September 21, 2022

CHATBOX: Boomers vs Millenials: is this Election generational?

CHATBOX is your chance to eavesdrop on Gordon Price and Sandy James Planner as they joust over our region’s features and foibles. Please comment and join the conversation.

Gordon: Remember 1972 – the election when the Boomers took over? Led by Art Phillips and a brilliant Council. Changed the direction of this city, they did. Are we ready for the next gen to take majority control of Vancouver City Hall?

Sandy: That was way before my time, Gordon – but wasn’t that when a group of fairly progressive people came in and more or less upended a Council that had been very pro-developer, under Tom “Terrific” Campbell  (who was photographed swinging on a wrecking ball like a male Miley Cyrus)?

Gordon: Yes, exactly that. And they stopped the freeway, of course. But they weren’t all that progressive. They slowed down the rate of growth pretty dramatically. If there’s a generational change this time, it will be driven by the next generation’s grievance of being dealt out on affordability – and their election will validate a huge push for housing growth.

Mayor Stewart  says they’d move forward with a couple of hundred thousand new housing units over ten years – that’s five times the current rate of growth! And my bet: it would unleash a similar reaction to the freeways and highrises in the 70s – way too much growth and too much bulldozing all at once. But if there’s a generational majority on Council representing the disaffected, then they will have the political mandate to let ‘er rip.

Sandy: What I have noticed is that this time around, while housing prices and rents have increased, salaries have not. We do not have headquartered companies that provide philanthropy and salaries and lead the way in making the city a better place. We have somehow become a place where people can park money in units. So lets talk about election promises: how do you get 20,000 units when we can only physically get  5,000  to 7,000 units built a year now? And why are we not targeting tenure, finding ways for people to own a unit? Isn’t it about building the right kind of housing to keep younger working people in Vancouver, and not necessarily as serf tenants? I was in a think tank and the first word everyone said is TENURE. They want to OWN.

Gordon: Well I’m pretty sure Vancouver isn’t going to move ahead on the values and expectations of previous generations, who were here when cheaper land was available sufficient to build the city we have today. This next stage will involve building over much of what exists in low-density neighbourhoods.

But I don’t think the time is really quite ready. I doubt that a large single generational vote is going to emerge in this election as a force. I don’t think they’ll find enough support among a cross-section of people, including many immigrants who have achieved the Canadian Dream, to go in and dramatically change the scale and character of their neighbourhoods. Even among the renters.

Sandy: Lets talk about voting. The problem is that sadly, nobody actually pays attention to the issues, and few people become educated about the issues and candidates at the municipal level. Voting has also decreased in Vancouver. That’s what happened in 2018 when Kennedy Stewart won by less than a thousand votes over Ken Sim. We are also looking at 64 people running for council. Who can understand that?

Gordon: One thing we know is, this election will definitely reveal how much is left of the old machines – like the one I was part of, the NPA in the 80s and 90s. We’ll see who had the big chunks of money to mount sweeping advertising campaigns in the last weeks of the election, along with voter identification and get out-the-vote operations. Kennedy Stewart and Ken Sim both have well-funded professional campaign operations. It already looks likely that they’ll end up contesting the election, and it’s my guess that Sim, because he will appeal to enough middle-ground moderates, will edge into the win.

Sandy: Don’t get me going on campaign funding Gordon.  Hurrah for Stanley Woodvine who showed that everyone is fundraising and tapping on developers, even if they say they’re not. Ok so …  let’s talk Mayors! We have this really strange system here, where the mayor is actually quite weak – he is just one of Council and can be used to break votes. The only difference is he gets a nicer office.

Gordon: True, ours is much more a parliamentary-style government at the local level – where the power is less concentrated in the leader – the mayor – than in American and Asian cities. But I think we’ve benefitted on the whole.

Sandy: And still, everyone wants to be Mayor! You have a promoter who was the ex of the last Liberal Premier, the fellow who set up the Beijing Chamber of Commerce and is married to a Chinese popstar (that would be your old NPA party, Gordon), and of course – the troika: Hardwick, Sim, and Stewart. Sounds like a rock group. And with four weeks to go to the election, Kennedy still hasn’t addressed the spread sheet showing that developers were ‘captaining’ getting Mr. Stewart and his party donations.

Gordon: The strategy is the same for all the parties: they can’t get big chunks of money from single contributors any more, so it has to be parceled out to, well, captains. Or no money. Easy choice.

Sandy: I still think it’s anyone’s guess, and a lot can happen in the downtown and the eastside that might swing votes one way or another. But at this point I will say that we might be looking at a lean to the right, and I would call Sim by a slim margin. But I could also see Hardwick gallop up the field, if the vote on the right gets split. Mr. Stewart is a great parliamentarian and led a cantankerous Council at times, but he’s not breaking from the field.

If there is generational change, will voters be upset that developers are the current mayor’s major funders? Or do they just want people to build anything, anywhere, right away?

Gordon: Both and neither. But it won’t change the post-election dynamics that occur when growth accelerates the way almost all parties are promising. Believe me, when the actual bulldozers show up, the politics will change.  Remember, the 70s TEAM council was mostly about slowing growth, not accelerating it.  The population of the city even modestly declined.

Sandy: Well Gordon, Oct. 15 is just three weeks away, and it’s still anyone’s guess. Things can change fast with city issues, safety, housing, and the DTES. Let’s check back on the mayoral candidates in a week or so. And next Chatbox, let’s talk about who’s running for Council! I’ve got some thoughts. Bet you do too.

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  1. Not sure how people expect rents and real estate to remain the same price in dollars when everything else goes up as the value of the dollar goes down. Have you tried to rent anything in any other “world class” city lately? And when you see the data for Vancouver, look at the data for the lower mainland as a whole which is more equivalent to the data presented for other cities. And I would estimate that 30-40% of the increase in real estate values over the last 5 years has been directly related to the City’s densification policies.

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