By Sean Orr
After observing and writing about the growth of inequality in this city for decades, I’ve decided to run for Vancouver city council this year with VOTE Socialist. It’s time for radical change.
Recent violent attacks on unhoused people in Metro Vancouver, and the circumstances around the resignation of B.C. Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay, not only reflect the dangerously toxic rhetoric of NIMBYs and the poor-bashing right, but also highlight the failures of successive governments to build social housing while the market is either unwilling or unable to fix the problem.
The people who swarmed and threatened Ramsay at a Vancouver City Hall public hearing are arguing against something because of the problems created by not supporting a solution previously. With the homelessness crisis, it’s like we are arguing with the ghosts of decades ago.
In 1993 the federal government abandoned the housing file. The responsibility fell on the province, where the NDP at the time tried to institute a progressive property tax system—only to be shouted down by angry homeowners. Instead the government then slashed vital services, cut welfare, and closed Riverview Hospital. This neoliberal pivot allowed Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark's free-market fundamentalism to cut even deeper. The Ministry of Human Resources saw a massive cut, the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services was also slashed, and after the Ministry of Children and Family Development was subjected to similar corporate-style core reviews of services, B.C. had the highest child-poverty rate in the country for years.
During that entire time we saw some property-owner voices on the West Side fight tooth and nail against social housing. We saw the B.C. Liberals ignore warnings about foreign capital and money laundering. And we saw homeowners cash in on an unprecedented boom, which was long foretold.
Meanwhile, our SROs are crumbling, renovictions continue unabated, and homelessness skyrocketed to a whopping 2,095 people. Shelter rates are still $375 for a single person. Poisoned drugs are ravaging the community. Gentrification continues to displace people. This is what happens when you push the problem down the line. People see the uptick in so-called visible poverty, and they resort to the mantra of personal responsibility, forgetting the aforementioned policy failures.
They blame the drug users themselves; they blame front-line workers just trying to keep people alive; they even blame socialism despite living in a thoroughly capitalist system. This is fuelled by corporate media. When Daphne Bramham declares there is no humanity left in the DTES, she is effectively dehumanizing an entire community while ignoring the structural violence they face.
Headlines like "The Downtown Eastside is a war zone disaster—stop ghettoizing it" only serve to moralize a political problem. The same author also railed against graffiti, to which the community responded. Indeed, the community has been responding to the harms imposed by the system for decades. From DERA to the fight for Insite, the people on the frontlines have defied constant calls for the area to be bulldozed or even fenced off.
And now we see libertarian billionaire Chip Wilson trying to influence our upcoming election. The booster class will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo that protects their property values.
As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said, every billionaire is a policy failure. Billionaires horde resources that the rest of us need and then pit us against each other to fight for the scraps. This is a feature, not a bug, of capitalism. Inequality is at the root of all our problems but the rich will have you believe it’s the result of some natural process. It’s not. The system is rigged. You can't have mansions on one side of the city and complain about tents on the other. It's the same system, and it needs to change.
I’ve been writing about this city for decades. I love it. But I hate what it has become. A playground for the one per cent. A Hedge City where the financialization of real estate has destroyed the social fabric. A police state on stolen Native land.
We can’t let the right wing dominate the narrative that Vancouver is overrun with crime without first understanding the root causes of crime and inequality. These parties don’t want real solutions—they want the status quo, and the status quo is clearly not working.
We need radical action at city council—not pearl clutching and constant points of order. Policy not pet projects. People over profits.
We need a large-scale transfer of wealth. We need to protect renters. We need safe supply. We need free transit. We need to protect small businesses. We need to refund our communities. We need to tax the rich. We need to punch up, not down.
With VOTE Socialist, we’ll never pretend incremental change will fix our massive systemic problems. If elected to city council, I’ll fight for the radical policies we need.