Douglas Todd: Hidden foreign ownership helps explain Metro Vancouver’s ‘decoupling’ of house prices, incomes

Of note:

The lack of connection between soaring housing prices and tepid local wages in Metro Vancouver is caused in large part by hidden foreign ownership, says a peer-reviewed study from Simon Fraser University that is being welcomed by the B.C. minister responsible for housing.

Based on data Statistics Canada has been collecting only recently, SFU public policy specialist Joshua Gordon’s paper shows the “decoupling” of housing prices from incomes in Metro Vancouver has been caused by “significant sums of foreign capital that have been excluded from official statistics.”

Gordon’s research set out to solve a puzzle in Greater Vancouver and, to a lesser extent, Toronto. How can tens of thousands of owners who tell Revenue Canada they are low income (earning less than $44,000 a year) consistently afford homes valued in the $2- to $10-million range?

Source: Douglas Todd: Hidden foreign ownership helps explain Metro Vancouver’s ‘decoupling’ of house prices, incomes

The danger of politicizing race relations: CRRF Chair

A somewhat unclear piece by the Chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, Albert Lo.

Hard to know if written as a general piece in terms of how to have respectful dialogue, a post-Charlottesville commentary or recent Canadian protests and demonstrations, or a defence for the Board membership of  Christine Douglass-Williams  (see Federal appointee to race relations board under scrutiny for writings on Islam) given its timing and the tenor of the last few paragraphs.

My take on how to have respectful and reasoned debates on immigration and related issues will be coming out shortly in IRPP:

The purpose of the CRRF, as provided in the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Act, is to facilitate throughout Canada the development, sharing and application of knowledge and expertise in order to contribute to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society.

CRRF’s work, in essence, is to encourage Canadians, irrespective of their racial background or ethnicity, to uphold and honor the human dignity of all our fellow citizens.  Indeed, inherent human dignity is the very central pillar of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We all treasure our rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Canadian Constitution.  Where these rights and freedoms are abridged or encroached upon, even in favour of one right over another, or where the same are subjugated or circumvented for the sake of expediency, convenience or gain, whether financial, sectoral, political or otherwise, all will be worse off in the end, if not immediately. Rights subverted become a precedent for future action, especially politically, so that a retaliatory psyche can well become ingrained into the human rights system.

As individuals and as a society, we need to recognize that human dignity, and the rights that emanate from it, are a sacrosanct principle that ought to transcend politics across the entire political spectrum and we need to ensure that the instruments related to enforcement or promotion of rights remain free of political taint.

As Canadians, we have a shared responsibility to support and respect the rights and freedoms of one another.  To ensure a healthy Canadian society where diversity and inclusion truly flourishes, it behooves all of us to resist the temptation of politicizing the human rights arena for self-serving considerations.

History tells us that when government machinery is exploited or co-opted as a blunt instrument to silence dissent, to advance the rights or benefits of some at the expense of some others or someone, society suffers monumentally for generations to come. Witness the sensationalism, bogus narratives, demonization and hatemongering leading up to and surrounding the Indian Residential Schools, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Komagata Maru incidence, the St. Louis Ship travesty and the Japanese Canadian internment… The list goes on.  History can repeat itself if we ignore the lessons.

Exactly because of their motivation to prevent history from repeating on anyone else in Canada, the NAJC (National Association of Japanese Canadians) negotiated for the creation of the CRRF (Canadian Race Relations Foundation).  They also committed $12 million from their redress settlement, matched equally by the Government of Canada, toward an endowment for the Foundation, not for any self-indulgent purpose, which they are rightly entitled to in the circumstance, but instead for the betterment of all Canadians.

To delineate and ensure its function as an arms-length voice of reason and conscience, the NAJC negotiated for CRRF’s status as a non-agent Crown corporation, of which the Chairperson, directors, Executive Director, officers, employees and agents are not part of the federal public administration.

