying. And the average age I noticed was definitely not "young". I mean, you can argue it's just a night of silly fun etc but the fact is that some of those dresses and shoe combos are more than my monthly rent, and I'm not poor.

But I just rolled my eyes and went on my way. This is Vancouver, after all, why not try and emulate the last days of the French aristocracy.

Sarah B

Aug 23, 2013 at 12:19pm

Actually Don, the quote you pulled AND your class analysis can both be true. It's just means that "today's youth" in that sentence, as always, leaves out the upper classes. Their millenials are doing just fine, thank you very much.


Aug 23, 2013 at 12:22pm

We had this event in Montreal $35.00 per person bring your own food if you want. Was told by 2 different people that majority of people were not in 20-30's


Aug 23, 2013 at 12:26pm

I'm surprised someone hasn't trolled this event by protesting it with accusations it of racialism.

Alan Layton

Aug 23, 2013 at 12:56pm

Before the usual histrionics about how horrific and awful these people are and how this is the cause of every problem in the world, keep in mind that it cost a whole $30!!! Wow. Imagine how many poor people you could feed for $30.


Aug 23, 2013 at 1:12pm

"The losers in this economy are disproportionately the young, who are forced to live at home with their parents into their 20s and sometimes into their 30s."

Okay article...a little remiss on the 'dress up' phenom...New Wave in the 80s, Lounge in the 90s, etc the criticism is less about 'self-esteem' and more about the shallowness of the value system and the type of person and culture it creates. Blah blah blah

...but the above quote is a pet peeve of mine.

Ideological garbage and PURE revisionism.

1)Virtually everywhere outside the western world, multi-generational households are not only the norm, but proudly endorsed. Are we still in the West trying to impose our failed models to replace the tested, desired and true, eh?

2) Multi-generational household were the NORM in the West until very very recently?

Why would anyone think that there is something inherently WRONG with returning to a more organic pre-capital familial unit that served humanity for centuries as opposed to the social experiment of atomization of the family unit based on some ideologically driven notion where perpetual growth HAS to come from the duplication of the consumer experience.

The Age of Reason crowd really should start dropping some of their preconceived notions and so-called 'common sense' and try to explain 'perfectibilité' in light of the genocide of both humanity and the planet during the 20th century. Less focus on the individual right to be corralled into 'little pink boxes' in community settings designed simply for the corporate efficiencies gained through a largely defunct and wasteful goods and services distribution model.

In other words, that Light of Reason is getting very very dim.


Aug 23, 2013 at 1:20pm

I am a millenial who attended DEB last night, and I don't see why anyone should get up in arms about the event. It was just an excuse to dress up and have a fun night out. I'm a university graduate currently working my butt off as an intern for $250 month because it seems to be the only position I can get hired for other than my serving job that I do during the rest of my waking hours. Last night I wore a $20 dress I found at winners, my friend and I packed a picnic dinner, and we had a lot of fun, which was the whole point.

April B.

Aug 23, 2013 at 2:19pm

I am a 40 year old full time working parent. This was our second year attending DEB. We enjoyed how interested bystanders - who stopped or smiled - often asking us why we were dressed up in white on the Skytrain. It was a beautiful classy evening, in a beautiful setting. We packed our own dinner, by the way.