Alberta’s worst COVID-19 rates are in racialized communities, data show

As happens in most cities, given the poorer socio-economic conditions and housing, along with the fact that many are front-line workers who cannot work remotely:

The worst rates of COVID-19 infection in Alberta’s two largest cities are in areas with higher proportions of racialized people, including the northeastern corner of Calgary, where the per-capita number of cases is more than twice the provincial average.

The province has yet to publish detailed statistics on the relationship between race and COVID-19 infections, despite promising to track and release that type of information months ago. But Statistics Canada data show a relationship between high rates of COVID-19 infections and the proportion of people who identify as visible minorities. In northeastern Calgary, for example, 80 per cent of people were recorded in the census as non-white.

Premier Jason Kenney has singled out large multigenerational households and social gatherings among South Asian people. He was criticized for telling a local radio station on the weekend that a sharp increase in infections in northeast Calgary should be a “wake-up call” to follow public-health advice.

Arjumand Siddiqi, who holds the Canada Research Chair in population health equity and teaches at the University of Toronto, said data from places such as Toronto, Montreal and some American cities all point to the same conclusion: People of colour are more likely to get sick from COVID-19 because of their socio-economic status, not culture.

”This pattern of racialized people having the worst health outcomes relative to whites is something we see for almost every health outcome I can think of,” Dr. Siddiqi said.

“What we think is probably the primary driver of racial inequalities in COVID is who is doing essential-service work. That’s the trigger, because with COVID, you have to be outside to be exposed.”

Alberta has not reported neighbourhood-level data for COVID-19 infections, but divides each of the two major cities into more than a dozen health areas.

Calgary’s upper northeast area has by far the highest rates – for both active cases and the total number of infections since the pandemic began – in either city. It also has the highest proportion of people who identify as visible minorities, as well as the largest household size, the largest percentage of people who do not speak English and the largest number of recent immigrants.

The second highest-rates in the city are Calgary’s lower northeast, which also has the second highest proportion of visible minorities, at 56.2 per cent.

In Edmonton, the highest infection rates are also largely in areas with higher-than-average proportions of people who identify as visible minorities, although the relationship is not as stark.

For example, the Castle Downs and Northgate areas both have the highest rates of infections since the pandemic began and both have higher proportions of racialized people than the rest of the city. Mill Woods South and East has the second-highest proportion of people who identified as a visible minority and the area currently has the fourth-highest rate of active infections in the city.

Dr. Siddiqi said the theory that those higher rates are primarily linked to culture or social gatherings is misguided and not supported by the data.

“This is not a matter of individual choice and decision making,” she said. “People have to go to work.”

Mr. Kenney appeared on RedFM for an interview in which he talked about COVID-19 among South Asian people in northeastern Calgary. He referred to “a tradition to have big family gatherings” as he explained the outbreak in the area.

The Premier has since said he was not attempting to cast blame and that he recognizes the risks faced by South Asian and other racialized people, including taking on higher-risk front-line jobs.

“It is not a phenomenon unique to Alberta,” Mr. Kenney said on Wednesday.

“I think it’s most obviously connected to the issue of socio-economic status. Many newcomers, when they start their lives in Canada … they are typically starting out at lower levels of incomes and that often creates greater vulnerability to situations like this.”

He said the province is responding by increasing support for people who need to isolate, including by offering them a place to stay outside the home, and is also looking at how to help overcome issues such as language barriers and transportation.

Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said her office has been collecting data on race and COVID-19 infections and is looking into how best to release it.

Aimée Bouka, a Calgary doctor who has written about the relationship between race and COVID-19, said the province appears to have very little data about how racialized people are getting sick. She pointed out the province’s contact-tracing system has fallen apart, making it impossible to know what is happening during the recent spike in cases.

”It’s even more shocking and surprising to have it brought up publicly with such a level of confidence,” she said.

“How come none of us can actually see this? Where is the data that really links what he says is cultural behaviours to the actual spread of COVID-19?”

Dr. Bouka said narrowing in on cultural factors ignores a growing body of evidence that working and living conditions are driving infections in racialized populations. She also points out there have been many examples – across cultures and racial backgrounds – of people flouting the rules by holding parties or other events.

Jay Chowdhury, who lives in northeastern Calgary, became infected with COVID-19 at a prayer meeting in early March, before the lockdowns and restrictions that swept the country in the spring. He was in a medically induced coma for more than three weeks and is still recovering.

Mr. Chowdhury agreed that many in the area are in jobs that place them at higher risk.

“The people living in [northeastern Calgary] are people working at the airport, working at the hospital, working at McDonald’s,” he said.

“These are people who don’t have a job where they can work from home. … They are hard hit because they have to be physically present.”

Still, he said he has heard of instances of people flouting the guidance around social events, which he attributed to a “meet and greet” culture. He said it appears that South Asian people he knows in the area are getting more serious about following the new restrictions, including a recent ban on all gatherings.

Amanpreet Singh Gill, president of the Dashmesh Culture Centre, a large Sikh Gurdwara in northeastern Calgary, said people who attend his Gurdwara have been diligent about following public-health advice. Many weddings have been cancelled or changed to respect limits on gatherings and recent Diwali celebrations were significantly scaled back.

