Today, long-time antipoverty activist Jean Swanson announced that she's running as an independent in an upcoming by-election for a Vancouver city council seat vacated by Geoff Meggs. Below, you can see a transcript of the speech she delivered at her campaign launch:
A few weeks ago I saw a woman sleeping in a suitcase on the sidewalk. Earlier in the year we all read that the lululemon guy has a house with nine bathrooms worth $75 million. We’ve been through 40 years of governments cutting taxes for the rich and services for everyone else—like social housing and welfare, then starting a “war on drugs” to throw poor and racialized people in jail.
As a result the planet is burning up and the richest five men own more than the poorest 3.5 billion. And Vancouver is part of this as one of the most unequal cities in Canada. This has got to stop.
Lots of young folks have been on my case to run for city council in the upcoming byelection. They don’t believe that the status quo is working, and they don’t see the other parties having plans that will really meet the needs of the 99 percent.
The young folks want someone who will reinforce their efforts to make housing a basic human right in Vancouver and keep people who aren't rich from being pushed out. Someone who isn't going to take money from developers and reward them with rezonings and higher buildings that mean a lot of profit for them and gentrification and higher rents for the rest of us.
They want someone on council who they can count on to stick up for renters, low-income people, and the environment. They want someone who will work to create a sanctuary for indigenous people, racialized communities, and those without immigration status, by addressing discriminatory policies and structures that begin at the city level.
They want someone who will make sure that the people and culture of Chinatown aren’t crushed by developers. They want someone who really will end homelessness and will make sure that undocumented people aren’t reported to Border Security.
We need new policies that match the seriousness of the crisis.
It’s not going to be easy running for City Council. The big parties get millions of dollars from developers, and we’re going to need thousands of small donations from working-class people. And sometimes it’s hard to imagine that City Hall can really be a place to start making big changes.
But I'm going to give it my best shot to get this one little seat on city council. Here’s why.
The city level of government is the closest to the people. Nearly every one can make a trip to city hall or phone their councillor. It’s harder to get to Victoria and still harder to get to Ottawa. So this is a good place for change to start. I want to be the kind of councillor who will really open up city hall to people who are working for social and environmental justice.
If the city doesn't currently have the formal powers to do what is needed then we need to be part of building a movement for new municipal powers. No more passing the buck, saying our hands are tied. City hall can be a place to gather pressure to change those rules or get change at other levels of government. The city can help organizations that fight for justice and create the power that we need to fight massive inequality, racism and gender violence, homelessness, explosive rents and global warming. It’s time to ally with and help Vancouver residents challenge artificial limits to their own democratic power in creative ways.
Today, I’m giving you an introduction to some of our policies and the spirit of our campaign. We’ll roll out more policies over the rest of the campaign.
Rent freeze: It’s not acceptable to me or the mostly young folks who have been pushing me to run, that the average rent in Vancouver is now more than the total monthly income from a full time minimum wage job—even after the increase goes into effect in September. It’s not acceptable that if rents keep going up at the current rate, in four years the average one-bedroom apartment will be close to $4,000 a month or roughly what the full time average wage is.
We need to work for changes that will actually address this crisis. Changes that actually happen, not “intents,” not “targets”, and not misleading nonsolutions like giving density to developers. That's why we are calling for a four-year rent freeze.
Yes, technically, this is a provincial power. But I want to be an activist councillor, working with tenants, using city powers and facilities, to push as hard as we
can for a four-year rent freeze for all tenants.
We are announcing my run for city council in front of the Belvedere because the tenants here are fighting back against being evicted so the landlord can renovate and charge higher rents. Our policies would stop this:
First, we would require landlords who go for building permits to prove that they have contacted all their tenants and informed them that they have the right to return at the same rent after the unit is renovated. The form would simply be a modification of the existing development permit application form.
Secondly, I intend to work with people like the Belvedere tenants, to push as hard as possible for a Vancouver rent freeze. That would include getting delegations to city council and the provincial legislature, passing motions at council, holding news conferences, and basically any creative actions that we can think of.
Today, we are beginning that campaign with a petition for a rent freeze which we intend to get signed as the campaign progresses. WIth a rent freeze, landlords simply won’t be able to increase rents and there would be no reason to evict tenants to jack up their rents.
These are steps that won’t cost governments a lot of money but will make a big difference in people’s lives.
End homelessness and tax the rich: Another key policy is to actually end homelessness by building enough modular units to house all homeless people—2,138 counted last March—until we can get proper social housing built. This would cost about $160 million.
Housing a homeless person actually saves about $20,000 a year so this investment would pay for itself in less than four years.
The province will save on its health services and the city will save on policing and can cut the police budget. If senior governments won’t give us the money we’ll demand the powers to tax the rich in Vancouver. It’s obscene that some people live in $75 million homes while others live on the street.
The city needs to be able to tax mansions more than ordinary houses, and large corporate businesses more than neighbourhood stores. We’ll fight for those powers. We
will get that money by hook or crook.
We’re also looking at policies that would undo other injustices:
We need to expand our Sanctuary City policies so police don’t report people to immigration and Border Services. When citizens work their hearts out, uniting young and old, to save their neighbourhood from developer’s condos, like the folks in Chinatown did with the 105 Keefer fight, council needs to genuinely respond to what they need, not simply give the developers another okay.
We need a real democracy. Homeowners are automatically put on the city voters list but tenants aren’t. And permanent residents can’t vote in city elections even though this was proposed by the city’s Independent Election Task Force.
We need actions to ensure that renters, indigenous people and other racialized groups, as well as permanent residents, can vote in the 2018 election.
For over a decade indigenous people have been calling for an Indigenous Healing and Wellness Centre. That’s way too long to wait.
If we cut just two percent of the police budget, that would be over $5 million we could invest in community services that promote justice. And we need to start working now toward free transit for all to keep people out of their polluting cars and promote mobility for people who can’t afford buses.
We could start with the $5 a month pass that Calgary has for low-income people.
The point is that we need big changes, not the same old same old. I want to stir things up in that chamber and help build movements for justice.
Three more things: as of today I am resigning as a CCAP [Carnegie Community Action Project] volunteer so I won’t be speaking on behalf of CCAP during the campaign.
This campaign won’t take money from developers or corporations.
Finally, if elected I would retain only $44,000 of the $85,000 salary—since $44,000 is the average Vancouver wage.
I think it’s easier to identify with the issues of people who have average incomes if you’re one of them. The rest I would donate to a group, or groups, working for justice.
I’d like to thank all the folks that have been working so hard for this and hope I can do them and the campaign justice.More