Human dignity and human rights can only thrive in a society where freedom and democracy is robust and healthy, where freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, etc., is defended and respected for everyone.

In a free and democratic society, no one has a monopoly on the public square.  Every citizen has a right to their opinions, no matter how disagreeable, controversial, unorthodox or offensive others may think, save and except for illegal or violent acts.  Demonization, character assassination and smear campaigns are a direct threat to the sanctity of civil discourse. Self-righteousness does not lessen these dangers but can increase them.

In these challenging times, citizens and government alike must take extra caution and vigilance against the dangers of faulty logic or superficial and simplistic examinations, or giving in to the effects of mass hysteria.

Just because East Asians eat rice, and many North Americans also eat rice, does not make those North Americans all East Asians.  To conclude otherwise is simple fallacy.  But that is exactly what many have witnessed in society today, where conflation of issues is rampant, and imputing motives or guilt by association seems to be the order of the day.

There are various views on difficult ethical and social issues and extremist and special interest groups may try to appropriate them or associate themselves with one perspective. These situations are particularly dangerous to the well-being of civil society where open and objective discussion becomes destroyed by ideologies or political movements seeking gain, turning debate into labelling and name calling. The challenge for all of us is to maintain a space where reason and compromise can still operate without politicization or unhelpful rhetoric.

As an organization dedicated to preserving NAJC’s generous legacy and the Government’s commitment to honoring the redress agreement, we invite you to join us in promoting and growing that legacy as an effective antidote to the many issues revolving around racism and racial discrimination.

Source: The danger of politicizing race relations

Vancouver’s housing debate not about race, it’s about public policy: Todd

Good long column by Todd:

I had coffee this week with three Canadian friends — one of us was born in Egypt, one in Hong Kong, one in Iran and one in Canada (me) — and the subject arose: Is there a relationship between Metro Vancouver’s out-of-control housing prices and racism?

We battered around a few arguments, including that the hundreds of thousands of transnational migrants and investors who have discovered Metro Vancouver in the past decade cannot be morally blamed, individually, for the city’s astronomical housing costs. That is, except for those involved in corruption or tax evasion.

In most cases, transnational migrants, many wealthy and with dual citizenship, are simply doing what anyone in their situation would do if they could afford it: Investing in Canadian real estate to create a safe economic landing for their families outside their often-troubled countries of origin.

While our coffee group recognized some people might scapegoat migrants from certain countries, especially Mainland China, we acknowledged the most crucial thing is to get up to speed on the multiple factors behind runaway housing prices — so we can encourage governments to finally do something to ease them.

Our discussion led me to conclude that the debate over housing affordability does not need to be dominated by race or ethnicity.

It needs to focus on public policy.

It should zero in on public policies that will help Metro Vancouver be a real community — a place not only of ethnic diversity, but of economic diversity, where power is mostly in the hands of the people and the gap between the poor, middle class and rich does not widen more than it has already.

That means discussing policy options, such as whether and how to impose a tax on foreign speculators, tax empty houses, stop international money laundering and tax avoidance, curtail Quebec’s immigrant-investor program, enforce rules in the real-estate industry, add social housing, increase zoning density, adjust immigration levels, shift interest rates and stop foreign donations to B.C. politicians.
But many Canadians don’t seem comfortable with such debates, unlike many in Europe and elsewhere, where it’s generally expected one will be up for a rousing dinner-table discussion about politics, money and power.

Rather than talking about overriding issues such as economic equality and justice, Canadians seem to find it easier, more socially acceptable, to talk about so-called identity politics; which emphasizes ethnicity, gender and individual freedoms.

As a result, in Canada, racial discrimination, or the possibility of it, is often the go-to topic. That’s so even while international agencies continue to rank Canada the most “tolerant” country in the world in regards to immigration. See the recent global surveys by Britain’s respected Legatum Institute and the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based non-profit.

When it comes to housing, why do a relative few British Columbian voices remain fixated on racial issues?