George Chahal, who represents the area on city council, said he viewed the Premier’s comments on the weekend as targeting the South Asian population. Mr. Chahal said work and housing appeared to be the primary factors, adding people in the area are taking the pandemic seriously.

“There is a lot of fear out there,” he said. “People are worried about their families.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-albertas-worst-covid-19-rates-are-in-racialized-communities-data/

Gary Mason on Premier Kenney’s singling out of the South Asian community and his avoidance of recognizing the impact of socio-economic factors (although cultural factors also play a role):

If there’s one community that has been singled out for its role in the spread of COVID-19 in this country, it is the South Asian.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stirred controversy last week when he delivered what he called a “wake-up call” to South Asians in his province. In an interview with South Asian radio station RED 106.7 FM, he said there had been a much higher rate of the virus among this particular group, and linked the phenomenon to “big family gatherings” and “social functions” in their homes.

Likewise, South Asians have been the focus of attention in the B.C. city of Surrey, where they are the dominant minority and where there has been a disproportionately higher number of cases of the virus than elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.

The same applies to the Ontario region of Peel, where South Asians make up 31.6 per cent of the population, but have accounted for 45 per cent of COVID-19 cases.

So what gives? Are South Asians flagrantly disregarding government orders to help prevent the spread of the virus? Are they putting culture ahead of public-health security? Or does something else explain the numbers?

While there have assuredly been members of the South Asian community who have flouted public-health edicts, there’s no evidence that their numbers are significantly greater, percentage wise, than those in the broader population who have done the same.

Yes, weddings, spiritual holidays, music nights and celebrations of life are often enormous, sacred happenings in South Asian culture. Over the summer, for instance, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said some of these events had helped accelerate the spread of the virus in Surrey, and she called for restraint.

The message seemed to have been heard: Last month, despite broad concern about the public-health consequences of the major five-day Indian festival of Diwali, there were no reported instances of a dramatic surge in the virus in those areas with high populations of South Asians.

The more likely cause of higher-than-normal rates of COVID-19 among South Asians is their socioeconomic status. Many occupy low-paying, public-facing jobs that are essential to the economy, from truck drivers and hospital workers to cleaners and aides in long-term care homes. They rely on public transit to get to and from work. And when they do get home, it’s often to a house that includes multiple generations of a family. There can be 10 or more people sleeping under the same roof, sometimes because of tradition, and sometimes out of financial necessity.

The fact that South Asians are disproportionately suffering the consequences of the disease is also the result of another ugly reality: Racialized people in this country have worse health outcomes than white Canadians. They often have higher rates of the kind of underlying conditions that the virus preys on: heart disease, diabetes and obesity among them.

And many new immigrants, from South Asia or elsewhere, don’t speak English. Public-health information related to COVID-19 has often only been made available in English and French, and not in languages such as Punjabi or Hindi. That can come at a cost.

While Mr. Kenney later acknowledged that some of the occupations held by South Asians put them more directly in the path of the virus, the scolding tone of his warning to the community did not sit well with many. It just helps perpetuate a false narrative: that an irresponsible minority is to blame for the whole province’s high COVID-19 numbers.

There is also the rank hypocrisy of it all. This is the same Premier who effectively gave a pass to hundreds of mostly white anti-mask protesters in Calgary, but has now deemed gatherings in the homes of South Asians to be the real problem.

The fact that the death rate from the virus is 25 per cent higher in neighbourhoods with large South Asian communities should concern us all – our politicians and public-health officials in particular. But the response shouldn’t be condemnation. It should be investigating what the root causes behind the numbers are, and what can be done about it.

What can we do, for instance, about low-paid workers who might feel sick but go to work anyway because they won’t otherwise have money to pay their rent? What can be done about the dismal state of our overwhelmed contact-tracing systems, which are failing those whose jobs put them most at risk of contact?

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-scapegoating-south-asian-canadians-for-high-covid-19-numbers-is-just/

Lastly, second year medical student Sharan Aulakh takes a similar tack:

COVID-19 cases soar in Alberta, with the province now accounting for nearly 25 per cent of all active cases in Canada, Premier Jason Kenney appeared on a popular South Asian radio station in Calgary, calling for the South Asian community to do more to bring down surging infection rates.

According to Kenney, the South Asian community is responsible for the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in Alberta, zeroing in on northeast Calgary, an area with a significant South Asian population, for having a particularly high number of COVID-19 cases. While Kenney tried to assure listeners that he doesn’t mean to blame or target any particular individual or community, his message misses the mark.

While the community is diverse, a large proportion of Albertans of South Asian descent are employed in essential frontline services and do not have the privilege of being able to work from home. They are grocery-store workers, transit operators, and truck drivers; they are the nurses, health-care aides, and support staff in clinics, hospitals, and long-term care homes. Along with an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, many have limited employment benefits and access to compensated sick leave. South Asians are also more likely to live in multigenerational housing. Often, this is a result of financial constraints that are more likely to be faced by recent immigrants. Many within the South Asian community are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. For the premier to selectively call out and chastise the South Asian community for seemingly shirking their responsibility in this pandemic betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the different structural factors that shape how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts certain communities. It further perpetuates unfair and harmful narratives of the community.

