New Canadian Media

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

The desire to have more than one child has been a motivating factor for many Chinese emigrants for over three decades. Change may be on its way though, as earlier this week, China lifted its one-child policy, allowing married couples to have two children. 

The one-child policy, a population control measure viewed as a rather totalitarian symbol by the West, was introduced in 1979. For more than three decades, the unique China-style family consisted of a “4-2-1” model: four grandparents, a couple of two adults (both the only child from his or her family) and a single third-generation grandchild.

Aside from the fact that the policy has faced stanch criticism for being an abuse of human rights and for creating sex-based birth rate favouritism for boys – as China is a traditionally patriarchal society – the one-child policy has also created a huge problem for senior care. 

In a society that lacks a pension plan or affordable public health system, sometimes it is just too much for two adult children to take care of four elderly parents.  

"If [we violated the] one-child policy, we would both lose our jobs and [be forced] to pay a very heavy fine.”

Impacts of one-child policy

Jinhong Xu is one of many Chinese Canadians who immigrated here to avoid the one-child policy. As a result, Xu has two children who are 16 years apart; this stark age difference between children isn’t strange to see among many Chinese immigrant families. 

“I was born in 1967 in a small county in Shan Xi province,” recalls Xu. “I was not the only child in my family, but I was only allowed to have one child after I got married in 1992. We both worked in a state-owned company. If [we violated the] one-child policy, we would both lose our jobs and [be forced] to pay a very heavy fine.”

Xu is like many Chinese who faced many challenges living under China’s unique traditions and polices. 

Her first daughter was born in 1993 – a very joyful event to her, but not so much for her family as the child was not a boy. 

“Hadn’t my country had a one-child policy, I would be happily staying in China, making it easier (for me) to look after my aging parents.”

After struggling for years thinking of having another child, Xu finally immigrated to Canada in 2002 as a skilled worker and applied for family reunification to bring her husband and daughter here one year later. 

At 42, Xu had a second child born in Toronto’s North York General Hospital in 2009. To her delight, it was a healthy boy that the whole family had been longing for.
 
“I remember I had to go through [a] amniotic fluid test as I was an older mother,” she continues. “That was a really hard decision we have to make. It was my daughter who helped me go through the process. She really wanted to have a younger sibling.” 

Staying beside her mom’s bed during labour, Xu’s daughter was more thrilled than anybody else and started to learn how to help her mom take care of the baby.
 
“Hadn’t my country had a one-child policy, I would be happily staying in China, making it easier (for me) to look after my aging parents,” says Xu, her voice trembling and eyes filled with tears. “But [there isn’t] much I can do. I was not a devoted child to my parents.”
 
Changes for refugee claimants
 
The one-child policy has also been a reason for many Chinese people to claim refugee status in Canada. Whether their claims are genuine or bogus, future asylum seekers may start to feel anxious now that the policy is no longer. 

Whether their claims are genuine or bogus, future asylum seekers may start to feel anxious now that the policy is no longer.

Refugees from China had the most claims accepted from January to June 2015, followed by Pakistan, Hungary Iraq and Syria. 

Refugee claims go to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC). According to IRBC, the forced sterilization or abortion a person may face upon returning to China is grounds for granting refugee status. As is claims that the one-child policy goes against religious beliefs, such as in the case of Roman Catholics. 

Hart Kaminker, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer says the change in policy doesn’t necessarily mean an end to refugee claims of this nature though. 

“The policy now is allowing people to have two children,” he explains. “You might get into a [refugee] case when people may have two children that may want to have a third child. That person may still have a valid [refugee] claim.” 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

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LONDON: China has decided to end its one-child policy and the couple will now be allowed to have two children.

“China abandons one-child policy,” the Chinese official

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by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa

John Manley — the president and CEO of Canadian Council of Chief Executives — criticized the Harper government Tuesday for mismanaging bilateral relationships with China and Mexico, and reiterated a call for the incoming Liberal government to pursue a free trade agreement with China.

There are reasons to think that isn’t out of the question.

“We have very important trading relationships with both Mexico and China. And quite frankly, the Harper government didn’t manage those relationships particularly well,” Manley, whose organization represents 150 CEOs of Canada’s biggest companies, said in an interview on BNN.

"Smart, principled engagement of China must be at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.”

This comes after an open letter Manley sent to Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau last week, which called for a “comprehensive bilateral economic agreement” with China, the reversal of the visa requirement for Mexican visitors and the ratification of the Canada-EU agreement and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).

“We urge your government to reverse the 2009 decision that requires most travellers from Mexico to obtain a visa before visiting Canada. With regards to China — our country’s second-largest trading partner, and soon to be the world’s largest economy – we believe the time has come to seek a comprehensive bilateral economic agreement. Smart, principled engagement of China must be at the centre of Canadian foreign policy,” Manley wrote.

