The Hongcouver

Does Vancouver’s mayor blame migrants for high home prices? Depends who’s asking

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 9:11am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:52am

The very first Hongcouver blog, way back in November, was devoted to comments by Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, who had told the South China Morning Post on a visit to Hong Kong that concerns about rich Chinese immigrants pushing up prices in his city were “ridiculous”. 

But it seems that Robertson might have been tailoring his message to his audience.

I’ve been pointed in the direction of Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd’s excellent blog, The Search. Todd writes for the city’s leading newspaper on spirituality issues, as well as matters of diversity and the impact of migration. But rarely do the subject streams intersect so perfectly as in this 2011 piece.

Todd reports on an August 2011 public dialogue involving Robertson, environmentalist David Suzuki and prominent Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who was visiting the city for an “Open Mind Open Heart” retreat.

In part of the discussion, Robertson seems to contradict his Hong Kong observation. Instead, he describes his fears that his children are facing a city that is “not affordable”, thanks to an influx of people “who come with money”.

Is Robertson talking about rich migrants, who are overwhelmingly mainland Chinese, who have been pouring into Vancouver? It’s hard to think who else he might have in mind. In the past eight years, 36,892 investor migrants have moved to British Columbia. In 2012, 76 per cent of such arrivals were from mainland China. Investor migrants must be worth a minimum of C$1.6 million, and be willing to hand over a C$800,000 interest-free loan to the Canadian government for five years.

The 2011 discussion with Robertson covered a range of issues, but spent some time on the issue of sustainability and Robertson’s admirable goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world.

Nhat Hanh describes the importance of community building “to live in such a way that it can become a message” and his hope that cities can become communities that give visitors confidence for the future.

Robertson responds by telling how Vancouver has coped with “15 years of significant population growth and economic growth” while managing the significant feat of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent. “I think there’s a lot of hope in that and certainly for generations to come,” Robertson says.

Then he adds: “The converse is that it becomes a very desirable city, and it’s a beautiful place. People from all over the world come here for the beauty and the sense of community and that it’s a city that embraces these changes. And that creates challenges for my kids and the next generations to live here. It’s not affordable to live here now. People come with money and they want to be part of this and that makes it difficult, so it’s creating other challenges for us.”

The entire dialogue can be seen here , with Robertson’s remarks coming in the 48th minute.

The serene Nhat Hanh responds to Robertson’s remarks on wealthy newcomers by saying “there is a feeling of guilt from the people who are wealthy, who are getting rich. Many owners of big business[es], they make a lot of money and they know that they are doing damage, damage to the environment. So that feeling of guilt, they cannot escape.”

Is Vancouver’s sky-high housing market such an environment? Perhaps, though it’s rather doubtful that Master Nhat Hanh was even aware of Chinese investor immigrants or their impact on the city when he made this observation.

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70