In reality, the reason for the rise in COVID-19 rates in Alberta over the past month has been the Kenney government’s relative inaction in the face of a worsening pandemic. Kenney’s refusal to implement appropriate public health restrictions is the reason for the rapid spread of the virus, not South Asian culture.

Alberta is currently the only jurisdiction in Canada that has not introduced a provincewide mask mandate. Even in the face of a broken contact tracing system, Kenney refuses to adopt the federal contact tracing app, citing the monstrous challenge of deleting the provincial app and downloading a different one. When Alberta physicians called for a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to limit the strain of the virus on the health-care system, Kenney responded with the closure of group yoga and spin classes.

Over the weekend, hundreds of maskless Albertans took to the streets to participate in anti-mask demonstrations in Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer. Even though current provincial regulations limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people, Calgary police officers watched from a distance. While Kenney delivered a reprimanding “wake-up call” to South Asians, threatening the community with policing and monetary fines, he refused to condemn these anti-mask rallies. It is clear that for Kenney, the right to protest trumps Albertans’ right to safety and health.

Rather than scapegoat a community that has done much to combat the COVID-19 pandemic — from staffing hospitals to cleaning schools to driving buses — the provincial government would far better serve Albertans by prioritizing a pandemic response based on public health, not on ideology. While efforts to combat the virus are our collective responsibility, it starts at the top.

Sharan Aulakh is a second-year medical student at the University of Alberta with a background in public health.

Source: Kenney should blame his inaction for COVID surge, not South Asian community

The RCMP’s atrocious response to racism in Alberta

Good commentary by Gary Mason:

A couple weeks ago, a group marching under the banner of the Black and Indigenous Alliance Alberta organized a demonstration in Ponoka, Alta. But it didn’t go so well: People drove by and called the protesters names, accusing them of belonging to “antifa.” Some reportedly told them to go back to where they came from. And then, the group alleges that a truck intentionally swerved into them, striking a protester. He was taken to hospital with an injury to his eye and later released.

When they reported the alleged hit-and-run, an RCMP spokesperson said that police didn’t have the video footage needed to investigate.

A few days later, on Sept. 14, alliance members, including the man who was allegedly struck by the truck, held a news conference at the RCMP detachment to alert media to what happened. As they tried to begin, a small group of counterprotesters began shouting the alliance members down. One of the men brought a megaphone to drown out anything the group was saying to reporters. They also hurled vicious epithets at the alliance members who were there.

It was an ugly scene. But it got uglier.

Rachelle Elsiufi, a reporter with CityNews Edmonton, asked the head of the Ponoka detachment, Sergeant Chris Smiley, why nothing was done to deter those who arrived to disrupt the news conference. “Are you suggesting one side’s voice is more important than the others? Because it’s not,” he replied.“So we let everybody say what they need to say as peacefully as they can and that’s how this country works.” According to Ms. Elsiufi, two men “with connections to hate groups in Alberta” were standing beside her, and “celebrated” the officer’s response.

But as disconcerting as that moment was, things would get even worse.

The following weekend, the alliance decided to hold a demonstration in a park in Red Deer, Alta. Soon after they arrived to begin their rally, so did a convoy of trucks carrying a group of men that appeared to be looking for trouble. Again, many were identified by reporters as wearing the symbols of hate groups such as the Soldiers of Odin.

It didn’t take long for things to turn violent. The men walked up to the alliance demonstrators, many of whom were people of colour, and screamed into their faces, telling them to go home. Video from the scene shows a couple of clear assaults on alliance demonstrators, one of whom was punched in the face. Footage later shows three RCMP officers standing off to the side monitoring the situation.

Initially, the RCMP said there would be no investigation into what happened at the park. When video from the scene went viral on social media, the RCMP changed its tune, saying it would open a criminal investigation into two alleged assaults. The police defended their initial decision, saying the violence happened before their officers had arrived.

It sure looks like the RCMP has a problem here. The fact that people with racist ties can disrupt a peaceful news conference and be defended by police is outrageous. No one’s voice is more important than another’s? Are you kidding me? When one of those voices is that of a bigot and white supremacist, it is not as important as someone peacefully advocating against racism.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, who is Black, seemed genuinely upset by what happened in Red Deer. But I don’t think it’s enough to simply say it’s “unacceptable” and that it should never happen. He needs to have a conversation with senior officials in the RCMP about the type of people it has representing the force in the province and whether or not they are part of the problem here.

It sure sounds like they are.

It shouldn’t take long for the RCMP to lay criminal charges in the Red Deer incident. The people responsible for the assaults are clearly visible in the footage. But beyond that, the RCMP has to do a far better job of ensuring the safety of people who are demonstrating for a cause that police know will upset some who will then come looking for trouble.

The idea of a convoy of trucks arriving and disgorging a group of angry white men with menace in their eyes brings back terrifying images of the American South in the 1950s.

I realize police have a difficult job. But trust in the RCMP is undermined when some among them exhibit behaviour that makes us question whose side they’re on.

Why Canada should end our unfair birth-tourism policies: Gary Mason

The latest commentary:

Last week, the U.S. State Department began enforcing new rules limiting the travel of women coming to the country for the primary reason of giving birth.

