edited by Stanley Lee
interviewed by Stanley Lee and Yi Fang
We previously revealed two icebergs with our interview with David Eby. Now that the election is heading into the final week, we may as well release the full interview today.
Before we get to the interview, here are links relevant to his campaign shall you be interested:
Neway Opinion: Many people in the Chinese community feel that the NDP is anti-business. They don’t trust the party on the economy. How do you respond to that?
David Eby: Well I think the big problem that the NDP has had is communicating our values and what we stand for, so what we stand for is what’s good for people in our province. And so generally that has been things like supporting small business, making sure that the resources we have in the province go to building up jobs and communities whether it’s logging or mining, making sure that people in British Columbia have the education they need, whether it’s university or college to access the jobs of the future. If they think that we’re not pro-business in the sense that everything we do is to satisfy big business, major political donors, that’s true. We make decisions that we think are best for British Columbia, and unlike the BC Liberals, we don’t put the interests of our major donors first.
NO: Okay. Can you interpret your position on the housing crisis?
NO: Especially on whether foreign buyers is the dominant factor causing this crisis? Because the other difference that was happening already, that was happening in Metro Vancouver area –
DE: Yes, or in Canada.
NO: Yeah, or in British Columbia in general because your riding is close to UBC. It’s a very nice place. Maybe foreign buyers would love to invest here, but for other places just like let’s say the condo market, apartment market, is it really because of foreign buyers or it’s actually because of domestic demand because the demand is just too high?
DE: I think it’s a really good question. No, again. That is a really good question. This is a really big province, and in most communities in the province, there is some kind of aspect of the housing crisis. There’s a housing crisis in Kamloops. There’s a record number of youth living on the street, who are selling sex in order to be able to get shelter, in order to be able to have money for a place to live. In Prince George, there’s a record number of homeless shelters in the woods around Prince George. In Kelowna, the premier’s own riding, vacancy rates are less than 1 percent. People can’t find rental housing in Kelowna even.
And so clearly the issue is bigger than speculation in our housing market and investors using housing as a place to store money instead of as a place to live, so in Metro Vancouver, I think that’s a very real issue. There’s a lot of talk about Laurence Fink, who is the American head of the largest investment firm in the world, manages $4.3 trillion, who told the world’s investors, “Buy condos in Vancouver. It’s a better investment than gold, or oil, or any of these investments.” So that’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about investors who have huge amounts of money, who are buying these places just as investments. And that’s mostly concentrated in Metro Vancouver.
But the issue across the province is the same in this respect. The government has failed to build affordable housing supply, and the government used to build that kind of housing. The federal government used to subsidize the construction of rental housing. That’s how the West End of Vancouver got built, all that rental housing. The government used to use public land to build mixed income communities. The area around Granville Island is beautiful, lots of mixed-income communities there – high, medium, and low income. They haven’t done that for a long time.
We’ve been living on those old programs and the housing that was built on those old programs for about 20 years because they stopped doing it in the ‘90s, and now there’s just not enough of it anymore. People saw this crisis coming and they said, “Government needs to get involved,” and neither the federal government nor the provincial government responded. When you look at other places that are very desirable places to live, with a fixed land base like Metro Vancouver, government is very involved in making sure there is something called workforce housing, which is housing for the middle class.
If you look at Hong Kong, you look at Singapore, look at anywhere around the world, even New York, where government is involved in making sure that there is housing for people who help run the economy. But for some reason here in Canada and in British Columbia, the government didn’t feel that there is that need, so there’s definitely an issue in Metro Vancouver of the international money, no question. But beyond that, across the whole province, there’s a supply issue. The supply issue isn’t just build housing. The supply issue is the supply of affordable housing.
NO: Okay. Given Vancouver’s growing reputation as an international city, it’s attracting a lot of immigrants and people to move here.
NO: We’ve talked to a lot of new Chinese immigrants and given that they don’t know the stock market, the small business market here that well, a lot of times the only investment options that they know of is real estate.
NO: That’s why if the speculation market need to be clamped down or were to be tackled, what kind of investment options do they have? Do you think there is a structural and economic problem here? It’s just naturally easier to just put money in the housing market.