China requires immediate attention

He elaborated on those points Tuesday, days after the CEO of Ford Canada, Dianne Craig — a member of the Canadian Council of CEOs — spoke out against the TPP.

“Ford is one of our members, likewise is Linamar, one of our largest auto part companies, which supports TPP. So I don’t think there’s a unanimous view. I think overall, though, what I’d say…is this: if TPP doesn’t happen, well then life goes on. If TPP does happen, and the United States and Mexico are part of it, then Canada really needs to be there. We can’t afford, for our national interests, to be excluded from an an agreement in which two of our three largest trading partners are there,” Manley said.

Since TPP ratification on the U.S. side could be held up by Congress, Manley didn’t think there was any reason for Trudeau to “lose sleep” over it yet.

"We don’t have to agree with China on everything, but we do need to engage China.”

He said China, however, required immediate attention, adding that, like Australia and New Zealand, Canada should pursue a free trade agreement.

“Australia, while being a strong proponent of human rights — a strong supporter of rule of law — all of the things that Canada stands for, has managed to negotiate a free trade agreement with China. As has New Zealand. And they are benefiting — their economy is benefiting significantly in both cases,” Manley said.

“We seem to have a hard time deciding whether we want to do business with China or not, and we blow warm and cold. I think a consistent, lasting approach to China — multiple visits by our prime minister, by our minister of foreign affairs, by our minister of trade, and by our minister of industry, would yield benefits in the years to come. We don’t have to agree with China on everything, but we do need to engage China.”

Deepening relationship with China

While the Harper government signed and ratified, not without controversy, a foreign investment protection agreement with China, and released an economic complementarities study in August 2012, Ottawa preferred an incremental approach with regard to trade liberalization, reaching individual market access agreements for products such as beef, cherries, and blueberries.

“There are many mechanisms other than free trade agreements to allow us to deepen our trade relationship with China,” Trade Minister Ed Fast said last November.

[T]he Harper government wanted to see the “more balance” in the trading relationship before moving forward with negotiations. The Liberals have seemed more eager.

In May, he clarified that the Harper government wanted to see the “more balance” in the trading relationship before moving forward with negotiations.

The Liberals have seemed more eager.

As Australia moved to implement their concluded free trade agreement with China, Liberal MPs — including Ralph Goodale, Chrystia Freeland, and Scott Brison — accused the Conservatives of bungling the relationship.

More recently, the Liberals named Peter Harder, who serves as president of the Canada-China Business Council, to head their transition team.

That could be a sign of things to come.


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Economy
Thursday, 22 October 2015 15:50

First Mandarin-Speaking MP Elected in Canada

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 
 
For the first time in Canada’s electoral history a Mandarin-speaking member of Parliament was elected.

Now hailed by the Chinese Mandarin community members as their "true voice”, the Liberal party’s Geng Tan won the Don Valley North riding in Toronto with a solid 51.4 per cent of the vote. He trumped second-place Conservative incumbent Joe Daniel’s 37.8 per cent by more than 6,000 votes.
 
Tan’s win is not only a reflection of the Liberals' landslide victory, but also proof of a momentum generated by the Mandarin community, which has been very supportive of Tan’s campaign. 

Reflecting the community 

Even the defeated incumbent Daniels knows that the Chinese community is divided into three groups – the Mainlanders, Taiwanese and Cantonese – and simply saying, “I represent the Chinese community,” is naive and unconvincing. 

It’s possible to represent one or the other, but not all of them.
 
According to 2011 Statistic Canada reports Don Valley North has more than 12,750 Mandarin speakers, the highest amongst other ethnic languages and outnumbering the Cantonese-speaking population of 9,540 and other Chinese sub-groups that only answered “Chinese” to the question of mother tongue.
 
Beyond this, the riding has a 65 per cent immigrant population and 67 per cent of its constituents are visible minorities. The top occupations are in professional, scientific and technical services, and 67 per cent of residents have a post-secondary education. 

“As an immigrant from Mainland China, it is so hard to set foot [in] Canada’s politics.”

Tan, an immigrant with a high educational background, is very much a reflection of the average face of the riding. 

“As an immigrant from Mainland China, it is so hard to set foot [in] Canada’s politics,” Tan told supporters at his victory party on election night inside a Chinese fine dining restaurant.
 
“I’m a typical first [generation] skilled immigrant with more than a decade of community experience,” he continued. “I understand newcomers’ needs and I have the responsibility to work for newcomers and all ethnic groups.” 

Ties to Chinese community
 
Born in 1963 in Hunan, a mountainous province where father of Communist China, Mao Zedong, was born, Tan came to Canada as a visa student in 1998. 

