Anti-development rhetoric is playing a major role in shaping party platforms as Vancouver prepares for a fall election, threatening to derail the fortunes of candidates with apparent ties to the industry.
“There’s definitely a sense from residents that things are out of control,” said Mario Canseco, a pollster whose Research Co. recently found that 57 per cent of Vancouver residents believe developers have too much control over city council.
“And having any ties with developers, that’s definitely going to hurt people.”
The groundswell of resentment is clearly something parties such as COPE, OneCity and the Greens are taking into account as they focus on the problems of market development.
The rhetoric is also clearly a reflection of global concerns about the growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else, says University of British Columbia political scientist Max Cameron.
“There’s a sense everywhere that inequity has grown," he said. "Many feel we’re living in an oligarchy.”
The questions and suspicions about ties to developers have already affected several campaigns.
Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Ian Campbell, a Squamish Nation councillor, has had to respond numerous times to accusations that he is a kind of developer because he helped negotiate a deal among the city’s three First Nations, the province and Ottawa to take over and build on some significant pieces of land.
Being labelled a developer is a concern, Mr. Campbell said in an interview, who emphasizes that he is not involved in any of the Squamish Nation’s current development plans – plans that in any case are about serving people who need housing.
“We’re not just a developer building a luxury product," he said. "The intent of those lands is to develop housing options.”
Vancouver councillor Hector Bremner, who was elected last fall for the Non-Partisan Association, said the anti-developer frenzy is what led to him leaving his party and starting a new one.
“It’s impacted me in a big way. And this anti-development sentiment is harmful,” he said.
Mr. Bremner was barred this year from running for the NPA as a mayoral candidate in a somewhat murky party process in which questions were raised about his ties to the development industry through his work in public relations and with the province’s former housing minister, Rich Coleman.
He insists developers are not responsible for Vancouver’s out-of-control housing costs and instead blames city rules and regulations that force builders into two main options: expensive single-family homes and large, concrete condo towers.
“But it’s easier just to demonize everyone: the Chinese, developers, people who advocate for more housing – or politicians like me,” he said.
Even candidates such as independents Kennedy Stewart and Shauna Sylvester have found themselves being smacked in public, even though they don’t have direct ties to the industry.
Mr. Stewart, an NDP MP in Burnaby, has been criticized for not having done more to oppose the demolition of affordable housing there. Ms. Sylvester got into trouble briefly just for writing on Twitter that Burnaby was building some interesting projects around transit.
Mr. Stewart says the extreme hostility toward the whole development industry is making it tricky at times to advocate for good housing policy.
“We couldn’t supply housing to the country without the development industry. That will get me in trouble with the very hardcore,” he said. “Why attack people we have to work with later? Even if we do a massive investment in non-market housing, we will still be working with them.”
But the question in the election is whether that kind of moderate approach will appeal to voters when there are other candidates, on both the right and left, taking a harder line.
In a civic by-election last October, which Mr. Bremner won, independent Jean Swanson finished second. She is running with COPE this year and has received a lot of attention with her populist messages about taxing mansions, freezing rents and limiting the power of developers.
COPE candidate Derrick O’Keefe said it’s understandable that people without housing of their own have become resentful as developers build “safety-deposit boxes in the sky” for the wealthy.