NO: And also it’s a bit of a cultural intricacies. The key question is that is because of our economic structure here in British Columbia is just too narrow? This might be the reason why the money just go to one direction instead of another.
DE: When I met with my constituents especially in the University Neighborhoods Association around UBC and sat down with new arrivals to British Columbia, I said, “All of the issues that you see on arrival, what are the concerns that you have?”
There were two issues. One was we can’t find family doctors. The other was we would like to start businesses. We’d like to start a restaurant or we’d like to invest in technology, or we’d like to…how do we do that? And it was all through translators that was explained to me, so there was a language barrier. As we got into the detail, it became really clear that if you want to start a business or if you want to invest in British Columbia for people arriving here, one of the things that they realized very quickly was that the rules are very different. There seemed like there are a lot of rules that makes it really difficult to open a business and also that the rules are all in English. Anyone who was going to explain to you how to open a business, they only speak English, so there was this big gap between what they wanted to do and where they were, and the gap was language and culture and understanding of the rules.
What I did was I started calling around, so I called UBC. UBC has a technology development arm where professors and graduate students develop new technologies and they look for investors to help push those technologies forward. I said, “Will you come and present to people in my constituency about the investment opportunities that might be there for them?”
They said, “No. We only present to very sophisticated investors.”
Then I went to the City of Vancouver. They have an economic development arm that is supposed to encourage investment in the city. And I said, “Will you come and will you present to my constituents about how they can open businesses and invest in the City of Vancouver?”
They said, “Yes. We probably can,” but it turned out to be a big deal, and at the end of the day no one was able to come and present. There is definitely a gap between the people, who want to put money into our economy in different ways as investments, which is really positive and the kind of investments they want to play.
I agree with you 100 percent that as a result people are investing in houses because you don’t need a lot of language to understand buying real estate. You don’t need a lot of language skills to understand how the multiple listings work. In fact, it’s all translated anyway in many cases. We need that kind of ease of access for different areas of our economy to help people direct their money into areas that are going to help create a lot of jobs and opportunity in British Columbia. I think it’s a big problem that we haven’t leveraged that opportunity in our province.
NO: Yeah. When we talk to these people, we get the feeling that I mean they love it. They want to stay here and contribute to the economy. But the market is small. They don’t understand the market enough, and when they read the media, they see themselves getting attacked for buying up the properties.
NO: That’s how we think how they feel. Let’s move to you view this housing crisis.
NO: The foreign buyers tax, now the BC Liberals last year, they slapped on a 15 percent foreign buyers tax. Now not too long ago, we were aware that your party has proposed some amendments as part of your election platform.
NO: [NDP is] going to slap on a retroactive 2 percent something like annual tax for anyone who’s not paying community income tax here. I don’t know if there is some confusion, but there were reports that the NDP was going to cancel that one-time 15 percent foreign-buyers tax like in favor of the new system, but now it doesn’t sound like you guys are going to get rid of it. Can you please clarify what is your party’s position on this situation?
DE: One of the problems with the tax and our proposals around it is that they’re complicated, and so when you try to explain it foreigners, confusion can show up. Unfortunately that happened with one of the stories, the idea that we would be putting a retroactive tax in place is totally false, not true. We never said that we were going to put in a retroactive tax. There’s not a single vote, or recording, or anything anywhere that says that.
The only retroactive tax we’ve seen in British Columbia was the initial introduction of the foreign-buyers tax when it was introduced when people were in the middle of transactions. They didn’t know about it and haven’t closed their deals yet, suddenly found out that they were going to have to pay this extra tax, and many people had to pay tens of thousands of dollars, and so they didn’t expect to have this tax. It hurt a lot of people and we really disagreed with that. That’s why I was very upset when this idea that we would bring a retroactive tax because I really disagreed with it and the Liberals did that.
Now what we propose is, and it is not a foreign buyers tax. It’s not targeted at people based on what their passport is, this is a tax where if you’re not paying income tax in British Columbia, you’re not paying your local income tax here, then you have to contribute an additional 2 percent on your property tax each year. That 2 percent is to fund the public services – the hospitals, schools, environmental controls, all the things, the parks, all the things that make the property go up in value. Because everybody else is paying income tax and if you’re using housing as an investment but not paying tax here, it’s only fair that you have to contribute as well.
The foreign-buyers tax as it stands, we have no plans to get rid of the foreign buyer tax that the Liberals introduced. But we do plan always to make sure that it’s not taxing anybody that’s living, working, and paying taxes in British Columbia because we’re still not convinced that’s the case. When they introduced the tax, they said, “We’re going to tax everybody no matter what they are doing based on their passports.”
We said, “That seems really unfair. There are a lot of people who have a foreign passport who are living, working, and paying taxes in British Columbia and Metro Vancouver. Why are you taxing those people? With this foreign-buyers tax, the only thing foreign about these people is the passport that they hold. They are residents here, and they are living, working, and paying taxes here. They had to go back and fix the tax.” I still don’t think they’re quite done. We would fix the tax to make sure that nobody who is living, working, and paying taxes here has to pay the tax.
NO: What else do you think they have to fix the 15 percent foreign-buyers tax?
DE: That’s what they haven’t fixed. I don’t think any of these taxes should apply to people who are living, working, and paying taxes here regardless of what passports they hold. That’s really important to me because we need to attract skilled immigrants from around the world to come and work here. Everybody recognizes that we have – well not everybody ‑ most people recognize we have to do that, and in order to do that, you don’t attract people to come and work here, and contribute to our community by putting extra taxes on them because of what passport they hold. We need to make sure that works properly.
NO: Given that you were the face who exposed most of the foreign buyers, who may not necessarily be ethnically Chinese, do you feel that there’s an added strain between your party and the Chinese community here? Are you concerned about your image within the Chinese community?
DE: One of the things that I’ve been really clear about was that I made a mistake in my research that I was doing around international buyers in our housing market, and that was I released a list of names of people who are buying with no apparent source of income for buying the million-dollar homes that they were buying. They were students, or homemakers, or had no source of income that was obvious to how they paid for the house. I said, “This is strange. How are people getting money to buy a house if they were a student or a homemaker?” The problem was, on that list of names, the majority of the names were clearly Chinese names. I said to the reporters, “Please, don’t focus on the fact that these are Chinese names. The issue is, where is the money coming from into our housing market.”
Unfortunately, one reporter with the Vancouver Sun decided to run with the story saying that the majority of the names were Chinese, even though I had told them many times that I didn’t think that was relevant to the tax issue. What I should have done is to black out the names, and that was my mistake and I should have done it. I was very concerned after that came out that it affected my relationship with the Chinese community to the point where I actually went to OMNI TV to meet with Ding Guo to apologize for releasing those names and to say that that was certainly not my intention our research to be used in that way.
Yeah. I was very concerned about that. The good news though is that I think my relationship is better with the Chinese community now after that, still not 100 percent. I still have a lot of work to do, but our party’s relationship with the Chinese community, expat community has never been as strong as it right now. We have amazing candidates. We have James Wang. We have Chak Au running for us in South Vancouver and Richmond. Lyren is running for us in Richmond as well. We have Anne Kang and Katrina Chen running in Burnaby. We have Taiwanese expats. We have Hong Kong expats. We have Mainland China expats running with our party because they believe in the values of the NDP and understand what we’re trying to do, and so I think that’s really important.
NO: I actually have a breaking news question. When I came here, I don’t even know if you’re ready for this, the BC Liberals have announced that they’re going to match the 40 percent contribution to the Broadway subway and the LRT lines.
NO: Do you feel like your party has lost your advantage in terms of political positioning in this election in this platform?
DE: One of the things that frustrates me as we were pushing the BC Liberals more than a year ago to make this minute, and the reason we wanted to do it more than a year ago was the federal government was preparing their budget, and we wanted the federal government to know that they have a partner in British Columbia that was going to come up with the funding for these projects, so BC Liberals waited, waited, and waited. The federal government prepared their budget. They released their budget and then asked less funding that we were expecting. They were supposed to announce 50 percent funding; they announced 40 percent. They spread it over a longer period of time, so it was bad news for British Columbia.
I think if they knew this announcement that was made today, that they knew it a year ago, they would have been at the table with 50 percent because they knew the project was way ahead. They would have committed more money to it because they knew for certain that if they committed the money that the project would go ahead. They left all this uncertainty, and the feds said, “Okay, we’ll meet 40 percent over 11 years. It’s a long period of time. It’s not as much money as we thought they were going to have.”