This is a response to President Donald Trump’s long-pledged promise to end the policy, which bestows automatic American citizenship on newborns. So-called birth tourism is also seen as a backdoor way of making it easier for the child’s parents to one day become U.S. citizens themselves.

Of course, this is not a phenomenon unique to the U.S. We have been experiencing the same issue here, and now B.C. politicians are worried that Mr. Trump’s new enforcement measures will mean an even greater number of foreigners will turn to Canada as an ever-accommodating alternative.

The city of Richmond, B.C., just outside of Vancouver, has become a prime destination, especially for visitors from China. An unsavoury industry has built up around the facilitation of those wanting to come here to give birth. These outfits offer a one-stop shopping experience, which includes a “guarantee” that pregnant women will get through customs with the proper paperwork. These women, and anyone travelling with them, are coached on what to say when interviewed by border agents.

In their advertisements, these companies outline a long list of benefits of giving birth in Canada including the fact the country provides free education before university, free health care and, that once the child reaches the age of 18, he or she can apply to sponsor their parents to immigrate to the country. The advantages to instant citizenship go on and on. All interested parties need is the tens of thousands of dollars that these shysters are charging.

“We’ve basically put a price on Canadian citizenship,” said Jas Johal, a provincial Liberal MLA from Richmond. “These individuals are paying $80,000 so their child is guaranteed a Canadian passport.

“This is an elite, global, moneyed class that has found a loophole and are working the system. These are not your typical hard-working immigrants who built this country.”

Recent numbers tell the story: Between April 1, 2018, and Feb. 7, 2019, there were 389 births to non-resident mothers at Richmond Hospital. The year before, there were 474 and the year before that, 383. “It’s a stark reminder that our hospital has turned into a passport mill,” Mr. Johal told me.

According to an investigation conducted for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a non-partisan research group, a few years ago, there were 3,223 births by non-residents in Canadian hospitals in 2016 – excluding Quebec. In 2018, the number had jumped to more than 4,000.

The head of Doctors of BC, Kathleen Ross, has spoken out about the issue, saying the practice is straining resources. Some hospitals have been put in a difficult situation in which they have no choice but to deliver the child of a foreign patient even when coverage for the procedure is in doubt. Some doctors have ended up being short-changed for their services.

Some people have suggested that the uproar over birth tourism is overblown, that the numbers aren’t overwhelming. Of course, that misses the point entirely. Whether it’s one person or 4,000, people shouldn’t be able to effectively buy citizenship in this country, shouldn’t be able to scam their way in front of those who have been waiting to get citizenship legally.

Federal politicians Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido and Conservative MP Alice Wong, who both represent ridings in Richmond, have tabled petitions in the House of Commons calling for action. So far, the federal Liberals have been reluctant to do much about the matter.

Mr. Johal believes the crackdown by the Trump administration is only going to make the situation here even more acute. He thinks the solution is simple: Enact a law that says anybody who comes to Canada on a tourist visa and gives birth, will not automatically be eligible for Canadian citizenship.

The federal Conservatives have proposed legislation that eliminates birthright citizenship unless one of the parents of the child born here is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident. They’ve also suggested stricter visa requirements, in the first place, for people coming in from other countries in late stages of pregnancy.

Those proposals don’t seem radical to me. Nor do they seem racist or nativist. This is not about blocking foreigners from coming to Canada, or restricting immigrants from building a new life here. This is about fairness, plain and simple.

Several countries have changed their citizenship laws to end the practice of birth tourism, including Britain, New Zealand, France and Germany. It’s long past time that we, too, put an end to a practice that is both deceitful and unscrupulous.

Source: Why Canada should end our unfair birth-tourism policies

Douglas Todd: Canadian sovereignty faces challenge over foreign-buyers tax

Todd on the British Columbia foreign buyer tax:

Canadian sovereignty is on trial in a lawsuit against B.C.’s 20-per cent tax on foreign buyers of residential homes.

Jing Li — a Chinese citizen and international student who launched her case after using her family’s money to buy a townhouse in Langley in 2016 — is in effect challenging what some believe is Canada’s sovereign right to impose a targeted tax on foreign nationals, a B.C. surtax that is similar to many in other provinces and countries.

Arguing the tax illegally discriminates against people on the basis of their national origin, Li maintains in her claim it makes her feel “I am not wanted in Canada. … I feel that this anger has been directed toward people like me and other Asian nationals, due to unfair biases and stereotypes which the tax has further reinforced.”

In this era of globalization and free trade, in which trans-national corporations and libertarians often call for “open borders,” it is not fashionable to stand up for national sovereignty. Cultural liberals and even business leaders often characterize the concept as thinly disguised racism.

But some Canadians maintain it is ethical to discriminate against people who are not citizens or permanent residents (that is people who Canada have formally allowed to begin the immigration process). UBC law professor Joel Bakan, creator of the documentary The Corporation, says “in the past 30 years of economic globalization there has been an attack on the idea of the nation state.” But the sovereign nation, he says, remains the key structure through which a people can create a democratic community.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge will hear Li’s lawsuit in open court beginning June 25. In the meantime UBC professors Nathanael Lauster and Henry Yu are among those providing affidavits on behalf of Li, whose lawyer is Luciana Brasil, a specialist in class-action suits.

The B.C. government, in response to being sued, has obtained affidavits from, among others, UBC geography professor David Ley and SFU’s Andy Yan.