He completed his postgraduate and PhD in chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the University of Toronto and then worked as a scientist at Ontario Power Generation. 

“I also have [a] responsibility to ask for more benefits for our Chinese community.”

 
Tan’s community involvements are closely tied to the Chinese community and his Hunan clan associations. 

During his study at University of Toronto, he served for two terms as president of the school’s Chinese students and scholars association. 

Tan was also the long-term president of the Hunan Fellow Association of Canada, the vice president of The Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations and a founding member of the Council of (Chinese) Newcomer Organizations.

These groups are regular fixtures at significant events held by the Chinese Canadian community to celebrate things like the lunar New Year, Mid Moon Festival and China’s National Day, as well as any organized rally or denouncement against the Tibetan separation. 

Ties to Michael Chan
 
Michael Chan, the Ontario cabinet minister who was once investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Services over fears that he was under the influence of China, is a close political ally and mentor to Tan. 

Since Tan’s Liberal candidacy announcement to him winning the seat, Chan has been a regular face during the newly elected MP’s campaign. 

Even just two days before election day, Chan attended a Chinese media event along with Tan and three other federal Liberal candidates from the Greater Toronto Area to blast the federal Conservative government. 

When asked about why he was actively involved in the federal election, Chan said the federal government had been disrespectful toward Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The Conservatives had made too many funding cuts to Ontario, making it difficult for his government to provide services to residents, he said.

Going beyond his Chinese heritage 

Tan has promised that he will work hard to improve Canada’s relationship with China. 

“I also have [a] responsibility to ask for more benefits for our Chinese community,” he stated during his victory speech.

"[T]he way we vote for our parliamentary representative should go above and beyond ethnicity."


But Sheng Xue, a prominent overseas Chinese Canadian writer for the Chinese democracy movement and an independent political commentator, says Tan must go beyond just serving the Chinese community.
 
“As a native Chinese, I’m happy (for Tan’s winning),” said Sheng. “However, in a democratic country such as Canada, the way we vote for our parliamentary representative should go above and beyond ethnicity because looking for rights and benefits should never be based on a candidate’s skin colour and his or her country of origin.” 

Sheng added that while their native country was still under a totalitarian system, it is important for Tan to respect Canada’s system and maintain Canadian values.
 
“I’m not acquainted with Mr. Tan, however, I urge him to act as a Canadian when he represents Canadians.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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Veteran MP Irwin Cotler has decided not to seek re-election this time around, but the distinguished law professor and seasoned politician hopes others will pick...

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Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money. A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people. The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 

Publisher's Note: NCM has revised this commentary to clarify several citations as recommended by the South China Morning Post, and reflects the revised references made by the SCMP to Demographia’s rankings which now describe the study’s scope. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

In fanning public anger against foreigners for Vancouver’s declining affordability, the Canadian media rarely mentions that the worrying trend of housing costs rising faster than incomes is also occurring in many major cities around the world.

Around the world, housing costs in major cities are being pressured higher by the same combination of scarce land supply, income inequality, increasing urbanization, local taxes and more recently, the world’s major governments unleashing trillions of dollars into the global economy to stave off recession.

The money-printing operations, also known as quantitative easing, undertaken by the US Federal Reserve Board and other central banks since 2008 have ended up inflating prices of coveted real estate in many international cities.

research paper published by the US Council of Foreign Relations in August 2014 described how “housing markets around the world, from Tel Aviv to Toronto, have overheated.”

A research paper published by the US Council of Foreign Relations in August 2014 described how “housing markets around the world, from Tel Aviv to Toronto, have overheated” as central banks have been lowering interest rates and “pumping trillions of dollars’ worth of new money into the financial system.”

But these major factors along with the role of investment funds and domestic buyers are seldom mentioned in the Canadian media given its overwhelming focus on Chinese buying in Vancouver’s rising real estate market.

The Demographia factor

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Vancouver’s blame-the-Chinese narrative is that commentators often start off with a reference to Demographia and its limited survey on housing affordability in nine countries.

The Illinois, U.S.-based consultancy is owned and operated by conservative public policy consultant Wendell Cox who opposes urban densification and public transit in favour of sprawl and the use of private cars.

Despite the political importance and implications of Demographia’s rating, none of Canada’s mainstream commentators, real estate experts and politicians have subjected its data, research methods and survey sample to any serious analysis or questioning.

For the fourth consecutive year, Demographia’s 2015 annual survey of 378 cities has dubiously rated Vancouver’s housing as the second least affordable after Hong Kong.

Vancouver’s 10.6 unaffordability ratio is derived from dividing its median housing price of C$704,000 by the annual household income of C$66,400 [in other words, the unaffordability ratio is a price-to-wage ratio that reflects affordability rather than absolute property value]. 

According to the survey, Hong Kong has the least affordable housing ratio of 17 (HK$4,892,000 / $287,000) while Ireland’s Limerick and four U.S. cities have the most affordable ratio of 2.

Despite the political importance and implications of Demographia’s rating, none of Canada’s mainstream commentators, real estate experts and politicians have subjected its data, research methods and survey sample to any serious analysis or questioning.

This act of blind faith serves a useful purpose: the catchy conclusion that Vancouver is just behind Hong Kong in housing unaffordability provides the perfect launchpad for alarmist reporting and commentaries.

The leading voices who treat the Demographia survey as gospel have turned their interrogation efforts on British Columbia’s real estate industry, the provincial government and anyone who challenges their narrative that Chinese money is largely responsible for Vancouver’s rising housing cost and problems.

Ian Young, the award-winning Vancouver-based investigative journalist with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP), recently tore into the British Columbia Real Estate Association’s analysis that said foreigners accounted for less than five per cent of Greater Vancouver’s home ownership and sales.

[S]ome cities in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and possibly even Africa not covered by Demographia have arguably higher housing unaffordability than Vancouver.

While calling the BCREA finding “bogus”, Young, an influential voice in emphasizing the Chinese impact on Vancouver’s housing market, reported the Demographia survey as covering “the world” in his comment on February 28 for B.C. Business and amended in his June 3 and September 10 Hongcouver blogs for the SCMP. 

This is wrong as Demographia clearly states it covers only the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ireland, leaving out the other 184 countries on the United Nations’ list.

  • Comparison with U.S., British Cities

    A recent Gallup survey found that U.S. home ownership has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years with the young less willing or able to take on a mortgage.

    “For a younger generation that is struggling with student debt, renting a home may be an increasingly safe option. Non-homeowners’ expectations for buying a home in the near future appear to be waning, and the percentage who say they own their own home is the lowest in nearly 15 years,” said Gallup.

    Citing an Urban Institute study, a CityLab report found that “every single county in America is facing an affordable housing crisis. From Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. From Jacksonville to Juneau. No matter where you look, there isn’t enough affordable housing.”

    According to the Daily Mail, a generation of young Britons have given up hope of buying their own homes “amid high house prices and poor pay rises”. Only 20 per cent of those now under the age of 35 are expected to become property owners by 2020 while “first time buyers are struggling to find a house as the gap between the supply and demand for two-bedroom properties widens.”

    “Less than 20 per cent of young adults will own homes in 2020 if housing crisis goes unchecked,” says a Huffington Post story, which predicts that the number of people in U.K.’s 25-to-34-year-old cohort owning property will plunge by half.

    Asia’s housing affordability crisis is looking a lot like the U.S. bubble in the run-up to the 2008 crash, said The Washington Post.

    “That's because money poured into those countries in search of better returns right after the crisis and … found its way into the property market,” it said referring to China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia where housing prices have outpaced wage growth.

    Despite operating one of the world’s most successful public housing programs the last few decades, Singapore is increasingly confronting a housing affordability challenge caused by rising home prices and slow wage growth. 

    “For millennials, the homeownership dream is dying,” said financial news site Zerohedge. “New graduates are having a difficult time finding jobs that are commensurate with their education.”

This huge omission is crucial as some cities in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and possibly even Africa not covered by Demographia have arguably higher housing unaffordability than Vancouver.

Inexplicably, Canada’s mainstream media – Vancouver Sun, Globe and Mail, The Province, Business In Vancouver, CTV, GlobalNews, Huffington Post, Ottawa Citizen – have all misrepresented Demographia’s nine countries as “the world”. None of the media told of their mistake has published corrections.


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 2: A Tale of Many Cities

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 3: Solutions or Scapegoats?

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 4: Lots of Statistics, and a Few Lies

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 5: The China Factor

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Economy

Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money.

A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. 

This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Vancouver’s blame-the-Chinese narrative is that commentators often start off with a reference to Demographia and its limited survey on housing affordability in nine countries.

The Illinois, U.S.-based consultancy is owned and operated by conservative public policy consultant Wendell Cox who opposes urban densification and public transit in favour of sprawl and the use of private cars.

This begs an important question: If Vancouver was found to be more like 20th or 50th, rather than second, in a truly global list on unaffordable housing, would the city be deemed to be facing a “housing crisis”?

Might a much lower unaffordability ranking take away the hysteria and alarmism sufficiently to focus the debate on increasing the supply of affordable housing?

Informed of his mistake, Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd, another leading voice in the blame-the-Chinese-camp has since amended his description of Vancouver to being “the second most unaffordable city in the English-speaking world” after Hong Kong.

London and Singapore, two global cities, are likely to have more unaffordable housing than Vancouver.

This too is mistaken, though, as London and Singapore, two global cities, are likely to have more unaffordable housing than Vancouver.

Examining the data

The basic error in the crisis narrative stems from not examining and verifying the raw data on housing prices and median income that Demographia uses in computing its affordability ranking.

In his May 22 comment, South China Morning Post’s Ian Young wrote that Vancouver has left Singapore “in the dust in terms of unaffordability” based on Demographia showing the Canadian city’s housing price/income ratio rising to more than double that of the Southeast Asian city state’s.

“I seriously doubt that Hamilton is on par with Singapore. Housing in Hamilton is relatively cheap.”

According to Demographia, Singapore, a global financial, trading, oil refining and shipping hub rated by the authoritative Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) as the world’s most expensive city (cited by the BBC), ranks a mere 89th, incredibly making its housing as affordable as laid-back Hamilton in Ontario.

“I seriously doubt that Hamilton is on par with Singapore. Housing in Hamilton is relatively cheap,” says Netina Tan, a political science associate professor at the Hamilton-based McMaster University, who has lived and worked in Singapore and Vancouver.

Demographia lists Hamilton’s median housing cost as C$344,200 and the median annual household income as C$69,200, giving the city an affordability ratio of five. This puts it on par with Singapore, which according to Demographia, has a median housing price of just S$405,000 and household income of S$80,500. [Current exchange rate C$1=S$1.08]

While the income figure looks correct, the median housing cost is too low as the survey covers only government-subsidized public apartments built and sold by the Housing Development Board (HDB), explains Samantha Law, marketing director for Miracles Realty Group.

  • Comparison with Singapore

    On Singapore’s 718-sq km plot, 5.5 million people live alongside one of the world’s most active financial centres, three world-class oil refineries, two major petrochemical complexes as well as several power plants, industrial parks, reservoirs and shipyards, and one of the world’s busiest seaports, making the tiny country’s land cost one of the highest in Asia.

    Large tracts are also taken up by the country’s powerful military and extensive highway system.

    In contrast, Hamilton’s 520,000 residents live in a sprawling 1,140-sq km city, with many single-family houses near the downtown core priced at between C$200,000 and C$300,000. An MLS listing for a “beautiful two-storey three-bed home (on a 2,460-sq ft lot), located in Great Central Hamilton, close to schools, shopping, hospital and highway access,” is available for C$269,900.

    In Singapore, that would be the price of an aging one-bedroom public housing apartment of about 700-sq ft in an outlying suburb, said Samantha Law, marketing director for Miracles Realty Group. (Current exchange rate C$1=S$1.08). A private apartment of the same size would cost between $500,000 and $800,000, while a larger unit of 1,000-sq ft would sell for at least S$1.2 million, she said in an interview in Singapore.

    A small single-family house in the Singapore suburbs would cost between S$2 million and $3 million each, or 10 times the price of a large house in downtown Hamilton. A typical example is this terraced house on a 2,300-sq ft plot located at least 15 km from downtown Singapore, available for only S$2.5 million.

    On average, Singapore’s private apartments cost between three and four times that of Vancouver’s.

    On Sept. 22, six regular condominium units in the Draycott Drive area inside the Orchard Road commercial belt were put on sale on the www.PropertyGuru.com.sg site for between S$1,900 and S$2,200 per sq ft, translating to S$2.5 million and S$3.9 million each.

    On the same day, the www.MLS.ca site listed 59 two-bedroom condominium units in downtown Vancouver for sale at between C$500 and $700 per sq ft. They each cost between C$550,000 and C$750,000, prices that in Singapore would be deemed too low and therefore unavailable.

    Most Singaporeans live in subsidized public housing apartments, which aren’t cheap either by Vancouver’s standard.

    In the central and well-served locations, resale public housing apartments with 70 years or less left on their 99-year land leases with no parking lots, storage lockers and exercise facilities, cost as much as Vancouver’s freehold downtown apartments. A 645-sq ft unit on Queen Street is on the market for S$468,000 while a larger 1,485-sq ft apartment in Everton Park is available for S$900,000. Both are located within or near Singapore’s central district.

    Those looking for cheaper public housing in the affordable S$400,000 price range will have to live at least 15 km from the downtown area and rely on the relatively efficient but heavily congested public transportation system for a 45 to 60-minute commute to work.

    While most Vancouverites own a car and drive out of necessity, a private vehicle is a huge luxury for the average Singaporean. Due to the country’s high land cost, he or she would need to pay at least S$100,000, inclusive of a certificate of entitlement and taxes, to own a regular 1.6-litre-engine Japanese or Korean car.

    Fuel costs and road tolls add to Singapore’s high living costs: on Sept. 22, a litre of regular gasoline costs S$2.05 compared with C$1.13 in Vancouver.

Demographia did not reply to a request for comment on its data and survey methods used in the computation of its housing affordability ranking. On its website, the consultancy cites the Singapore Real Estate Exchange (SRX) as the source of its Singapore housing price.

“I suspect they got our data from the Housing Development Board (HDB) Flash Reports that we send out monthly. S$405,000 or thereabouts seem to be the median resale price number,” says Luqman Hakim A. Hadi, Head of Data at StreetSine Technology Group, which operates SRX.

This would explain the low median housing cost that Demographia uses for Singapore as it excludes prices of private apartments and single-family houses that are a significant component of the country’s real estate market.

The inclusion of private apartments and houses would sharply raise Singapore’s median housing cost and lift it well above Vancouver’s in the unaffordability ranking.

Comparison to other cities

In separate interviews, both Law and Luqman (who said his company does not work with Demographia in producing the survey), expressed surprise that Singapore is rated so much more affordable than Vancouver and on par with Hamilton considering the relatively low prices of condominiums, townhouses and houses in both Canadian cities.

Demographia’s 10th spot ranking for London also needs scrutiny as it is based on a surprisingly low median housing price of £385,000 for the famously expensive U.K. capital. On September 20, the Daily Mail reported that the average London property costs £620,000.

Around 8.63 million people live on London’s 1,572-sq km plot, giving it a population density of nearly 5,500 people per sq km.

This is more than six times greater than Metro Vancouver, which has a population of over 2.5 million people living on a land area almost twice as large at 2,877 sq km.

Further bolstering the value of London’s real estate, nearly twice as many overseas tourists visited the globally connected city as did Vancouver last year: 17.4 million vs 8.97 million.

Housing in Mainland China

The biggest surprise in the Demographia survey is the omission of mainland Chinese cities despite the company’s decision to cite The Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU), whose rankings for cities in China suggest that at least five of them were relatively more unaffordable than Vancouver. 

The biggest surprise in the Demographia survey is the omission of mainland Chinese cities despite the company’s decision to cite The Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU), whose rankings for cities in China suggest that at least five of them were relatively more unaffordable than Vancouver.

According to Demographia, the EIU gave Shenzhen a housing unaffordability ratio of 19.6, exceeding even Hong Kong’s 17. Next came Beijing (15.6), Shanghai (12.8), Guangzhou (11.4) and Tianjin (11.2), underlining the position of Chinese cities as having least affordable housing among their selected cities for 2011.

In their numerous reports on the Demographia survey, the Canadian mainstream media have made no mention of its reference to The Economist’s finding.

In 2013, when the Canadian media was trumpeting Vancouver’s second spot in the Demographia ranking, the U.S.-based The Atlantic magazine reported that housing in seven Chinese cities were among 10 of the world's least affordable markets. 

Using data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s house price-to-wage ratio, it placed Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Tianjin in the top five of the world’s least affordable housing list, with Guangzhou in eighth and Chongqing 10th..


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 1: A Global Issue

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 3: Solutions or Scapegoats?

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 4: Lots of Statistics, and a Few Lies

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 5: The China Fact 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in National

Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money.

A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. 

This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

In 2013, when the Canadian media was trumpeting Vancouver’s second spot in a housing unaffordability list based on a nine-country survey by a U.S.-based consultancy, Demographia, The Atlantic magazine reported seven Chinese cities were among the world’s top 10 for having the least affordable housing.

Using data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the magazine placed Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Tianjin in the top five of the world’s least affordable housing list, with Guangzhou in eighth and Chongqing 10.th.

Singapore ranked 15th, while Vancouver did not even make the top 15.

A contrarian position

Victor Wong, executive director at the Toronto-based Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), is an active participant in online discussions on Vancouver’s housing issues.

Wong takes the politically incorrect stance of challenging the prevailing narrative that Vancouver’s middle class faces a housing crisis, while agreeing with official findings that foreign buying accounts for only a small percentage of real estate transactions and ownership.

In responding to articles on mainstream news sites, he regularly pulls out listings and data from www.MLS.ca to prove his point that there’s still plenty of affordable houses, townhomes and apartments in Metro Vancouver that are within reach of middle-income families.

“I disagree with the alarmist, racist coverage in the mainstream media. Why would they want to interview me?"
 

It hardly surprises that his views are not welcomed or sought out by the Canadian mainstream media. Wong occasionally spars with Ian Young on the SCMP site, but the journalist has not interviewed him for any of his stories.

For staking out a contrarian position, Wong is often criticized by other online participants who insinuate the B.C.-born Canadian is either working for the real estate industry, or worse, the Chinese government.

“I disagree with the alarmist, racist coverage in the mainstream media. Why would they want to interview me? They’ve gone so deep in their narrative of widespread Chinese and foreign buying that they can’t back out now,” he said in a phone interview from his Toronto office.

Commenting on a May 4 Vancouver Sun article calling for restrictions on foreign buyers, he wrote: “A review of listings at www.mls.ca shows that about 50 per cent of all homes for sale are priced under $600,000 and about 12 per cent – one in eight – are priced above $2 million.”

He offers no sympathy for Eveline Xia’s populist “#DontHave1Million” complaint or Saeid Fard’s lament that young professionals have little hope of buying a single-family house in the city. A day after about 150 people attended Xia’s May 24 protest rally in downtown Vancouver, Wong wrote, “the same number of home buyers made deals on purchasing a home.”

Don’t have C$1 million?

“Actually, you need C$670,000 for the median priced home in Greater Vancouver. More than 70 per cent of the houses listed at www.mls.ca are priced below C$1 million,” he wrote.

On May 24, during the peak spring season, he found 5,779 listings of homes with two bedrooms or more priced between C$300,000 and C$1 million, including about 1,000 single detached homes in Vancouver and the suburbs.

“It’s no different from other major cities around the world. The expanding economy draws in more people, but land supply remains the same."

Just over five months later, on September 27, the MLS site revealed there were 2,360 listings of homes that met with that set of criteria. The vast majority were apartments, many between 900 and 1,200 sq ft in size that could accommodate a small family – common in many major cities around the world.

Wong urges young professionals to focus on townhomes and large apartments given the limited number of single-family houses available in Vancouver’s finite geography.

“It’s no different from other major cities around the world. The expanding economy draws in more people, but land supply remains the same. There are only 75,000 detached homes in all of metro Vancouver, so prices will rise in response to demand,” he said.

Vancouver and its suburbs are now home to a record 2.5 million people and still growing.

In making his point that affordable housing still exists in metro Vancouver, Wong highlights another shortcoming with the media’s use of the Demographia survey. It publishes a price that encompasses single-family houses, townhomes and apartments to represent Vancouver’s median housing cost.

Exclude luxury homes costing at least C$3 million and single-family houses worth C$1.2 million or more, that median cost for housing drops significantly.

Exclude luxury homes costing at least C$3 million and single-family houses worth C$1.2 million or more, that median cost for Vancouver's housing drops significantly.

Also, Demographia has shown an inconsistent methodology in its calculation of the median housing cost: in Singapore’s case, it uses only the prices of government-subsidized apartments and excludes the significant, but expensive, apartment and house markets, thus resulting in the country having an unrealistically low median housing price.

This explains why Singapore ranks just 89th in Demographia’s housing unaffordability list, far below Vancouver’s second position behind Hong Kong.

Racializing the issue

Wong said the mainstream media has been racializing the issue of rising cost for the purpose of blaming migrants, especially the Chinese, instead of finding solutions.

He said the “real” housing crisis in Vancouver lies not with the middle class, but society’s lower rungs, which have long been plagued by the problem of homelessness and severe unaffordability.

“There are 10,000 on the waiting list for social housing and large groups of Vancouverites pay more than 30 per cent of their income for rental housing,” he said, calling on governments at all levels to help finance co-op housing especially on state-owned land or through land swaps.

His views overlap with two non-mainstream articles written separately in 2013 by Jim Sutherland and Nathan Crompton.

Sutherland’s piece, “Vancouver: Not as Expensive as You Think”, in the Vancouver Magazine underlines the fact that Canada’s most expensive city for housing is less costly or unaffordable compared with many other cities around the world.

Crompton, a left-wing writer and campaigner, denounces what he calls the media’s racist reporting in linking empty condominiums to foreign investors when, in fact, most are owned by locals.

“So why is the “foreigner thesis” so popular among Vancouver’s political elite? One answer is that it allows the government to get away with its anti-affordable housing policies,” wrote Crompton.


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 1: A Global Issue

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 2: A Tale of Many Cities

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 4: Lots of Statistics, and a Few Lies

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 5: The China Factor

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in National

Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money.

A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. 

This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

The populist narrative on housing affordability in Vancouver ignores the big-picture need for foreign trade, investment and talent to drive Canada’s mid-sized resource-dependent economy.

In a June 5 study, the B.C. finance ministry said any moves to drastically curb foreign investments could lead to wider negative repercussions that would result in the loss of C$350 million or 0.2 per cent of the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It warned that roughly C$1 billion in residential real estate sales and around 3,800 jobs would be lost, mainly in the construction and real estate sectors.

B.C. officials have good reason to fear, seeing how quickly the collapse of the oil, gas and commodity markets is crushing the once red-hot housing markets in Calgary and Fort McMurray.