The problem I think is that they didn’t believe that they have partners. For the Liberals to save this announcement until right before the election, I think that is some political advantage, but for the people, who actually want rapid transit in Vancouver and Surrey, it probably cost them 10 percent of the project’s federal money. Now we have to come up with 20 percent from the city. It’s 20 percent of the project, which means additional taxes, additional costs money for people who live in the area instead of from federal government. It’s very disappointing that they’re playing politics with money in this way. I don’t understand why they weren’t more upfront. If this was their plan the whole time, why didn’t they say it in the beginning before the feds released their budget, so the federal government knew that they have partners.
NO: Do you think that voters are like they’re paying enough attention to this to figure that out? Do you think that might not be because they are overwhelmed with something else?
DE: Yeah, it’s hard to know. There’s a group of people who are getting a lot of attention, and they’ve made up their minds in the election about how they’re going to vote. But there’s a group of people, it’s a big group, it’s about 30 percent of people, who had paid attention and they got their mind how they want to vote. Based on what they’re saying, the Liberals know this. That’s why they’re spending all this money on public advertising on TV, paid for by tax dollars, right before the election. That’s why they are making all these funny announcements right before the election. I hope that people are able to see through this if they’ve been sitting on overcrowded transit, watching buses pass by them overloaded, sitting in traffic because people have to drive because there’s no transit. I hope that people are able to say, “You had 4 years to solve this problem, and you didn’t do anything. Now before the election, you say you’re going to solve it if we elect you next time. Give me a break.”
NO: That’s actually leading to our next question, though. Given the history of British Columbia that it’s either the BC Liberals or the Social Credit who are in power, do you feel like there is a one-party dynasty in BC, considering that the Liberals have won 4 straight elections already?
If we look at British Columbia history, it’s structurally more right wing. The people tend to get NDP governments because of situation occurring rather than a real 50-50 battle with the Liberals.
DE: Well, one of the things that I look at is the recent election in Alberta. When I look at Alberta power dynasty, it’s like 40 years of Conservative Party in Alberta.
NO: It is 40 years of Social Credit before then.
DE: Yeah, yeah. I mean like in that case is a very conservative government in the most conservative province in Canada, and the NDP was elected to the regional government there. I think that if people decide they’re ready for change, they will go for change. There’s the political reality in BC that because of the name of the BC Liberal Party, I think that too many people who vote fairly liberal think that the BC Liberals are the same, and they’re not. They’re different. They are made up of the conservatives and the right wing of the Federal Liberal Party, but a lot of federal liberals vote for us.
NO: Apparently they are playing this game right now and they are very good at it. They are getting Justin Trudeau to help promote their campaign.
DE: We have a problem, too, which is the Green Party. On our side, we split a lot of vote with the Green Party for people who are concerned about environmental values, about democratic values, about big donors’ big money in politics might vote Green because they think that that’s the best way to address these issues. And so we’re losing those voters to the Green Party on the other side, so we’re splitting our vote.
I think that when you look in the province at the number of people opposed to the government, it’s over half, but the problem is they can’t agree on which party to vote for to get rid of the government, and that’s the problem for us. It’s something Liberals use very aggressively. They support the Green Party every chance they get because they know that a strong Green Party means a weaker NDP, and the more likely that the Liberals are going to win. It’s political games. But I think at the end of the day and I hope at the end of the day like in Alberta, like in the federal elections and so on, people are going tosee through this and vote they see to vote…
NO: You don’t think that voters are apathetic to the campaign financing situation, given that even with the perception that the BC Liberals are likely doing it again?
DE: Yeah. I think there is a perception out there about the BC Liberals are going to win, the NDP is the underdog. We remember the last election when the perception was that the NDP was going to win and that the BC Liberals were the underdog, it’s about that group of people we’re talking about are going to make up their mind right before. They’re going to look at the BC Liberals are going to see a party whose executive director is facing criminal charges in Ontario, that the RCMP is currently investigating and a special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate in relation to political donations that has three BC housing deals with major BC Liberal donors that are very questionable low interest loans and they can say, “What is going on here?” And my hope is that they look at the BC NDP as the alternative to this government.
