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HomeBusinessAnalysis: High-profile Liberals got richer in Vancouver’s post-2015 real estate boom

Analysis: High-profile Liberals got richer in Vancouver’s post-2015 real estate boom

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Bob Mackin

Voters punished the BC Liberals at the ballot box in 2017 when they blamed Christy Clark for the housing crisis in Metro Vancouver. The foreign buyer tax was too little, too late, and the NDP exploited the most-famous Dunbar resident/Kelowna MLA’s penchant for taking big money donations from real estate tycoons.

A June 2016 photo of Christy Clark (left), Gregor Robertson and Justin Trudeau at Microsoft in Vancouver (BC Gov)

In early 2018, Gregor Robertson decided not to run for a fourth term as mayor of Vancouver. The public blamed “Highrise Robertson” for rubber-stamping too many luxury condo towers developed by donors who sold units for big profits to offshore investors that kept them empty.

What about Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberal Party? Why should those that rule British Columbians in Ottawa escape accountability?

Through various departments, the feds control or regulate immigration, foreign investment, banking, taxation and federal policing and prosecution. Trudeau raised funds for his campaign war chest with help from some of the same bagmen who kept Clark and Robertson in power. He has even started a first-time homebuyer incentive eerily similar to the BC Liberals’ 2016-announced program that was slammed by the head of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and promised to tax foreign buyers.

In May, after a photo op to announce more new Coast Guard vessels, Trudeau headlined a $25o to $1,500 per-plate cash-for-access Yaletown lunch and a South Vancouver Chinese banquet, where the price was $750 to $1,500 per-plate. Condo marketer Bob Rennie was on the donors’ list for the lunch. At the evening event, Ian Gillespie of Westbank was front and centre.

Gillespie’s Fairmont Pacific Rim is Trudeau’s preferred hotel when in Vancouver. Gillespie’s Woodward’s Atrium was the site of a Trudeau rally on the last day of the campaign.

Ian Gillespie (left) shows Justin Trudeau a coffee table book (Westbank/Facebook)

In 2017, Robertson could feel the tide turning against him, so he reached out to finance minister Bill Morneau. Morneau’s reply misspelled British Columbia and indicated there was little appetite for the federal government to crack down on money laundering in the real estate market. It took until the 2019 budget for the Liberals to acknowledge the problem. B.C.’s attorney general, David Eby, complained in late August that the funds had not yet arrived and Trudeau offered nothing definite.

As investment from China flooded into the Vancouver real estate market after Trudeau’s 2015 election win, the value of residences of high-profile Liberal MPs ballooned.

“If they benefited from the market, I think they had greater responsibility to make certain that people weren’t left behind while they were benefiting,” said independent watchdog Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC. “That was one of the lessons of the Christy Clark government learned, you saw too many of the BC Liberal caucus benefitting from these gigantic price jumps that were taking place in the Vancouver real estate market while, at the same time, sitting on their hands when it came to ensure there was affordable housing for those who were not as fortunate to be able to buy or inherit and, in many cases, are left to rent.”

Justin Trudeau (centre) standing at a Vancouver Chinese new year banquet in 2019.

Vancouver Centre incumbent Hedy Fry actually lives in the Arbutus Ridge area of the Vancouver Granville riding. She endorsed the nomination of Taleeb Noormohamed against ex-Liberal attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould. Fry’s house was valued at $2.624 million this year, almost a million more than the $1.795 million it was in 2015.

Joyce Murray became president of treasury board and minister of digital government last March, when the cabinet was shuffled amid the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The incumbent in Vancouver Quadra lives in a West Point Grey neighbourhood north of the Jericho Garrison, which will eventually be redeveloped by a company owned by three local First Nations. The value of Murray’s house, which she shares with husband and tree-planting tycoon Dirk Brinkman, topped out at almost $4.26 million last year, but fell to $3.77 million this year. It was $2.697 million when Trudeau came to power in 2015.

Just a few blocks west of Murray is the home of Harjit Sajjan, the defence minister who represents Vancouver South. Sajjan’s property was worth $1.5 million in 2015, reached $4.113 million last year and is $3.65 million this year.

Vancouver Kingsway candidate Tamara Taggart is the party’s star candidate in the Lower Mainland. But the former CTV anchorwoman lives in Vancouver Granville in a house she owns with husband and 54-40 guitarist Dave Genn. It was $1.54 million in 2015. This year, $2.315 million.

Like Fry, Taggart endorsed Noormohamed, whose condo near the Plaza of Nations and Parq Casino was $864,000 in 2015 and $1.478 million this year. His tax bill goes to a North Vancouver architecture firm owned by his parents.

West Point Grey Academy’s 2001 yearbook featured then-teacher Justin Trudeau in blackface. Vancouver South incumbent Harjit Sajjan is a neighbour of the school in Vancouver Quadra.

Meanwhile, Steveston-Richmond East incumbent Joe Peschisolido, the embattled real estate and immigration lawyer, lives just outside the riding’s boundary. He reported in his Elections BC nomination papers that he lives in a modest two-bedroom condominium assessed at $621,000 in Richmond Centre. The Richmond Centre Liberal candidate, Steven Kou, lives in a $1.93 million house near Crescent Beach in Surrey.

That means Murray is the only one of the above seven Liberal candidates in the Oct. 21 who is eligible to vote for herself.

MPs got a $3,300 pay raise on April 1, putting their basic salary at $178,900. Cabinet ministers are paid $264,400.

There is no law that mandates politicians must live in the jurisdiction to which they are elected. But voters on Oct. 21 might want to consider that, as well as the federal government’s role in allowing a housing crisis.

Travis said candidates should make a firm, public commitment to move into the riding at the very first opportunity.

“The idea that you’re going to spend the bulk of your time socializing with neighbours that don’t necessarily have the same interests, the same policy concerns as your constituents might, raises a concern about how representative you can be of those who you are actually their voice in Ottawa for.”

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