Should foreign nationals have the same rights and privileges as Canadian citizens and permanent residents, especially in regards to property?

In support of Li’s lawsuit against the B.C. government, Lauster claims the foreign-buyers tax reflects the kind of anti-Chinese sentiment that has become a “moral panic,” leading to “blaming the foreigner.”

British Columbians have scapegoated Chinese buyers, Lauster says. “There are clear indications that the inception and implementation of the foreign-buyer tax has reflected and invoked xenophobic, racist and specifically Sinophobic tendencies and sentiments.”

Lauster, an American who writes about his process of immigrating to Canada, maintains foreign students, temporary workers and other non-permanent residents are unfairly impeded by the foreign-buyers tax, particularly because many eventually apply to become immigrants.

The foreign-buyers tax has evoked a “Yellow Peril” discourse, Lauster says, with modern-day “folk devils.” The “social epidemic” manifests itself in anonymous comments about media articles and on Twitter. “Chinese immigrants and home buyers have been the primary targets of rhetoric. A variety of historically rooted stereotypes and biases have been perpetuated targeting Chinese home buyers and immigrants.”

For some reason the affidavit of Henry Yu, a UBC historian who specializes in documenting discrimination against ethnic Chinese, is not available to the public. Li’s lawyer did not reply to questions about it. Judging from the responses to Yu’s affidavit, however, it is similar to Lauster’s in arguing the tax demonstrates Canadians’ racism.

Andy Yan, who heads SFU’s City Program, counters in his affidavit that Yu and Lauster ignore “the globalization and hyper-commodification of housing,” which has hammered cities such as London, New York and Sydney and led to, for instance, 23 per cent of Coquitlam’s new condos being bought by foreign nationals.

Yan maintains Yu and Lauster are also blind to the “agency” of minority groups in B.C., where Chinese-Canadians have been leading activists supporting the tax on foreign buyers. There are now 470,000 ethnic Chinese in Metro Vancouver. Asians make up two of three immigrants to Canada.

An Angus Reid poll found 89 per cent of the city’s ethnic Chinese support the foreign-buyers tax. Even the then-Chinese consul general in Vancouver, Liu Fei, said, “The Chinese government would have no hesitation in stepping in and regulating (house) price increases like this, unlike governments here.”

Indeed, China has a range of restrictions on foreign buyers. And Yan’s affidavit makes it clear that jurisdictions throughout the world limit the purchasing power of foreign nationals. Yan says Yu and Lauster should not have ignored curbs on foreign buyers in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, Singapore, Hong Kong, Britain, Australia and the U.S. He could have added Denmark, Mexico, France, Switzerland and others.

In his affidavit, David Ley, author of Millionaire Migrants, says a key tactic of pro-growth real-estate advocates has been to claim that opponents of rapid expansion are xenophobic.

Developers first began playing the racism card in Vancouver and Los Angeles in the 1990s, Ley says. He notes Bob Rennie, a famed condo marketer and former chief of fundraising for the B.C. Liberal party, has alleged racism is “a huge undercurrent” in the housing debate.

Ley accepts Lauster and Yu’s analyses of B.C.’s discriminatory history up to the repeal of the immigration act in 1947. But he laments neither acknowledge how attitudes have changed. “Unlike in the colonial period, there is no ethno-racial divide that neatly separates, homogenizes and penalizes people of East Asian origin,” Ley says.

“There is significant resistance within Vancouver’s Chinese‐Canadian community to inflationary pressures in the property market primed by foreign capital, dispelling innuendoes that such resistance is inherited from old racist attitudes held by white Canadians.”

We will find out later this month where this case goes. If the judge declares the foreign-buyers tax is illegal, a massive class-action suit is sure to follow. Li’s lawyer did not reply to questions about who has so far been paying for the lawsuit’s substantial costs.

Meanwhile, those of us who continue to value national sovereignty will think of people like Bakan. Even though the liberal-left is often distracted by identity politics related to ethnicity, Bakan says the nation-state remains the key structure to protect the common good of passport holders and permanent residents.

Defenders of sovereignty may also consider Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz, who says globalization will only benefit most members of a nation if it puts strong social-protection measures in place. That includes rules to protect Canadians from out-of-control housing costs.

Source: Douglas Todd: Canadian sovereignty faces challenge over foreign-buyers tax

Gary Mason provides an effective riposte to those house-rich opposing the tax:

…But, hey, let’s not worry about them. They’ll figure it out, I’m sure. Let’s turn our attention to the homeowners in Vancouver whose $3-million-plus abodes face a minor tax hike. Although they can defer it until after they sell, many don’t want to. So, let’s everyone get together and figure out how we can help these poor, poor multimillionaires.

Source: Opinion What about the poor multimillionaire homeowners?

 

Naheed Nenshi’s real work: Calling out Calgary’s racism

Gary Mason on Calgary politics and Naheed Nenshi:

After the most bruising election of his political career, Naheed Nenshi is still a little tender in spots.

Although he won handily, his margin of victory wasn’t as awe-inspiring as in the past. Some of that erosion was to be expected: Any mayor who’s been in office for seven years is bound to rub some constituents the wrong way. But this campaign was also more divisive and personal than any other the Calgary mayor has experienced.

