LAUTENS: Ghosts of B.C. real estate scandal still linger

Premier Christy Clark of Banana Columbia – no misprint – is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ in May’s election if she doesn’t straighten up and fly right dealing with the multi-layered housing scandal.

Enough of the 1940s slang. If New Democrat leader John Horgan plays his election cards skillfully – not easy, since the NDP’s ideological high priests are even more frightened of offending than the Liberals – he has the stick if he’s bold enough to use it: A call for an inquiry into the scandal in offshore real estate deals, concentrated in Vancouver and Toronto.

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The scandal includes money laundering, funny business with figures, jiggery-pokery about true ownership, fast flipping that cheated sellers and buyers alike, lies and deceit, tax evasion, loophole exploitation.

Its victims? Many young Canadians – and the homeless old – paying swollen rents and with little hope of owning a family home, or forcing them to take desperate risks that could leave them twisting in the wind if interest rates rise a couple of percentage points. That happened to marginal owners in the U.S. housing crisis of 2007-’08.

Its perpetrators and the complicit? Realtors and their fox-guarding-the-henhouse self-regulators. Developers. Bankers. Lawyers. Few, one hopes.

They were facilitators for mostly fabulously rich Chinese wheeler-dealers – a fact the Clark government dodged, implying that such claims, obvious to anyone conscious and upright who knew what was happening on their own street, as xenophobic. Clark remained in denial until further dodging was impossible and action arguably too late. The ghosts may have vanished.

Above all – and this is why corruption may well be the right word: Canada’s politicians and regulators had the incriminating data at hand. But political action on them would have spoiled the obscene real estate party of the last few years.

Douglas Todd, once and occasionally still the Vancouver Sun’s religion columnist – he recently wrote revealingly about composer Leonard Cohen’s beliefs – has joined other Sun stars as essential reading. His prose is calm, measured, even oddly non-judgmental, unlike some crazy old coot columnists I could name.

In a recent column Todd cites heroes: Lawyer Christine Duhaime, who claims bankers and realtors withheld information, impeding investigations; SFU Prof. Jonathan Kesselman, who offered solutions; UBC Prof. David Ley, flailing “silences”; Justin Fung of Housing Action for Local Taxpayers, who said: “Foreign money coming in clearly benefits the property developers who are major contributors to the B.C. Liberal party.”

Todd alleges those who failed their public trust include Immigration Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, and Fintrac, which tracks money laundering. They didn’t fully use the tools they had. He concludes: “In fact, unenforced laws are worse than none at all. They give voters the illusion of protection when there is none.’’ The offshore ghosts, all too few punished all too lightly, may have already vanished.

And here’s election trouble for the Liberals: Prospective future leaders Rich Coleman and Mike de Jong were loyal backers of boss Clark’s laissez-faire stance of letting the unfettered market decide. That equates capitalism with crookedness, crime, exploitation – just business as usual. Marx would beam. Banana republics would rejoice: “Toothless police! Just like us!’’

And nothing holier-than-thou here: I am passively complicit in Vancouver’s moral real estate sewer. I’m a card-carrying capitalist and a beneficiary of Vancouver’s bloated real estate prices.

Canadians’ fear of offending electorally powerful “communities,” and economic and political cowardice, stifled frank debate. Blowhard billionaire Donald Trump is a highly unlikely champion of dispossessed Americans, but they may have a surer grasp of how our society really works than public intellectuals, shocked Hillary Clinton camp-followers, and media toadies.

What Trump said in the campaign may prove blather. Real people are the issue – ignored, not stupid, mostly skilled, humiliatingly under-employed, and angry. They backed him.

• • •

Selective historical memory: Haven’t encountered a word about the Cold War’s scariest days – the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Soviet warheads aimed at the U.S. That doesn’t fit today’s lipsticked narrative of Fidel Castro and the Trudeaus, father and son.

• • •

My suspicious mind. The box in this paper for “party affiliation” under West Vancouver council candidate Peter Lambur was blank. Why?

Safely elected Lambur responded: “As I recall it was left blank because I honestly couldn’t remember if I was a current card-carrying member of any party. … In past years I have been a member of the Liberal party, but a follow-up look through my current membership cards comes up empty, so it’s safe to reply ‘nil’ or ‘none’ at the moment.”

rtlautens@gmail.com

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