NO: Okay, last two questions. Let’s move back to the Chinese community a little bit and might not be related to the election, but just need some of your wisdom. We spoke to many managers in the community. They feel there’s a bit of Sinophobia sentiment going on in the society maybe due to different factors. Maybe because China is rising, so psychologically, the Western-centric balance is crumbling. We don’t know. Maybe it’s because the newcomers, they are economically more wealthy than the previous generations. Some of them do admit that. Some of their own behavior are not good enough.
What would you suggest be done? They want to be a part of this society, they want to make peace, but it seems that the media is not that friendly and then also tough, harsh words they’re getting from politicians. What’s going on here? Is this because of a media problem they want to get fixed? Is there something going on with the society? Is there anything that they should do that can make the whole situation better? I don’t know if I asked you that.
DE: Yeah, it’s a good question. One of the things that I think is happening across North America is a rise in far-right wing ideology and racism, with the United States where the president is unwilling to condemn the Ku-Klux Klan head, who endorsed him. He had this head racist was a bad guy. He’s the president of the United States. He surrounds himself with far-right activists. It’s very worrying if you’re not a white person in the United States right now. It must be terrifying.
Then you look at Canada where our own Conservative Party is running a leadership contest and people are saying some hateful and racist things in the Conservative Party running for the leadership of that party, a party that under Harper there were lots of criticisms to make. But you could say at least they were doing outreach and more engaging with new arrival communities, and so it’s happening in Canada too.
Then in Alberta, the rise of Rebel Media and connections between their journalists and the far right, this is all very concerning to me and to many people in British Columbia. They’ve actually…all these things. We need a couple of things. One is we need a very strong human rights commission to crack down on racism when it happens, whether it’s someone on the job, or housing, or discriminated against in some way. We are hoping that we send a message that there’s no tolerance for that kind of behavior in British Columbia.
The second thing is we need all politicians to be really clear about our welcoming and our strength in British Columbia as welcoming people from around the world.
The third thing we need to do is make sure that people have an understanding of fairness because the core of this Sinophobia, which really exists. When I spoke out on international money at the housing market, I got some of the most horrific emails in my office that were very racist. At the core of it I think is this increasing sense that people have in the province that they have less money, that there are fewer jobs, the jobs they have are not as good, and then when they look at representations in the media of certain people in the Chinese community, they see very wealthy people. Then they say, “Well, here’s the reason why I’m so poor. The Chinese people are so rich and that’s why I’m so poor.”
NO: But the other question is that, “What’s wrong with being rich?”
DE: Yeah. We have a very unequal society in some respects in British Columbia, one of the most unequal provinces of all the provinces in Canada, and so one of the problems that we face in BC, that gap between the richest and the poorest, is that as people get more poor and more desperate, the angrier they get out about their situation, so we need to do what we can to close that gap, to bring people who are lower income up higher.
NO: Yeah, definitely the problem – sorry for the interruption.
DE: No, no.
NO: The biggest problem is an unequal society is the problem.
NO: But for an individual to be rich –
NO: I mean for an individual to participate in society in order to become rich, I don’t think there’s any problem with that.
NO: Of course, because he’s not a politician. He’s not a leader. He doesn’t have the responsibility to make in society.
DE: Yes. I should point out there are many very wealthy people who give back so much to our community. They give to foundations that build hospitals. They give to foundations for charities. They do amazing work in our community, so I agree with you that it’s not fair. I’m just trying to explain to you what is driving this and how we can address it. I think that if we can ensure that people understand that we have a system in place where everybody pays their fair share, where everybody has an opportunity to become rich, they have a chance for education and a chance for a decent job, then I think we can address some of this, so human rights laws, government sending a positive message of welcome, and giving everybody opportunity to be able to move up a level in society, I think this will really address that.
NO: Can you say that if Sinophobia movement or whatever it is sentiment, going forward, you want to fight against it?
DE: Absolutely, and one of the things that’s remarkable to me in doing research about this is how often this is repeated throughout the history of British Columbia.
NO: Yeah, even in the 1980s.
