Editorial: NDP’s Emergency Affordability Town Hall Amounted to a Political Rally

Joannah Connolly
March 17, 2016

A charismatic leader jeering at his political rival. Calls to get foreigners out, and keep them out. Cheers and applause from the urgently gathered crowd at each increasingly sensationalist declaration.

The latest Donald Trump rally? No, this was the scene at the NDP’s “emergency town hall” to discuss Vancouver housing affordability March 16, at which around 750 people gathered to vent their frustrations and hopefully find some answers.

The event was organized and led by David Eby, the NDP MLA who has been vocal about housing affordability and a leading commentator on the topic. He took to social media to gather the “emergency” meeting, creating a buzz around the event and moving the venue twice as the sign-ups amassed. He told media, “I hope I can give some hope to people who are incredibly distressed about what they see happening.” Attendees were warmly greeted at the standing-room-only event, and then they were given the stage for an hour-long open mike after the panel speakers finished.

The panel speakers were, by the way, Eby himself and the BC NDP leader John Horgan, who openly took every opportunity to slam the incumbent Liberal provincial government, to the delight of the largely NDP-partisan crowd. He announced that his party’s two solutions will be new policies proposed this week on collecting data on foreign buyers (didn’t the Liberals just do that?) and closing loopholes in contract assignments to ensure taxes are paid (great, but this will help with affordability how?). Nevertheless, all this seemed to go down well with the attendees.

Also present was Eveline Xia, founder of the muddled #DontHave1Million affordability campaign, who continued to pitch her campaign’s position that ordinary people, especially young people, who grew up in Vancouver are entitled to be able to afford the homes they want, although please remember that this is not about “entitlement”.

The lone voice of reason came from the seemingly non-partisan panellist Professor Tom Davidoff, whose UBC team’s proposal for an innovative taxation solution on homes that are not rented out and are either vacant or occupied by non-economically-contributing residents is gaining some traction with our current Liberal government. So, worth sharing with the crowd, but nothing new there.

The open mike for attendees was nothing more than a venting session for those who wished to share their frustrations over real estate. There was a standing ovation for a resident who said, “It’s time to stop letting [foreign buyers] use our homes as speculative piggy banks.”

Most importantly, there was not a single mention of the lack of supply of housing, being far outstripped by demand, as the key cause of our soaring prices. Not one.

Urban planner and architect Michael Geller was also at the event. “It was a political rally,” he said to REW.ca afterwards. “It seemed the crowd was very pro-NDP and very anti-Gregor [Robertson, Vancouver mayor].”

In that way, you have to hand it to David Eby and the NDP. The town hall was a genius political move on their part. The NDP knows that the next provincial election will be won and lost on housing affordability policies, and it is taking every opportunity to garner supporters by hyping up affordability issues as much as possible, and then purporting to address them in an open public forum. Never mind whether real issues and real solutions are actually discussed. What matters to the NDP is that people’s fears are tapped into, and being seen as being addressed. What a waste of an opportunity.

Now, I should make it clear that I’m not anti-NDP, nor am I pro-Liberal. Indeed, when next May comes around, I may well vote for a change in leadership for our province.

But make no mistake. The NDP’s, and David Eby’s, primary agenda is to win the next election, not to help you buy a detached Vancouver home. There’s nothing especially sinister in that, and no doubt, they would like to help local people with housing affordability. But remember, the NDP doesn’t want to be the provincial government that, once in power, causes the housing market to crash. That would be utterly disastrous for the province and its incumbent leaders.

That’s why Horgan’s newly announced “policies” are so wishy-washy. If the NDP makes too strong a set of promises about affordability at this stage – say, by promising hikes in overseas investor taxation, it would be held accountable for implementing those policies if voted into government – and would have to suffer the consequences. No, it’s much safer just to hold political rallies that fire up the public, introduce inconsequential policies to make it look like something is being done, in order to get the votes they need to gain power. Then let’s see what they actually do to address housing affordability after that.

I for one would love to see the NDP, or the Liberals, or Vision Vancouver, or anyone at all, address the real problem of creating enough housing supply to meet demand in this city. Now that would be something worth voting for.

An earlier version of this story reported that there were no City officials present. In fact, Councillor Raymond Louie and Burnaby City Councillor Nick Volkow were in attendance. The above text has been amended. 

Joannah Connolly
Joannah Connolly is editorial director of Glacier Real Estate, Glacier Media's real estate division. Joannah writes and curates real estate news for Glacier Media's local newspaper websites, including the Vancouver Courier, North Shore News, Burnaby Now, Tri-City News and others. She also oversees editorial content in Real Estate Weekly Homes, West Coast Condo, Western Investor and Glacier's special real estate publications. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 22 years of journalism and editing experience in Vancouver and London, with a background in construction, architecture, healthcare and business media. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, has moderated and spoken on various industry panels, and spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio.