In the waning weeks of the second decade of the third millennium, luxury real estate developer Ian Gillespie of Westbank unveiled a $4.8 million chandelier beneath the Granville Bridge. Heralded by Mayor Kennedy Stewart as the city’s most important piece of public art. Ever.
The City of Glass suddenly had a new plastic wonder that was supposed to drop and spin on schedule. Twice a day. Lotusland’s newest prop for selfies and a metaphor for excess in the decade after the Great Recession.
What else happened? Glad you asked.
1. First Olympics
Fifty years after the first Winter Games bid was hatched, Vancouver and Whistler (along with West Vancouver and Richmond) finally hosted their first Olympics in 2010.
The five-ring circus didn’t start well, with the death of a luge athlete on opening day. Seventeen days later, the first mega-event of the social media age ended with a giant, sociable street party after Canada’s NHLers were better than the American NHLers.
Canuck Roberto Luongo backstopped the home and native land in the most-watched hockey game in history. Sidney Crosby’s golden goal secured the record 14th home team gold medal of the Winter Games.
The Olympics cost $7 billion, give or take a billion. The cost of police and soldiers (some of whom stayed on cruise ships) was $900 million. Auditor General offices in Victoria and Ottawa never did a final report. The organizing committee arranged for the ledgers and board minutes to be hidden from the public eye at the Vancouver Archives until at least 2025.
It was marketed as the ultimate souvenir of the Games, but the $1.1 billion Olympic Village was put in receivership in late 2010 after a slew of bad publicity and poor sales. It took until spring 2014 for city hall to sell the rest of the condos and exit the deal.
2. Second Stanley Cup riot
The year after hockey gold, Vancouver had its second Stanley Cup riot. Unliked 1994, the Canucks were the Game 7 home team and had a chance to win it all.
Luongo was also the home team goalie, but the Boston Bruins, with B.C. boys Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi, skated away with Lord Stanley’s mug.
Police chief Jim Chu’s February 2010 high-fiving didn’t carry over to June 2011 and his prediction of no riot flopped. He blamed “anarchists” for the upheaval.
Oddly, the VPD investigation and an analysis by ex-Vancouver 2010 boss John Furlong didn’t take a magnifying glass to the biggest, loudest indoor drinking establishment in the city on June 15, 2011, Rogers Arena. Four years later, Chu retired from the force and went to work as a vice-president of special projects and partnerships for the Aquilini family.
In 2014, the Aquilinis forged an alliance with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, three of the Olympics’ four host first nations, to acquire land the BC Liberal government deemed surplus in Vancouver and Burnaby.
3. Gordo’s Games
Soon after winning the 2001 election, Gordon Campbell positioned himself as the Olympic premier. He finally announced his resignation before the end of the Olympic year.
A caucus revolt brewed when the father of B.C.’s carbon tax broke a campaign promise and imposed the Harmonized Sales Tax after the 2009 election. Campbell’s former deputy premier Christy Clark quit her talkshow on CKNW and returned to succeed Campbell in a divisive 2011 leadership campaign marred by cheating for the phone-in and online votes.
Campbell left the premier’s office without fulfilling a promise to explain the 2003 BC Rail privatization scandal. He preferred to blame former BC Liberal aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk, whose plea bargain in October 2010 ended the B.C. Supreme Court bribery trial with ex-finance minister Gary Collins waiting to testify.
Voters defeated the HST in a 2011 referendum. Clark served out Campbell’s term and many forecast her defeat in May 2013. Nobody predicted the Adrian Dix-led NDP would go from Question Period pitbulls to campaign trail poodles. So the BC Liberals kept their hold on power for another four years. It wasn’t as if the NDP had a lack of material, after the BC Liberals were caught in the Quick Wins ethnic vote-buying scandal less than three months before voting day.
Over the next four years, it was one scandal after another for Clark and her clique, from the unjust firing of health researchers (which drove one to suicide) to the mass-deleting of emails to the kiboshed yoga class on the Burrard Bridge.
The Clark years were dubious, but nobody can say they were dull.
