There is Canada, and there is Vancouver. For people unfamiliar with Western Canada’s largest city, it may appear Vancouver is indeed one of our country’s major urban centres— a vital, integral component of our overall nationhood. They couldn’t be more misinformed. Yes, geographically-speaking, Vancouver is part of Canada. Beyond this, however, lies a truth seldom recognized—namely, that our fair city is an aberration within Canadian society.
Nowhere is this more apparent than upon investigation of the number one vehicle of the local economy— real estate, and the foreign money fuelling its engine.Truly, Vancouver is the “wild, wild west” of Canadian business culture. It appears anything goes in this lotus-land of the west, and the way things have gone for the past thirty years is in the direction of Asia, and in particular, the nation of China.
For example, take Greater Vancouver’s closest suburban municipality, Richmond BC. Due to the proliferation of foreign language signage— virtually ubiquitous within the community— Richmond has transitioned into the “first Asian city outside of Asia.” BC Premier Christy Clarke says so. Minister of Multiculturalism Teresa Wat says so. The only people that have not said so are the residents of Richmond itself, whose opinions have been ignored consistently by City Council. When Richmond residents voiced their displeasure, in the form of petitions, community meetings, opinion polls, and countless letters to the press— nothing changed. Long term Mayor Malcolm Brodie, a lawyer by trade, stated that implementing a by-law to deal with Chinese language public signage may breach Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms—our legal industry’s catch-all weapon against administering the will of the majority. Leaders of powerful provincial civil liberties organizations, hinting at a legal challenge to a proposed bylaw for the inclusion of our official language of English, put the concept to bed permanently.
It is well know that language is fundamental to a community’s culture. Change a nation’s language, and you change its identity. Yet, even more profoundly impactful than the language debate is the issue of residential real estate. Largely due to the outflow of billions of dollars from China— much of it classified by the Chinese government as “dirty money” —Vancouver and its suburbs have transitioned into something of a “monopoly game” for the wealthy of the world. For decades, our real estate developers, brokers and realtors have been marketing Vancouver directly to China and other Asian nations. Dozens of foreign-language real estate publications advertise our homes in languages local buyers cannot understand. Condominium complexes are marketed directly to Asia—in many cases, without local buyers having the opportunity to bid on the properties. Buyers from overseas sit on properties for months or years, leaving neighbourhoods half-vacant and filled with construction debris. Real Estate agents market “land assembly” packages—entire blocks of homes in prime residential neighbourhoods— directly to China, often by-passing Canadian buyers.
All the while, the B.C. Real Estate Association has not taken a single measure to protect our neighbourhoods from being swallowed up by foreign buyers and landed immigrants. As a result, home affordability for lower and middle-income Canadians has become a thing of the past. Young couples cannot afford to buy a home in Vancouver. Renters are completely boxed-out of the market. As a result, thousands are leaving the city.
What steps have our municipal or provincial governments taken to deal with these issues? Nothing. Rather, they tow the same line as the BCREA— there is “no data” to verify foreign investment is inflating the cost of homes beyond the reach of the average BC resident. Until we have the necessary data, they proclaim, the problem will not be addressed. Government leaders such as BC Minister of Housing Rich Coleman simply recommend those who cannot afford to buy a home move elsewhere. Such is the complacent, smug attitude of a government out of touch with its voter’s feelings— let them eat cake!
When the BCREA finally got around to doing an analysis—well after the problem had escalated to the degree that a well-attended public protest was organized— their analysis stated that a mere 5% of local real estate was owned by foreigners. Strange, because according to a study by Ian Scarrow of MacDonald Realty— someone who has built an entire career out of selling Vancouver homes to China— 33% of our homes were sold to foreign buyers.
Real Estate, language, culture, signage— Vancouver is cowboy-country for Asian investment—and this rodeo has been facilitated by our government and real estate industry for decades. The fact is, not a single piece of legislation or by-law exists to prevent Vancouver from heading down a one-way path toward the eradication of its Canadian identity.
Even at this stage, Vancouver is no longer a true Canadian city—rather, it is a globalist mini-state. Money rules, and Asian money most of all. Local universities have divested themselves of their Canadian identity —case in point, University of British Columbia and its cosy relationship with China’s Ministry of Education. Our local banks are having an all-out love affair with China and its money—most branches not only offer services in Chinese, they also advertise in Chinese— in many cases without an English equivalent. So much for Canada’s official languages of English and French—not to mention former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s “dust in the wind” declaration of “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework.”
Speaking of Prime Ministers, while on a recent visit to North Vancouver, Stephen Harper issued a statement that he is dedicating funding to an analysis of foreign investment, and its influence upon home affordability for BC residents. Good to know at least one political leader has the best interests of the public in mind.
Apart from this, all is quiet on the western front of governmental action to rectify the lack of home affordability. Local real estate associations continue to sport their “no data” mantra. Asia-centric realtors continue to sell homes which function as nothing more than “safe havens” for foreigners looking to park their money in Canada. Perhaps, or perhaps not, the buyers will make the move across the Pacific—depending on how bad the pollution or the economy becomes back in the “motherland.”
Such is the “state of the nation” within our fair city, and there’s no reason to believe this will not continue until every component of traditional Canadian society disappears for good. Globalism is a mighty force, made all the mightier by the the fact that to oppose these forces will inevitably bring about accusations of bigotry, racism, and xenophobia. Must be nice to be able to silence all opposition with a few basic words. As a result, Canadians are forced to sit by helplessly while our city is reconstructed by foreign money and a real estate industry willing to sacrifice our cultural identity for the almighty dollar.
writer: brad salzberg, august 2015