Updates: Ricochet, Piketty Forum and more coming soon

I’m in the midst of a spell of travel and other work that’s been keeping me away from posting new content here. Another week or two and I should be able to return to much more regular updates of this blog. For the time being I wanted to mention two things that might be of interest to readers here:


I’m happy to be joining Ricochet as a contributing editor. Ricochet is a new entry into the media landscape in Canada: crowd-funded and independent, bilingual and pan-Canadian. The aim is to focus on traditional investigative journalism and hard-hitting analysis. I’m proud to be joining a range of colleagues and friends from across Canada. Especially exciting is the fact that many colleagues on the French-language editorial collective come out of Quebec’s Maple Spring student movement and a number have roots in the Idle No More movement that reasserted First Nations struggles. I’m looking forward to the much-needed exchange of ideas between Quebec, First Nations and English Canada.

The initial crowd-fundraiser is running until June 20th so check it out if you haven’t yet had a chance and consider helping us out financially if you have the means.

My role as contributing editor is relatively flexible but expect to see some of my writing up there both between now and the full launch later this year and beyond.

A Public Forum on Piketty in Vancouver

Also of interest to readers might be a public forum on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century that I’m both helping organize and speaking at later this month in Vancouver. The idea is to provide both those who have read the book as well as those who don’t have the time for the 600-page tome of the the season an opportunity to learn about and discuss its major ideas.

The event will take place on June 25th at 7:00pm at SFU Harbour Centre (Room 1700) in Vancouver. Speaking will be Iglika Ivanova (CCPA BC), Marjorie Griffin-Cohen, Geoff Mann (both of SFU) and myself. There will be discussion of everything from Piketty’s massive trove of inequality data to his proposed solutions. I’ll be talking about the mechanics of Piketty’s economic model and how it fits into mainstream economics (in 15 minutes!). Here is the Facebook event page.

Hope to see you there if you happen to be in town!



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Forget global superstar, Vancouver’s housing troubles start at home

Vancouver was the star of a recent New Yorker article that shone a light on the city’s lack of housing affordability and linked this lack to an inflow of foreign buyers. Unfortunately, this link is extremely tenuous, as most of the support is anecdotal or based on very limited data. At the same time, there are good reasons to look for the sources of the lack of affordability much closer to home. Articles like that in the New Yorker allow for far-flung conclusions that end up bolstering a fatalist political narrative about the potential for meaningful change.

First, the data. The New Yorker author, James Surowiecki, offers two major sources to back his claims. The first is a Sotheby’s report stating that 40% of buyers of Vancouver luxury homes (luxury homes had an average low cut-off price of $2.8 million or three times the overall average price) in the first half of 2013 were foreign. At the end of his article, Surowiecki also cites Andy Yan’s interesting energy usage studies, the most recent of which showed that somewhere between five and ten percent of the city’s condos may be sitting empty at any given time. Of course Surowiecki cited the sensational statistic that almost a quarter of homes in one Coal Harbour census tract were likely vacant at census time. (more…)

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BC’s resource economy: is it sustainable?

Today’s focus is on British Columbia’s resource economy. Although I’ll be talking about British Columbia in particular, the same issues come up in various guises across North America wherever the large-scale extraction of natural resources is economically important.

My two guests are Marc Lee, Senior Economist with the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Karen Cooling, long-time labour and environmental activist retired from Unifor. My first conversation with Marc focuses on the current state of BC’s extraction economy, looking in particular at LNG development. In the second part, I speak to Karen about the relationship between unions and the environmental movement in BC, partly from a personal perspective.


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Where’s the tax in BC’s carbon tax?

British Columbia’s carbon tax has been getting some high praise lately. A recent article in the Atlantic called it “the crown jewel of North American climate policy”. Such assessments need some tempering. BC’s carbon tax can tell us important things about the limits of fiscal policy today, which in turn questions the potential it has for fostering significant environmental change.

Tales of the tax’s effectiveness focus on its environmental impacts. Almost six years since its introduction, it is indisputable that the carbon tax has had some impact on resource use and emissions. This is clearly a good thing. There is debate about the extent of this impact and where it is concentrated but it’s there – see these charts.

The carbon tax is presented as not being as problematic as other “market-friendly, eco-friendly” measures such as cap-and-trade. These end up being largely corporate giveaways – new sources of commodification and profit. BC’s carbon tax has been hailed as a policy that rather than giving money back to corporations brings revenue back to the people.

Yet as opposed to those who make the carbon tax out to be an unqualified success, I think any hurrah-optimism needs to be seriously qualified. (more…)

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