4. Football follies
Campbell wanted to pay for the $514 million renovation of B.C. Place by selling the name and building a casino next door.
A sponsorship deal with Telus collapsed in 2012 under Clark and the casino’s opening was delayed after city council refused in 2011 to let the Las Vegas company have more slot machines and tables than it had at Edgewater Casino. Parq Casino, and two Marriott hotels, finally opened in fall 2017, just in time for the province’s casino money laundering scandal to erupt.
The Whitecaps debuted in 2011 in Major League Soccer at a temporary stadium on the site of Empire Stadium. They joined the B.C. Lions as co-tenants of the renovated B.C. Place Stadium in the fall. The Lions hosted and won the 2011 Grey Cup under the new retractable roof, but the lacklustre Whitecaps have given nobody a reason to revel or riot. David Braley, the Lions owner, often talked to reporters about selling his team to locals willing to pay his price. What about Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot? He still hasn’t talked to reporters.
B.C. Place became a wildly successful annual stop on the Rugby Sevens World Cup tour in 2016, the year after its plastic grass hosted the U.S.-won FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015. They built an office for corrupt FIFA boss Sepp Blatter at B.C. Place, but he skipped the show, afraid he’d be arrested.
U2 began the 30th anniversary Joshua Tree tour at B.C. Place in 2017, two years after beginning an arena tour across the street at Rogers Arena.
Vancouver’s biggest sports success of the decade? Yoga pants. The fashion phenomenon that displaced Levi’s made Lululemon founder Chip Wilson a billionaire.
He built a $35.2 million mansion on Point Grey Road and hired the Red Hot Chili Peppers to play a private concert there in 2013. The mansion eventually ballooned in value to $78 million.
5. LNG and Site C
Christy Clark made natural gas exports and the Site C dam her grand goals. She tried to interest governments in China, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia in building natural gas liquefying plants and terminals on the B.C. coast. Then the market tanked in 2014 and nobody wanted to lay out the billions to build an LNG tank.
She did green light Site C before the end of 2014, the long-pondered BC Hydro dam on the Peace River, with an $8.8 billion price tag. More expensive than the Olympics.
6. Green Gregor
Gregor Robertson rose to power as Vancouver’s mayor in 2008 on a promise to solve street homelessness by 2015 and make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020.
Instead, his city council-dominating Vision Vancouver party (a coalition of NDP and Liberals) rubber-stamped luxury towers developed and/or marketed by party donors and flogged in Asia.
Robertson also positioned himself as the leader of a crusade against oil pipelines and tankers. Robertson presided over the building of a network of bike lanes and let marijuana stores proliferate across the city, before the feds legalized B.C. bud in 2018. Robertson’s pet causes helped distract from the reality that Vancouver was transitioning into a resort city.
7. Sino of the times
Robertson took Mandarin lessons, became active on Chinese social media platforms, led trade missions to China and even had a well-publicized fling with a Chinese singer, Wanting Qu, that began in the 2014 election year.
As he was racking-up the frequent flyer points to follow Qu to New York, California and Mexico, homelessness increased, gang shootings intensified and the opioid overdose crisis was felt in hospital emergency rooms and the morgue. Even Robertson’s foster son wound-up in jail after the 2011 election.
8. The Happy Warrior
John Horgan was acclaimed in 2014 as the replacement for Dix as NDP leader. In 2017, after voters took their frustration out on Clark and the BC Liberals, Horgan convinced Andrew Weaver and the Greens to help him end 16-years of BC Liberal rule. Clark’s gamble to adopt NDP and Green policies in the post-election throne speech, nicknamed the “clone speech,” was a disaster.
A week later, the 44-42 result in the June 29, 2017 confidence vote sent Clark and Horgan to Government House where Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon gave Horgan the nod to form a new government.
The three Greens that had the balance of power failed to stop Site C or start proportional representation. But climate scientist Weaver’s party did succeed in forcing the NDP to adopt a government-wide, climate change adaptation plan in 2018.
Their timing was impeccable. As if 2015’s forest fires that blocked summer sun in Vancouver weren’t enough, the government declared a province-wide state of emergency in 2017.
