Jean Swanson: Why I'm hoping COPE will nominate me to seek reelection to Vancouver city council

Jean Swanson
COPE's Jean Swanson isn't planning on being a one-term member of Vancouver city council.

Jan. 13, 2022

This is a written version of a speech that COPE councillor Jean Swanson delivered in a January 13 Zoom call to party supporters and various media people: 

“I’ve been pondering for a while. Should I retire, or should I keep working for housing, renter protections, ending homelessness, racial and Indigenous justice, climate action, and supporting working and low-income folks in the city?


"Now I’ve decided. Basically these things are too important to me to stop working on them, so I’m gonna see if COPE will nominate me for council again. 

"I just want to say a few words about some important issues that we desperately need a majority of council to work on fiercely:

"One is affordable rents. In December this city council agreed to implement vacancy control in SROs. This is a huge victory that will protect thousands of tenants from being evicted, slow the loss of low-income housing, and prevent homelessness.

"It means SRO landlords can’t raise rents as much as they like when tenants leave or are pushed out. It’s a huge problem in the DTES, where rents can go up by hundreds of dollars a month when tenants leave, and the rooms are no longer available for low-income folks so homelessness can increase.  

"It’s also a huge problem in the rest of the city. According to CMHC, rents in apartments that are for rent are 20 percent higher than in apartments that are rented. So in an apartment that has a reasonable rent, especially if it has a long-term tenant in it, if that tenant dies, leaves, gets renovicted, or bought out, then the rent goes up by hundreds of dollars a month on average.

"CMHC also says the turnover rate in apartments in 2020 was about 11 percent. So this means rents escalate in about 11 percent of apartments per year in Vancouver. It would cost governments billions to replace the affordability that we lose in these apartments by building new social housing—billions of dollars! 

"Fortunately, for very little money, we could expand the vacancy control we now have in SROs to all or most apartments in Vancouver, and stop this loss of affordability. I’m wanting to be part of a new city council that will do this and protect affordability for renters.

"Three-and-a-half years ago, during the election campaign, I campaigned on trying to get a mansion tax where mansions worth over $5M would be taxed at a higher rate than cheaper housing. We could use the money from this tax to build housing for people who are homeless and, when we had enough, we could start using it for housing that really is affordable for the median renter household that makes about $50K per year.

"To get a mansion tax, the province has to change the Vancouver Charter. 

"Since I’ve been on council, I’ve learned how absolutely unfair and unethical it is, really, for an entire level of government to not have the ability to levy fair or progressive taxes. In December, city staff sent councillors a memo outlining over $350 million in services and facilities that the city provided in one year that were downloaded from provincial and federal governments.

"For the city to pay for these services, under the current property tax system, we have to tax Chip Wilson and Amazon and Walmart at the same rate that we tax a $400,000 condo owner or a small coffee shop owner. That’s not fair.

"While workers are struggling with COVID and layoffs, people who own property get richer by doing virtually nothing. And it means the city doesn’t have the revenue it needs to do what needs to be done.

"I want to be part of a council that gets this power and starts levying fair taxes, so we can get the revenue we need to actually meet the city’s needs. When we live in a country that has billionaires, homelessness is both a disgrace and unnecessary.

"A city survey showed that over 70 percent of residents feel the city should invest more in homeless services, affordable housing, and dealing with poverty, mental health, and addictions. I think ending homelessness must be a priority of any council. I’m not afraid to say ‘ending’ either. I think virtually everyone can be housed if we have the political will.    

"Poison drugs are killing over six precious people a day in our province, more than COVID is killing. Almost every family knows someone who is affected, or has a lost loved one. This is another issue where senior levels of government need to act, but where the city can lead.

"I support working with people who use drugs and their organizations, along with Vancouver Coastal Health, to open up compassion clubs where people can be assured that the drugs they get are not poison. I’d like to be part of a council that works on this more proactively.

"Two Julys ago, council passed my resolution to replace police with community-led services in the four areas of homelessness, sex work, drug use, and mental health. City staff is working on this but the work is slow. I want to be around to make sure this resolution is actually implemented and doesn’t die of neglect. 

"We are all living on Indigenous land that belongs to the host Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations. I want to be part of working with them to implement their economic, social, cultural, and land rights in the city, and to end the racism they face.

"I also want to be part of making sure that Vancouver does its part to reduce greenhouse gases and prepare for climate change, and to do this in a way that doesn’t hurt those who can least afford to pay. COVID, the heat dome, and the atmospheric rivers have all shown us that we can’t keep doing things the same old way.

"Essential workers who provide health care and education, who grow, process, and sell our food, who clear our streets, who fix our electricity when it goes out, who keep our water clean—these are the people we can’t live without and these are the ones who should be making living wages and getting danger pay during the pandemic.

"Hopefully, with a strong progressive council we can lead in showing how we need to change the way we live in a way that is just and fair for everyone, and that can preserve the planet as a secure and welcoming place for our children and grandchildren.

"I’m hoping COPE will nominate me to run for council and that voters will give me another chance to work fiercely for these changes.”

[Top photo: COPE's Jean Swanson isn't planning on being a one-term member of Vancouver city council.]