Foreign investors are fleeing or refusing to invest in Alberta – the same ones that three years ago some in the Canadian media and government attacked for trying to invest in Canada’s oil sands reserves.

Trade with Asia

Notwithstanding the current problems in most emerging economies, Canada needs to continue to grow trade with Asia and reduce its overwhelming dependence on the U.S., said Stewart Beck, President of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, in a recent interview.

Canada’s trade with Asia has grown from C$86 billion in 2004 to over C$155 billion last year, with China accounting for half that share.

In a recent interview, Yuen Pau Woo, the CEO of HQ Vancouver, said the media should highlight the far more important contribution of foreign investments in creating employment and business opportunities for Canadians.

In a recent interview, Yuen Pau Woo, the CEO of HQ Vancouver, said the media should highlight the far more important contribution of foreign investments in creating employment and business opportunities for Canadians.

Launched in February, HQ Vancouver is a partnership between the Business Council of B.C. (BCBC), and the B.C. and federal governments to attract Asian companies to set up their head offices in Vancouver.

At a March 31 event to launch a book on China by former diplomat David Mulroney, Woo spoke of the need for Vancouver to boost income-generating activities and businesses to enable its residents to live and prosper in the city’s increasingly costly environment.

His speech was not reported in the media; outlets focused instead on Mulroney’s political concerns with China and, of course, Chinese buying Vancouver real estate.

But Woo followed up in September with a criticism of the Globe and Mail for publishing a centrespread feature on Chinese buyers of Vancouver mansions, while ignoring “the news about a similar set of Chinese immigrants who announced an investment of $200 million in a manufacturing facility in Surrey (F-Pacific Optical Inc.) and the establishment of a North American head office in Vancouver.”

“Why is the media more interested in the houses that these immigrants buy than in the job-creating investments that they make?” he wrote in TheTyee.ca.

He called for “a stop to the insidious characterization of Chinese investors as villains in our affordability problems,” and for Vancouverites to “seize on the presence of so many well-heeled entrepreneur and investor immigrants … to attract new business capital to the province, create jobs and raise incomes.”

Negative media, hate crimes

But his message still fell flat for some Canadians, who are stuck with the media’s negative portrayal of Asian investment in Vancouver’s housing market.

The pervasive negative media reports may have led to at least two acts of hate crime in Nanaimo and Richmond targeted at Chinese housing investment.

BD, an anonymous critic commenting on TheTyee site described Woo, a Malaysia-born Canadian, as “an Asian with investor relatives telling us to pay no attention to foreign investment.”

“Canada is supposed to be a country where people live in houses with yards, not morph into another [third] world hell where everyone lives in a sterile white box in a tall building. No foreign ownership,” BD wrote.

The pervasive negative media reports may have led to at least two acts of hate crime in Nanaimo and Richmond targeted at Chinese housing investment.

In Nanaimo, the RCMP is looking for the vandal or vandals who spray-painted anti-immigrant slurs on advertisements for Chinese real estate agents.

“The racist graffiti comes on the heels of racially charged pamphlets that blamed wealthy foreign investors for inflating real estate prices,” reported the Times Colonist.

Growing anxiety

Canadians’ growing anxiety over China has become entangled with worries over Vancouver’s housing affordability, said Paul Evans, professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Asian Research.

“There is a general Canadian discomfort or anxiety about China. On specific issues, depending on how it is played, you can have a firestorm.”

“People are worried about Chinese investments swamping Canada, even though it’s less than three per cent of total foreign investments in this country,” he said in an interview at his office.

“There is a general Canadian discomfort or anxiety about China. On specific issues, depending on how it is played, you can have a firestorm.”

He supports the call for better data and analysis on foreign investments in Canada’s real estate, which he feels should have been implemented a long time ago.

“As unpopular as it might be in some quarters, as Canadians, we should start monitoring the flows and get the facts. We should have disclosure from investors, just as the Australians do,” he said.

“It’s because of the timing,” he added. Had this been implemented before Vancouver’s housing cost became political, the request for data disclosure would not have been an issue.

“We need smart and courageous politicians to do it now. I know a lot of politicians are running scared of this issue now. At the city and, particularly, the provincial levels,” explain Evans.

“But as mature public policy, we just have to start monitoring who’s buying, who’s selling.”

The challenge for the Canadian government now is to implement detailed data collection and analysis without it appearing as a reflexive “anti-China, anti-Chinese act,” said Evans.

Hopefully, that’s one urban legend Vancouver will avoid being associated with.


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 1: A Global Issue

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 2: A Tale of Many Cities

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 3: Solutions or Scapegoats?

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 4: Lots of Statistics, and a Few Lies

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

 

Published in National

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