Category Archives: Economics

Visioning Our Future or Our Pipe Dream?

There’s a problematic gap between what many people want to see in Victoria’s Official Community Plan, and what traditional urban economics dictates.

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As the public participation component of Victoria’s Official Community Plan process officially launched, the air felt heavy with irony. It was only March, but fans were already fighting mugginess in the glass-roofed Crystal Garden, serving as a constant reminder of the preceding century of haphazard government “planning” that built a downtown saltwater swimming pool which became ­a tropical botanical zoo and then an ill-fated geographic museum and finally a less-than-ideal conference centre dependent on the public purse.

Nevertheless, as I participated in the municipality’s “Shape Your Future Victoria” event, the energies of an increasingly concerned and engaged population were stirring inspiration. Continue reading “Visioning Our Future or Our Pipe Dream?” »

The Problem with Thinking Charitably

Sometimes charities don’t educate us about the broader political context, and we prefer it that way.

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What’s a good charity? Malalai Joya gave an interesting answer.

Joya is the female politician dubiously ousted from the male-dominated Afghan Parliament in 2007. She was promoting her book, A Woman Among Warlords, last November at the University of Victoria. An audience member asked if a particular Afghan charity was worth supporting. Joya didn’t know the charity, but dispensed general advice: Examine the charity’s political positions.

Essentially, Joya argued, if the charity isn’t protesting the NATO military occupation of Afghanistan, then it’s likely not empowering ordinary Afghans so much as furthering the agendas of foreign powers.

Joya’s not alone in recognizing broader political context as crucial to evaluating charitable activities. The World Bank notoriously provides “aid” benefiting multinationals and rich nations more than the poor. And though many donors are unaware, international charities run from political right to left, and often take sides. For example, OXFAM provided aid in Eritrea throughout the region’s two-decade independence struggle, while CARE didn’t start helping in Eritrea until its 2000 peace accord with Ethiopia.

I was still pondering this when Canadian media’s December outpouring of heartstring-plucking human interest features began. Continue reading “The Problem with Thinking Charitably” »

This is the Liberals’ 9/11

The global recession is the excuse Gordon Campbell has always wanted.

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I didn’t want to write about the BC Liberals’ latest cuts. But for a commentator on community issues, they’re difficult to avoid. Arts funding is being cut 90% over two years. Most gaming funding will be yanked from non-profit agencies.­ (After previous cuts made them dependent on gaming money.)

It’s difficult to fathom how ugly this could become. Do you care about the environment, disability rights, the Fringe Festival, the elderly, aboriginal issues, the film industry, victims of domestic abuse, preventing fetal alcohol syndrome, the Symphony, mental health, amateur sporting events, independent watchdogs? The work of non-governmental organizations in all these areas is at serious risk.

The excuse du jour is budget shortages due to the recession.

I’m not buying it. Continue reading “This is the Liberals’ 9/11” »

The Politics of Parking

We’re paying a lot for parking. An awful lot.

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Years ago, I was awaiting the fate of a grant application before Victoria city council to help build a community garden. Instead, council got bogged down debating a developer’s building permit and re-zoning application.

The developer wanted a reduction in the number of parking spaces required in favour of more room to expand his apartment building. Discussion ensued about the number of people moving in, the number of cars they’d own, the limited availability of street and store parking in this high-traffic area, and our tight, expensive rental market.

It seemed mundane. Recently, though, an opinion article prompted me to investigate the politics of parking, and it dramatically shifted my perspective.

Most of the article’s arguments and statistics were based on Yale University urban planning expert Donald Shoup‘s intriguing book, The High Cost of Free Parking. Reading Shoup’s analyses, it suddenly seemed bizarre that, even though I’ve long been aware of the many damaging environmental and economic impacts from cars, I hadn’t thought much about the role of parking. Continue reading “The Politics of Parking” »

Time for Bigger Decisions

Did the bailout just squander our best chance for social change?
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I was calling local brokerage and investment firms, asking how the market crashes and bailouts were affecting these companies’ local clients.

I started feeling naïve. Did I really think anyone would answer? Did I expect Victoria’s Investors Group or some self-employed broker to cry, “We’re losing money like crazy! Don’t tell our clients!”

Instead, people directed me to national offices or begged off with a tone of, “We’re comfortably riding out the storm, but we’re extremely busy right now/all day/all week/please god don’t call back.”

U.S. companies were similarly secretive until the moment they tanked; after all, nothing undermines a shaky financial firm like a public admission collapse may be imminent. Criminal fraud investigations are underway against some companies, too late for the victims.

And there are more victims daily. Obviously, many here and elsewhere have been losing – by mid-October $2 trillion in U.S. worker pensions alone. By the time you’re reading this, much will have changed, so I won’t prognosticate.

But looking back, I’m starting to think our unwillingness to be openly honest just made us squander what may have been the greatest opportunity for serious social change of our lifetimes. Continue reading “Time for Bigger Decisions” »