He doesn’t hide the fact that comments made about him, particularly online, were incredibly hurtful.

“Certainly, there was a lot of coded language about me which I found uncomfortable,” he told me while scarfing down Chinese food at his office desk. “When I raised the fact that the level of out-and-out racism and hatred and Islamophobia online was getting out of control, rather than condemning it the local media accused me of playing the race card.”

This he found deeply offensive.

“Saying you’re playing the race card actually means we will tolerate you in our society as long as you never remind us who you are,” he said, a tinge of anger in his voice. “I was surprised that in this day and age you could actually say to someone who calls out racism that it is inappropriate to do so.”

He found racism embedded in coded language. For instance, he would hear people say he’d become “too big for his britches” or that he’d “gotten uppity” – things, he said, people would never say about former prime minister Stephen Harper or the late Jim Prentice. This inherent racism was magnified online through bots and trolls, creating a level of ugliness the mayor had not known before.

Mr. Nenshi believes that racism is a bigger problem in his city than it was seven years ago, when he was first elected. Back then, he did not get the impression voters cared about his ethnicity or faith or the colour of his skin. But statistics show that acts of hatred and Islamophobia are on the rise across the country – and Calgary is no exception, he says.

“Certainly it’s an issue here, but you also see it in Vancouver when conversations about real estate too quickly become conversations about ‘the other,’ ” he said. “You’re seeing it in Quebec with Bill 62, saying it’s better to isolate people in their homes and not let them take a bus than it is to actually welcome these folks into our society.”

This isn’t the first time Mr. Nenshi has spoken out on the matter of race. He made headlines a couple of years ago when he told me he’d been personally “shaken” by the racist nature of the debate over accepting Syrian refugees. But generally he has steered clear of the subject, especially as it has pertained to racist rhetoric aimed at Muslims, like him.

That reluctance, however, is disappearing. The mayor now feels a need to sound an alarm about a phenomenon we are witnessing around the world – and certainly in this country. As Canadians, he told me, we need to think hard about our “polite language around multiculturalism” and whether it’s sufficient to protect the promise of a place where everyone can succeed.

“That is the big focus of our work,” he told me, brushing rice off his shirt. “And that is the core strength of Calgary – certainly more so than our proximity to carbon atoms in the ground.”

Mr. Nenshi now has four more years to champion this cause, and I hope he does. Few speak with as much passion and authority on the subject or can speak from his personal experience. Social media has given those who yearn for a society that existed in the past – who have no room in their hearts for people who may not look like them or speak like them – an unfiltered megaphone.

Still, the mayor has reason to be heartened. Voter turnout in Calgary’s civic election was the highest in 40 years. Citizens were convinced that something significant was at stake – something worth fighting for.

Maybe the kind of city they want to live in.

via Naheed Nenshi’s real work: Calling out Calgary’s racism – The Globe and Mail

Why won’t Trudeau stop real estate scammers? Gary Mason

Builds on earlier article by Douglas Todd (Todd: Tax avoidance behind Metro’s disconnect between housing, income):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting a rough ride for going after doctors and small-business types allegedly exploiting the tax system to their benefit.

Perhaps Mr. Trudeau would get more brownie points pursuing those gaming the real estate sector, people who are leaving a far more critical problem in their wake than anyone sprinkling income to pay a few less dollars in tax.

The latest census information underscored once again the inexplicable divide that exists between average incomes in certain parts of the country and house prices. The median total income for households in Metro Vancouver, for instance, was $72,662 in 2015 – 15th in the country. In the city of Vancouver, it falls to $65,327 – an area in which the average house price is $1.4-million. In neighbouring Richmond, B.C., the average house price is over $1-million and the median total income is a paltry $65,241.

Only when you go further out into the burbs, where house prices are lower, do incomes begin to rise. In Surrey, for instance, the average home price is $764,000 and median total income was $77,494 in 2015, according to the recent census.

In a place such as Calgary, median household income was just under $100,000 and average house price around $460,000 – so there isn’t nearly the disconnect that you see in Vancouver or Greater Toronto, where the average home costs just over $750,000 and median household income was $78,373.

In Metro Vancouver, some of the most expensive areas for housing – Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond – claim some of the highest poverty rates.

Richard Wozny, a real estate analyst with Site Economics, has delved into the numbers in Metro Vancouver. He says that in the world of economics there is something called the median multiple, which is the ratio of income to average house price. So, if you earn $100,000 and the average house price in the city in which you live is $200,000, than the ratio is two to one, or simply two.

A median multiple of three or under is considered affordable; five and over is considered seriously unaffordable. Hong Kong, one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, had a multiple of 19 in 2015, according to a Demographia study. Australia’s Sydney, another city with extreme house prices, had a multiple of 12.

Metro Vancouver’s median multiple exceeds 20, with some municipalities such as the city of Vancouver and West Vancouver in the high 30s. And yet, the median household incomes in some of those same ultra-expensive neighbourhoods fall below the regional average. How do you explain that?

Mr. Wozny says even factoring in the likely percentage of retirees in some of these areas, the numbers make no sense. More likely, some of those buying homes for $1-million, $2-million or $3-million are not reporting their full incomes. We know that, in some cases, wealthy offshore investors are using trusts and numbered companies as well as spouses and children to buy homes while reporting little annual income.