DE: The exact same authority, even in the 1800s. The history of British Columbia is one of racism and discrimination against First Nations, against people of Asian descent, Japanese, Chinese, and I hope it’s our generation that can fix that.
NO: The very last question. It’s about young people.
NO: You mentioned about Donald Trump being the president of the United States.
NO: The question is about is why should young people participate in politics when this generation is kind of very skeptical not just about not giving the results at once, but even about liberal democracy. I have a friend. He goes to UC Berkeley. He’s a Chinese Canadian. After Trump got elected, he’s like, “I’m done with liberal democracy.” Even though he’s a polisci major. What do you want to say to these students why in this era, you still need to…you should participate in politics, even though because some of them they feel that nothing is going to change or Trump getting elected?
DE: Yes. Right.
NO: What’s going on? What’s your message to you today to this young generation, young Millennial, even the generation after the Millennial, who really knows why should they still have a face in the system.
Especially with the international rise of authoritarian regimes and economic movement?
DE: Yeah, yeah. One of the things that I always tell the young people I am speaking to in this, I encourage them to get involved in politics. I don’t say what party or anything. I ask a lot of them to be involved in politics. The problem that we have is the system where when it gets worse, and worse, and worse, we’re like, “I can’t be involved. I don’t want to be there. The people involved are terrible. The parties involved are terrible. I don’t agree with them. They’re all corrupt. They’re all broken.”
The problem is when people pull away like that, then it just leaves the bad actors, and politics is so powerful. The power of our political system and the system, it can lead to change people’s lives for better or for worse, to change communities for better or worse is profound. It’s huge, and so if only bad people are left, who are giving money to their friends and then pat each other on the back and promoting racist policies and doing whatever they need to do get elected, then they have all the power and so we need to be involved to take that power back. It’s critically important that good people in all parties are involved to do that because otherwise you can see what happens very quickly. People take it for granted. They don’t vote. You know they think that it’s not going to make a difference, so only when Donald Trump gets elected.
NO: I guess do you see –
DE: Voter –
NO: Do you see this symptomatic problem of people wanting governments to be run like businesses versus more public participation or?
DE: I guess it depends on what you mean by running government as a business. In the sense of running governments as a business, in the sense that your community members are the shareholders and you want to ensure the best possible outcomes out of your shareholders, then that’s not a problem with that idea. But if you mean running it like a business like closed-door, do whatever it takes to win, make as promises as possible, then yeah this is going to be a problem with that. When you look at Wall Street, which is run like a business and they run all these junk securities and then bankrupted people across the United States, no I don’t want anything like like that.
NO: No. Just a quick follow up. It is a bit philosophical. Do you think it is it because parties change people like politicians do have a bad name. Let’s be honest.
NO: Is it because of the nature of the system? For example, it’s a marketing game every 4 years. We have to wait. People’s attention spans is very short.
NO: You have to be the salesperson rather than talking about all the details, policies, etc., etc. you have to wait. The system making you the politician’s people, people will see or is it because of bad people in politics? What’s your ‑
DE: Both. There are people who are in politics simply for holding on to power and for advancing between their friends and themselves and there are lots of really good people in politics. This isn’t particular to any party. It’s just something that has happened all throughout Canadian history. I do think that there are problems with the system that encourage corruption, so one of those problems is unlimited political donations that encourages corruption and makes people make bad decisions for the wrong reasons.
I think that there is another problem with politics in that there is no training for politicians to be able to reach out to their communities, to know how to do that. I was fortunate before I was elected, I had a career of working in communities, holding committee meetings, building up communities together to be able to achieve a certain policy for all, but if you just run a business or if you are just like a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, or whatever, you come in and you have no idea how to talk to your community, how to build that up in the community. We need training so that politicians are able to go out in their community and actually talk to people and hold meetings.
Otherwise if you don’t have that community base as a politician, maybe you’re very dependent on the power brokers and the party to make decisions for you because they’re the ones who chose you, they’re the ones who got you the donations to get elected, they’re the ones who helped you get elected and gave you the advertising and so on, and you weren’t able to make decisions that benefit your community. You have no independent standing of your party. That’s really important that people are able to stand on their own feet.
NO: Okay. Thank you again.
DE: Okay, Thanks very much, guys.