I spent most of the summer having a life and observing BC politics from a distance.. So here’s the end of summer editorial Postmedia should write, but won’t.
This summer, Christy Clark’s BCLiberal Government was forced by public outcry, hard journalism, and the failure of its policies to put on its flip-flops and reverse long standing positions on its penny pinching in public education and its laissez-faire approach to the real estate industry. Unfortunately, because the political reality of faltering public support ran hard against deeply ingrained ideology (“It’s all driven by polls” – Bob Rennie), the policy reversals were ham-fisted, utterly inadequate and late. Having effectively used the meme of the weather-vane against Adrian Dix and the BCNDP in the last weeks of the 2013 election, Clark and the Liberals have utterly ceded that ground to John Horgan this time around.
Since Clark’s term as Minister of Education in Campbell’s first government, BCLiberal policy has forced the closure of over well over 200 schools. School Boards have made those hard decisions based on funding provided by government. That funding has been declining relative to inflation, downloaded costs such as Hydro and carbon taxes. (Forget the $5.1 billion more nonsense.)School Boards have always been responsible for those decisions according to government. Until now.
After demanding over $50 million in “administrative savings” in the last two budget cycles and further demanding balanced budget plans from every School District, it suddenly occurred to government that forcing the closure of Osoyoos High School might put Linda Larson’s seat at risk. This is only one of the threatened schools in BCLib ridings but it became a lightning rod, and suddenly there was a $30 million “rural school fund”. Schools across the province could now apply for ad hoc temporary relief from a 15 year policy of squeezing school budgets dry.
After suggesting School Districts charge higher fees for school buses, or cut transportation altogether, news came in that Districts around the province were planning to do exactly that. Again, political reality forced the government’s hand as they realized rural voters and much of the BCLiberal base, didn’t agree that school buses were an extra… So more ad hoc money was thrown back into the system which Districts could apply for, competing against each other for the funding of necessities.
The worst part of this is that these announcements came after the “balanced budget requirement” had been met. This is reactive governing at its worst, and these new funds designed to put the brakes on downhill polls cannot be guaranteed year to year. Districts which necessarily plan years in advance, despite submitting annual budgets, will need to reapply each year, even if these ad hoc funds continue to be made available after 2017.
On real estate, hard journalism forced first the end of self regulation and second, a surprise summer session to impose a tax on foreign nationals buying real estate in Vancouver. Unfortunately, while the tax has apparently had an effect on sales figures almost immediately, it smacks of misdirection and hypocrisy.
The problems exposed in successive in-depth articles on the Vancouver real estate industry by Ian Young, Sam Cooper and Kathy Tomlinson are problems of criminality, fraud and money laundering. The foreign buyer tax, despite its initial popularity, does precisely nothing to address those problems.
In addition, the race card has been played for years to deny a problem existed. Everyone from the public to federal tax officials it appears, has been browbeaten into silence for fear of being seen as anti-Chinese. Yet the foreign buyers tax, while it’s not directed solely at a single nationality or race, institutionalizes the error of making this a problem of nationality rather than criminality.
The reputation of every honest realtor was shaken to the bone by exposure of widespread contract flipping for hidden profit. Every seller over the past several years must wonder if his realtor represented his interests or the realtors own private profit motive. It’s long been a “safe” assumption that realtors engaged by sellers honestly advised in a way that would maximize the realized value of the seller’s home. No longer.
A real estate manager was allegedly taped advising his realtors to “low ball” the seller’s price, choosing comparables that would reflect poorly on the seller’s value. The protective loophole of contract assignment has been used on a massive scale for personal profit to people who had no connection to the seller, often in networks much like Ponzi schemes. Each player up a predetermined chain took a cut of inflated final selling prices completely unknown to the home owner.
Ordinary people think stories like this are criminal fraud. The investigations by the Real Estate Board have done nothing to address them. Fines are small, suspensions are few and temporary. And as Ian Young discovered (see his work in the South China Morning Post), the federal tax department has been aware of suspicious large money transactions flowing into the Vancouver market for decades. The provincial government, after failing to collect data and denying a problem for years, acted on five weeks of data after the search for a molehill discovered a mountain.
The problem with ideology is that it must be moderated with foresight to avoid it’s logical excesses.
The BC Liberals in their approach to public education have long since abandoned any pretense to a realistic appraisal of needs in the system, though their own finance committee has repeatedly recommended raising public education spending after a decade and more of cuts vs inflation.
Likewise, the philosophy of deregulation in real estate has reached a predictable and absurd end in which a culture of criminality has permeated a most important industry to government revenues, and the government has decided it’s time to take a bigger slice of the pie, while nibbling at the margins of the real problems driving housing unaffordability throughout the lower mainland and southern Vancouver Island.
Reactive “weathervane” governing at its worst. Who knew that so much of the public is fully supportive of both fiscal responsibility AND public education? Who knew that the public believes “the path out of poverty is not only a job, but more importantly, an education”? Who knew that investigative journalism could shake the comfortable cooing of a smug and lazy government into action on the real estate bubble that’s making it harder for employers in Vancouver to attract workers, and has been for years? People outside the BCLiberals cozy self-congratulating bubble knew.