9. Car-spangled spanners
Congestion became the buzzword as Vancouver became known as the luxury car capital of the continent. Green new driver decals became a common sight on the bumpers of six-figure supercars that plied the roads between Richmond and UBC, which gained the nickname “University of Beautiful Cars.” Burrard Street in Kitsilano became a de facto luxury car auto mall, with Rolls Royce, Porsche, Bentley and Ferrari dealerships.
Former senior RCMP officer Peter German’s 2018 report on money laundering exposed a booming grey market for luxury car exports to China through Vancouver’s port, which hasn’t had a dedicated police force for more than two decades.
10. On time, on budget, yeah right
SkyTrain finally expanded to the Tri-Cities with the $1.4 billion Evergreen Line in 2016 and the Port Mann bridge opened in 2012 for $3 billion and $1.26 billion South Fraser Perimeter Road in 2012-2013. As per usual, the projects weren’t on time or on budget.
The NDP took away the Port Mann tolls after the 2017 election. Crews were preparing to build a new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel when the NDP came to power and scrubbed the project.
TransLink lost a 2015 plebiscite for its $7.7 billion expansion plan on a regional sales tax to fund SkyTrain expansion. But it got the dough through other means when Justin Trudeau led the Liberals back to power later that year.
11. Electric avenue
But 2019 brought two innovations to B.C. A self-driving electric Tesla was caught on smartphone video at Richmond Centre. Weeks later, Harbour Air made worldwide headlines with the first flight of an electric powered commercial airplane.
12. Clark out
Back to provincial politics. Clark didn’t last long as the opposition leader. Re-elected Abbotsford South MLA and criminology professor Darryl Plecas threatened to leave the party if she didn’t step down during a Penticton caucus retreat in late July 2017.
Plecas became speaker of the Legislature in September 2017 and an ex-BC Liberal. Craig James, the clerk that Clark and the BC Liberals appointed in 2011, was escorted out of the Legislature in November 2018. He and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were suddenly suspended and under RCMP investigation. Plecas revealed some of the reasons why when he tabled a bombshell report in January 2019 to the all-party committee that manages Legislature operations.
James and Lenz had hired lawyers from the BC Liberal-aligned Fasken firm and demanded their jobs back. As 2019 wore on, James was found in misconduct and Lenz in breach of duty, so they both retired in disgrace.
13. Carpetbagger rolls in
After Clark’s fall from power, Robertson and his circle realized the populace was angry. Too angry to re-elect Vision. In early January 2018, Robertson announced he would not stand for a fourth term. His city hall career ended just shy of a decade in office, the longest in Vancouver mayoral history.
He handed the reins to independent Kennedy Stewart, who became famous for being arrested at an anti-pipeline protest. The NDP MP for Burnaby South edged the NPA’s Ken Sim by just 957 votes in the October 2018 civic vote. The NPA fell one seat shy of a majority on council, but it did make history with five female councillors.
Surrey is B.C.’s second city, forecast to someday eclipse Vancouver. Doug McCallum was twice-elected in 1999 and 2002 and made a mayoral comeback in 2018 on a populist platform. He scrapped the planned light rail transit system in favour of more SkyTrain and pledged to replace the RCMP with a municipal force.
Ironically, the last city council meeting of the decade required help from the RCMP to separate protesters for and against McCallum’s cop swap, which is forecast to deliver fewer officers at a higher price to taxpayers in the sprawling border city burdened by gang crime.
15. Dam it
In December 2017, Horgan vowed to keep building Site C, but the new price tag was $10.7 billion. The referendum to reform the electoral system failed. But he did increase social service spending and end B.C.’s wild west campaign finance scene with limits on the size of donation and bans on corporations and unions funding candidates and parties.
16. Vancouver model
One of Horgan’s signature decisions in May 2019 was to green light a public inquiry into money laundering after the evidence piled up and tipped over. Chinese money had flowed between real estate, casinos and the drug trade, making B.C. notorious for all three.