It’s easy to dismiss real estate industry lobbyists who accuse those worried about high housing prices as racist or xenophobic — since their vested interest for the past three decades has been to distract politicians from imposing policies that might cool the flow of foreign money into the market.

Some other Canadians concerned about racism don’t have such dubious motives, but I’m convinced much of their super-vigilance arises out of a misunderstanding of the definition of racism.

The Oxford Dictionary understanding of racism is quite specific. It’s not as sweeping as believed by some people, including the liberal arts academics who build their careers on alleging that “undertones” of racism exist where they may not.

The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as: “Prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

While the housing crisis may trigger some hard-core racists — people who actually do discriminate based on the belief their ethno-cultural group is superior — there is no evidence such behaviour is widespread in Canada or Metro Vancouver.

Residents of Metro would have a right to be morally concerned no matter where the billions of dollars flooding into the city’s housing market was coming from.

If, theoretically, it were pouring in from tens of thousands of Caucasians based in Kelowna, strong feelings, including resentment, and ethical concerns, including in regards to equality, would be justified.

A number of prominent Canadians who are committed to ethnic diversity and social justice tend to agree.

Vancouver’s housing debate “is not about racism. It’s about a difference in economic power,” said Clarence Cheng, former chief executive officer of B.C.’s SUCCESS Foundation, which supports program for immigrants. “It’s about the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer.”

Albert Lo, head of the Canada Race Relations Foundation, says there’s nothing wrong with collecting information on the national origins of people buying and selling houses in Metro Vancouver, in part because it could combat tax evasion.

“In Canada, we are so used to the idea of tolerance that we sometimes find it odd to look at nationalities. That causes some people to jump up and start using the word ‘racism.’ I don’t think it’s helpful,” says Lo.

Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, lambastes politicians and property developers who misuse the word “racist” to stifle debate over important issues. He says people have to acknowledge the great distance Canadians have come in overcoming bigotry of the early 20thcentury.

UBC planning professor emeritus Setty Pendakur, who has advised the Chinese government, says hyper-vigilant worries about inter-cultural tensions provide a convenient coverup for wealthy investors, whether Canadian-born or from abroad, who “park illegal money here or avoid Canadian taxes.”

Vancouver’s Justin Fung, a member of Housing Action for Local Taxpayers or HALT, says “cries of racism” sidetrack British Columbians from facing the hard policy decisions that will be necessary if we are to ever again link Metro Vancouver wages to housing costs.

So, if as a society we can manage to stay focused on the central issue, how do we institute policies that will help Metro Vancouver become a place where average families can afford to buy or rent decent housing?

Even though it’s ethically fine to collect data on the nationalities of buyers and sellers — and, more importantly, on the country in which they are “residents for tax purposes” — any policies to cool down the housing market must, of course, be universal.

We should expect colour-blindness in all policies designed to counter runaway housing prices — including those that deal with speculation, empty houses, international money laundering, real estate trickery, social housing, political party financing or immigration policy.

The problem is that some hyper-vigilant peoples’ understanding of racism is so sweeping that even after I wrote last week about how B.C. politicians should stop being among the few in the world to accept political donations from foreign companies — someone suggested such a ban may be “xenophobic.”

If that’s the case, virtually the entire world is xenophobic. That includes those who operate The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which covers 35 countries, including Canada.

The OECD, a defender of democracy and sovereignty, recently made it clear that citizens of a nation have a perfect right to protect themselves from transnational powers and money.

As a February OECD report plainly said: “Political parties need to be responsive to their constituents and not influenced by foreign interests.”

Source: Vancouver’s housing debate not about race, it’s about public policy | Vancouver Sun

Douglas Todd: ‘Ethnic economies’ on the rise in North America

Interesting piece on ethnic economies, familiar to anyone in Canada’s major cities with ethnic neighbourhoods. My sense is this is particularly true for small businesses (e.g., stores, restaurants) and thus the larger questions of discrimination are less likely to have a significant impact:

Although the concept is sometimes considered controversial because it suggests ethnic groups are in competition with each other, most Western scholars are either neutral or positive about the rapid expansion of ethnic economies.