Meantime, people in the “outer burbs” living in homes of less value are reporting more. In other words, there are people of moderate income living in Metro Vancouver who are, through their taxes, paying a greater share of the costs of the regional services and infrastructure that others, making far more income, also enjoy.

Canada has become an Eden for money launderers and tax evaders, allowing many to freeload off of others who can ill afford it. It was disclosed this weekthat since 2015, the Canada Revenue Agency has identified hundreds of millions in taxes owing in real estate transactions. Yet only three cases nationwide have been referred for criminal prosecution.

Mr. Wozny looks at a city like Seattle that has a higher median household income than Vancouver and lower average house prices. He believes part of the reason for that is because the United States has tougher regulations, including taxing worldwide incomes. This helps prevent offshore opportunists from scamming the tax system and pillaging the real estate market to the detriment of honest, hard-working Americans.

It’s ironic that the proposed tax changes that are causing Mr. Trudeau so much grief are supposed to benefit the middle class, that fuzzy demographic the Prime Minister loves to defend.

Yet, that same middle class in parts of this country are getting absolutely hosed by some who are helping to drive up housing prices, reaping the financial rewards from it, but not paying the same costs as everyone else.

It’s not fair. And the government needs to do something about it.

Source: Why won’t Trudeau stop real estate scammers? – The Globe and Mail

New Orleans mayor delivered the reality check America needs: Gary Mason

Mason on Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, and his political courage in arguing for and  taking down Confederate statues:

While far from a household name in the United States, I remember thinking at the time Mr. Landrieu was someone whose political horizon could one day stretch all the way to Washington – although he poo-pooed having any grander ambitions than the job he had.

Recently, however, the New Orleans’s mayor may have unwittingly (or wittingly) launched the journey that could one day take him to the White House. In a stunningly eloquent speech defending the city’s decision to remove four statues honouring Confederate generals and soldiers, Mr. Landrieu reminded Americans why words continue to matter.

It was the kind of soaring oratory that became the foundation of Barack Obama’s historic rise to power. And against the backdrop of the current administration, and the monosyllabic shallowness of President Donald Trump, it stood out even more.

In one memorable line, Mr. Landrieu undermined the notion that statues such as the one glorifying the racist Civil War general Robert E. Lee were necessary to recognize the country’s history. Said Mr. Landrieu: “There are no slave-ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks. …”

He went on: “These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.”

Taking these statues down was not an easy thing to do in a southern city such as New Orleans, where racism remains entrenched. Many residents thought the mayor needed to be worrying more about murder and less about monuments. But he felt it was time the South confronted a deeply painful issue. He thought about what a black mother would tell a young daughter who asked about the metal sculptures and what these men had done to be exalted in this manner.

“Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?” he said in his speech. “Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story?”

It was brilliant.

In the last month, Mr. Landrieu was mentioned in The New York Times as a possible contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2020 – along with the names of many others. But even if this speech doesn’t take him any further than the mayor’s office, it was important.

It was important because it was an exemplary example of a politician taking on a tough issue, knowing the solution will create upset and anguish. But also, elegantly explaining the rationale behind his decision.

Source: New Orleans mayor delivered the reality check America needs – The Globe and Mail

Donald Trump could happen in Canada. It’s already begun. – Macleans.ca

Some good analysis and questions regarding the resilience of Canadian politics to Trump-style politics, focussing on the ugliness in the Alberta PC leadership campaign and the Leitch/Blaney campaign approaches.

Starting with Charlie Gillis:

The question, say experts, is whether support for such ideas could galvanize into a Trump-style movement. Ice-breakers like Blaney and Leitch are exploiting the same rural-urban cultural divide that Trump did in the U.S., acknowledges Clark Banack, a Brock University political scientist who studies populist movements. But the kind of anti-elitist discontent that moves votes is seldom seen in Canada outside the West, Banack notes, and when it arises elsewhere, it tends to be short-lived. “We have sporadic examples of people emerging for a short time around a specific issue,” he says, citing Rob Ford’s rise to the Toronto mayoralty on the strength of working-class, suburban anger. “But overall, Canadian political culture is less susceptible to populism than American political culture.”

Another mitigating factor: the relative absence in Canada of a dispossessed working class in a mood to punish its leaders. David Green, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics, believes Trump’s support base of white men with no college degree would be hard to replicate in this country because the commodities boom sustained Canada’s blue-collar workers, even as the financial crisis crushed the dreams of their counterparts in other countries. Between 2003 and 2015, he notes in a forthcoming paper, mean hourly wages for Americans with a high school education or less fell by six per cent; for the same demographic in Canada, they climbed eight per cent. The effect, he says, was to slow the growth of the economic gap that has fed voter rage in the U.S., the U.K. and parts of Europe. Last year, our top 10 per cent of earners made 8.6 times on average what the bottom 10 per cent pulled in—a ratio that, while high, falls beneath the OECD average and far below the U.S. ratio of 19 to one.

But all that could change, Green warns, if oil prices remain low—especially if the housing market weakens at the same time. The country’s residential construction boom, he notes, has maintained job centres around the country’s large cities, putting more than a few displaced oil patch employees to work. “What do you do with that set of less-than-university-educated guys—the demographic that switched over to Trump?” Green asks. “That’s a potentially worrying connection.”