17. Ride hailing saga
Horgan had a soft spot for unions, unlike company-cuddling Clark. But Horgan carried on Clark’s courting of the LNG industry and even announced the $40 billion LNG Canada for Kitimat in 2018. Like Clark, he was a fan of Amazon and Airbnb. He also was in no hurry to open the province to Uber and Lyft, despite promises otherwise.
Why? The NDP won a majority of seats in Surrey, the taxi cartel’s hotbed, during the 2017 election.
Regulators finally gave a licence to a ride-hailing company in Whistler and Tofino before Christmas, pushing the rest of the industry into the next decade.
18. The Huawei Princess
It became Vancouver’s biggest global news event since the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Meng Wanzhou, daughter of Huawei telecom founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, 2018. Wanted in the U.S. for fraud, her extradition case could take a decade to wind its way through courts. She lives comfortably in a Shaughnessy mansion on the same block as the U.S. consulate general’s residence.
Few in Vancouver heard of Meng before the first reports of her arrest hit the media on Dec. 5, 2018. But she was no stranger to the city. Meng, who also went by Cathy or Sabrina, had been slipping in and out of Vancouver since 2001. Her husband’s name only was on the deed of their Dunbar house and Shaughnessy mansion.
The Meng case brought new attention to the Chinese money that landed in Vancouver’s real estate and auto industry and to the political influence that Beijing-loyal groups were flexing throughout the province.
Nowhere was it more obvious than Richmond, where Chinese characters on store signs and birth tourism became flashpoints for controversy. The 2016 census showed that it had become the most Chinese city outside of China, with more than half the residents identifying as ethnic Chinese and almost half reporting a Chinese language as their mother tongue.
19. Full circle
Vancouver’s Olympic legacy was slow to materialize, but was clear as the nose on your face by 2015. The tourism and real estate sectors boomed, driven by a flood of money from China.
China’s social, economic and political influence in B.C. is not new; links go back to the 19th century. But the unprecedented migration of wealth from Mainland China was undeniably sparked by the 2010 Winter Olympics, the first after Beijing’s 2008 Games. With the U.S. economy suffering through the Great Recession, China sent its biggest winter team to Vancouver and TV and online viewers in the Middle Kingdom saw more hours of coverage than before. Millions tuned in during Lunar New Year to see what Vancouver had to offer: unseasonably clear, blue skies.
Urban planner Andy Yan’s research found incomes had decoupled from real estate values; the latter rose and the former fell. His analysis found an uncanny prevalence of “non-Anglicized Chinese names,” and “housewife” and “student” listed as the occupation on the deeds of multimillion-dollar residences on Vancouver’s westside.
Meanwhile, the head of CSIS warned that China was meddling in Canadian affairs. Stories emerged of Chinese government officials being the owners of mysterious empty mansions or construction sites on billionaires’ row. Xi Jinping’s regime even accused some Chinese expats in B.C. of corruption.
A murky Chinese insurance company, Anbang, bought control of the Bentall towers in the heart of Vancouver’s central business district in 2016 while China Minsheng Investment Group bought iconic Grouse Mountain in 2017.
20. Bigly, yuge
Vancouver also became the most-American city outside the U.S. and it prompted New York wheeler dealer Donald Trump to make a splash. Malaysian-owned developer Holborn cut a franchise deal with The Donald and built the Arthur Erickson-designed West Georgia tower that became a destination for mass protests after Trump’s improbable 2016 presidential win.
Trump was at the construction site in 2013, but was a tad preoccupied when the tower opened in February 2017. So he sent his two sons and one of his daughters to cut the ribbon with Holborn’s Joo Kim-Tiah.
Oddly, the protesters outside in 2017 weren’t there to criticize Holborn’s failure to replace the 200 social housing units that it demolished at Little Mountain in 2009.
In December 2019, however, activists returned to the site to remind all about one of Vancouver’s defining debacles of the decade.
A decade that ends with a record number of citizens living in sidewalk sleeping bags, camper vans and tents in parks.
So here we are at the end of the 2010s. The decade that was. Sandwiched between the naughty aughties and what might be another version of the roaring ‘20s
May I suggest we call the decade that was the Selfie Decade?
Onward to 2020.
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