When it comes to Vancouver's housing crisis we can all agree that there is a problem but it's harder to think of a solution. One of the problems that we all seem to be able to identify is the influence of global capital and real estate speculation on housing prices.
Some have called to ban foreign ownership. Today, BC Premier John Horgan ruled this option out saying, "British Columbia is the gateway to Canada and I don't believe we should be curbing people coming here. I'm the child of an immigrant, virtually everyone I see here is the child of an immigrant."
I'm a bit confused by this argument because global capital flows are not immigration. The problems with people from far away places buying properties they don't live in isn't the same as immigration. If I were to design a policy regulating foreign ownership I would make it so that residents, which includes immigrants would be able to buy property.
The difference between immigrants and global real estate speculation is that immigrants actually live here. They migrate to Canada. What they probably find is that Canada's two largest cities are rampantly unaffordable and that the routes to success taken by previous generations of immigrants are closed off to them.
The problem isn't immigrants, people who come and live in Canada, buying housing. It's people who don't live in Canada buying housing. It's those who wish to treat our housing markets as places to park capital and make money making it so that people who do live here can't survive.
So why are we equating immigrants and being an inclusive place with welcoming an endless free-flow of speculative global investment?
If we really want to be an inclusive place where immigrants and the children of immigrants can make it then we have to be a place where people can afford to live. Immigrants are as much a victim of the housing crisis as anyone else. Imagine how hard it is for new immigrants and refugees to build lives in Canada when the cost of housing is so out of reach. For us to be an inclusive place we need to be a place with housing people can actually afford.
So why is regulating foreign capital flows somehow pegged to being an inclusive society? It beats me. It's not possible for an airline to be majority foreign owned in Canada but our housing market is up for grabs? That doesn't make any sense.
Now, back to the children of immigrants. I know quite a few first-generation Canadians. Their parents came here for freedom or opportunity or because of the idea of this place that we project into the world. Parents dream of giving their kids a better life. Sadly, for most of my friends that life doesn't include being able to own or afford housing. I don't know a single first generation Canadian who can afford a one-bedroom condo in Vancouver. Not one. So what was Horgan saying about the children of immigrants and the promise of opportunity in Canada?
There are many models for how we can regulate foreign investment in Canada's real estate. Switzerland offers a compelling model.
Global capital flows are not immigrants. They are very different. Immigrants are people, people who actually live in Canada, people who are being crushed by the housing crisis just like the rest of us. Global capital flows are money. Until we decide that people matter more than money we will not be an inclusive place for anyone, immigrants and children of immigrants included.