More so, agrees Banack, if you have a high-minded central government that overlooks their misfortune while pursuing its own pre-occupations. Running against Ottawa, he notes, is a time-tested stratagem for populist movements in Canada, and these days, few national governments are more closely identified with the globalist program of trade, labour mobility and climate-change action than Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Something like Trudeau’s promised national carbon tax, which will be felt keenly in the West, could be enough to trigger a populist insurgency in Alberta, he says, though it’s safe to assume the federal Conservative party would do everything it could to stop such a movement, given the outcome of the Reform party experiment: “Another vote split, and you could forget about a Conservative federal government for another 10 or 15 years.”

Maybe, but experienced political players are no longer sure economic logic and conventional political calculus are in force. Carter, the Alberta strategist, notes that the online communities where so-called “alt-right” voters congregate—Facebook groups, or conspiracy-fuelled sites like Infowars—don’t traffic in that sort of information. In its place: a strain of fanaticism typified by the onslaught that ran Jansen off the PC stage, which Carter believes is sure to spread. “I don’t know if it’s Trump or social media or just belief that they’re correct that gives a sense of permission,” he says. “But this is not normal.”

Gary Mason in the Globe picks up similar themes:

The Premier and her party are now sitting at 14 per cent in the polls. The party receiving the most support in recent public opinion surveys is the Progressive Conservatives, the same entity Mr. Kenney plans to destroy if he wins the leadership. He wants to build a new political organization that Wildrose members will feel comfortable joining as part of an overarching bid to unify conservative forces in the province.

Either way, Alberta seems to be preparing to make an ideological course correction.

There’s little doubt the rise of Donald Trump has emboldened many in the province. One of those would appear to be Derek Fildebrandt, a Wildrose MLA and one of the most powerful conservative voices in Alberta.

He has little patience for the likes of Ms. Jansen and others complaining about online trolls and provocateurs. “Hypersensitive, politically correct, victim-as-virtue culture is creating a leadership class of wimps,” he wrote in a tweet that could have been sent out by The Donald himself. “People are sick of it.”

After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Fildebrandt tweeted: “The biggest lesson that we should learn from the election of Trump: smug, condescending political correctness will spark a backlash.”

I’m not sure what is happening in Alberta, but on almost any level it’s not good. Trump-style politics could well be making its way north of the border. At the end of the day, however, society gets the politicians it deserves.

Source: Not so progressive: Trump-style politics seep into Alberta

Plenty of blame to go round in real estate crisis: Mason

The (valid) criticism of governments continues.

But at least, the planned StatsCan study will illustrate the extent to which (mainly Chinese) immigration has contributed to increased housing prices:

The B.C. government recently vowed to crack down on real estate agents involved in nefarious practices such as shadow flipping that help to drive up prices. But this is a small measure that will do absolutely nothing to improve affordability. Its primary purpose is to improve optics: Look, everyone, Premier Christy Clark is finally doing something about this mess. The Premier also asked B.C. Housing to look at the impact of foreign investment in the market.

In this week’s federal budget, meanwhile, $500,000 was set aside to help Statistics Canada determine the best way to collect data on international buyers.

It would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

Others, meanwhile, aren’t waiting. This week, two economists from the National Bank produced a study showing as many as one-third of house purchasers in Metro Vancouver last year were from China. But perhaps the most interesting numbers to be revealed lately concern the impact that the immigrant-investor program – both the one run for years by Ottawa (and terminated in 2014) and another that still exists in Quebec – has had on the real estate madness we are witnessing.

Under the program, immigrants can come to Canada in exchange for $800,000, up front, that serves as a five-year loan to the government. The report, brought to light by Ian Young of the South China Morning Post, reveals how completely porous and unaccountable the immigrant-investor system has been. Truly awful might be another way to describe it.

For example, after 10 years the average annual income tax paid by these millionaire migrant investors is $1,400. That compares with $7,500 for the average Canadian. The report notes that after five years, many of these investors have secured Canadian citizenship and returned to their home country.

Quebec accepts about 1,750 such applications annually. After handing over their $800,000, most move to Vancouver and buy real estate. The vast majority of all who have taken advantage of these programs over the years have ended up in British Columbia (by one estimate, nearly 200,000).

Those who have come to Canada acknowledged to federal researchers that their primary motivation for obtaining citizenship was as a hedge against political or economic upheaval occurring in their home country.

The federal government has known about the impact the investor pipeline was having on things such as real estate and didn’t care. It was more than pleased to sell Canadian citizenship to the wealthy. The B.C. government, meanwhile, is only too happy to take rich immigrants through the investor back door that continues to be provided by Quebec. It doesn’t care that it isn’t seeing any of the loan money that immigrant investors have to pay; it is making tens of millions from the insane escalation in real estate prices these immigrants have set off.

Canadians should be furious that their governments allowed this to happen. Now all that these same governments can do is introduce lame measures that will have no meaningful impact on housing prices, but rather are designed to show that government is on the problem!

Except they’re not. And never have been. And hopefully history will judge them harshly for that.

Source: Plenty of blame to go round in real estate crisis – The Globe and Mail