Light and Gold assert that ethnic solidarity can be highly advantageous in business. “Ethnic-based collectivism makes a difference to the economic status of immigrants and minority groups.”

Ethnic economies are particularly important to cities such as Metro Vancouver and Toronto, where the populations are more than 45 per cent foreign born.

Metro Vancouver and Toronto have dozens of Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Iranian, Pakistani, Korean and other ethnic enclaves, which often form the basis of ethnic economies (although ethnic economies can operate outside a specific geographical area).

University of B.C. geographer Daniel Hiebert has found people in enclaves in which a single ethno-cultural group predominates tend to do better economically than people in enclaves in which no single ethic group prevails.

Comparing neighbourhoods by income levels, unemployment, welfare rates and home ownership, Hiebert says residents of enclaves in which one group dominates have the benefit of unique business and job opportunities.

“Ethnic economies are situations where entrepreneurs in a group employ co-ethics and specialize in particular industrial sectors, for example, Vietnamese immigrants in nail salons in New York City or Indian immigrants in the American hotel sector,” Hiebert says.

“Living in the midst of a large co-ethnic group may be beneficial, perhaps by enabling people to access social capital, or perhaps through the employment opportunities that may arise in … ethnic economies.”

A few decades ago, the conventional theory was that ethnic economies formed because immigrants faced discrimination in the mainstream job market. But, with the rise of equal rights in the 1960s, scholars now generally believe it’s frequently a bonus for immigrants to have access to ethnic economies.

Alireza Ahmadian, an Iranian-born research associate at Vancouver’s Laurier Institution, said enclaves fuel ethnic economies because they provide a place where newcomers and strangers can meet co-ethnics and discuss challenges.

“One of the first items on their agenda is business. These conversations sometimes lead to business partnerships. The issue of trust is an important one in driving ethnic economies. For many new and first-generation immigrants, it is easier to trust someone from their own culture who speaks their language.”

Few researchers of ethnic economies have taken on the kind of ethical issues that the co-author of Freakonomics explored in his discussion of possibly discriminatory hiring practices, however.

North American human rights law places many restrictions on hiring people based on their ethnicity, particularly if a company has more than 10 to 15 employees.

For instance, a Mexican restaurant in Houston, Texas, was recently fined for terminating a black and a Filipino employee because they didn’t speak Spanish.

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission successfully argued the Mexican restaurant was using language as a “pretext” for hiring only Hispanics.

Despite such anti-discrimination laws, it has become increasingly common for some employers in Canada, particularly in Metro Vancouver and Toronto, to require proficiency in a foreign language.

Albert Lo, head of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, said it’s often possible to make a legitimate “business case” that a prospective employee might need to speak a certain foreign language.

But Lo said it’s always crucial to keep an eye out for when a language requirement is used as a cover for ethnic discrimination — and for when the ethnic-employee ratio of a company becomes “out of sync with the community it serves.”

Lo, a former real estate developer, said the subject of ethnic economies can sometimes be “divisive.”

In Western societies in which most companies, the public sector and non-profit organizations are legally required to be “colour-blind” — and are pressed to hire employees from a range of ethno-cultural groups — ethnic economies go the opposite direction.

Despite thorny questions regarding discrimination and ethnic competition, the traditional theory that ethnic economies rise because of discrimination in the larger marketplace is now rarely heard, according to the book Landscapes of the Ethnic Economy, edited by David Kaplan and Wei Li.

Immigrant-fuelled economies have “matured” and “drastically transformed” Canada’s major cities, says York University’s Lucia Lo. Scores of Chinese malls, for instance, now exist in the “ethno-burbs” of Toronto and Vancouver, Lo writes, because that’s what many ethnic Chinese want.

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘Ethnic economies’ on the rise in North America