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"Yeah, Whatever" is the title track off of Vancouver-based Canadian electronica group Moev's 1988 album "Yeah, Whatever". Produced by the second incarnation of this band, featuring one Dean Russell as vocalist and lyricist, this song deserved wider recognition. Russell's vocals and the guitar-driven lyrics bring to mind a sort of Canadian fusion of Depeche Mode with the Smiths.

Most unfortunately, Moev and Dean Russell never got the chance to break through into the mainstream, Russell dying of HIV/AIDS in 1994 and the band subsequently splintering. What could have been--But at least we have this.
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  • Ars Technica recommends five sights on the British coast to see before they are erased by global warming.

  • This Syracuse.com report about the upstate New York town of Sandy Creek, beset by Lake Ontario flooding, is alarming.

  • VICE's Kate Lunau notes the serious threat posed by sea level rise to coastal Canadian centres, from Halifax to Vancouver.

  • Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic notes that the US South, already badly off, will be hit hard by global warming.

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  • The Globe and Mail's Joanna Slater talks about how the subway system of New York City is staggering from catastrophe to catastrophe.

  • The Globe and Mail's Stephen Quinn argues it is much too late to save Vancouver's Chinatown from radical redevelopment.

  • The Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski writes about how young buyers are driving a push for laneway housing in Toronto.
  • Bryan Tucker, also in the Toronto Star, also makes the case for laneway housing.

  • The National Post shares a story about an affordable 18th century house on the Québec-Vermont border.

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  • Yahoo News shares the story of a cat that visited every national park in the United States, with photos.

  • CBC's Mike Crawley takes a look at the impact of the Ontario $15 minimum wage, finding it should have little effect on the economy at large.

  • In The Globe and Mail, Tony Keller suggests that Donald Trump's actions do a great job of promoting China as a responsible superpower.

  • CBC notes research suggesting that global warming will make the heat island effect in cities much worse.

  • It is easy, editor David Shribman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes in The Globe and Mail, to mistake Pittsburgh for Paris.

  • The Toronto Star notes Ariana Grande's surprise visit to her fans in hospital before tomorrow benefit concert.

  • The Atlantic reports on the problems of post-Communist gentrification in Moscow.

  • The Georgia Straight shares one Vancouver artist's goodbye to her adopted city, beloved but now too expensive.

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Gary Mason wrote Thursday from Victoria for The Globe and Mail about the Toronto real estate crisis, contrasting the belated responses of Toronto and Ontario unfavourably to those of his province of residence.

Of all the political U-turns B.C. Premier Christy Clark has undertaken in power, perhaps none was as jarring and unexpected as the one she performed on housing.

For most of 2015, and at least half of the following year, the Premier refused to do anything about rapidly escalating house prices in Metro Vancouver. She maintained that bringing in measures to cool the market might hurt the equity in people’s homes. She denied foreign investors had much to do with the fierce escalation in costs, relying on the faulty, self-serving data from a real-estate industry that wanted the sticker-shock insanity to continue.

And there was also the not-insignificant fact that the B.C. treasury was getting fattened on the provincial tax that exists on home sales – easy money that can become like crack to a government.

But then Ms. Clark and her cabinet came to an uncomfortable realization: The growing public outrage over the fact that the middle-class dreams of owning a home were evaporating by the day for many and might cost the government re-election. So the Premier did what she vowed she wouldn’t and brought in a 15-per-cent foreign buyer’s tax that did precisely what it was intended to – put the brakes on the absurd, and immoral, goings-on in the real estate industry.

Unfortunately, by the time she did, it was too late for thousands.
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The Globe and Mail's Dominika Lirette reports on the support of the British Columbian government for funding a study looking into the feasibility of a high-speed rail route connecting Vancouver with Oregon's Portland.

British Columbia’s Transportation Minister says the province supports Washington State’s decision to study the feasibility of a high-speed rail line from Portland to Vancouver.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has allotted $1-million (U.S.) from his 2017-19 state budget to examine the costs and benefits of building a system to carry travellers 400 kilometres an hour with stops in Seattle and Bellingham. A report is due in December.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said it’s “far too premature” to talk about a potential financial commitment to a high-speed rail line, but he said the province is interested in the idea.

“The Premier sent a letter to Governor Inslee recently, extending provincial support for the state of Washington’s decision to actually do some due diligence, some analysis on this proposed high-speed rail link, and we certainly support them doing that,” Mr. Stone said.

He noted that that an agreement signed last year between British Columbia and Washington State, known as the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, highlights transportation as a key priority.

The study will examine the design and cost of a high-speed rail system, the potential demand and whether it would be economically viable. A budget document outlining the study says the high-speed rail system, if built, could connect with east-west routes in the state, as well as a similar system, in California.
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The Globe and Mail features Mike Huber's article suggesting that Trump's existing border controls and the fear of more have triggered an exodus of Silicon Valley talent north, to British Columbia.

British Columbia’s burgeoning tech sector is set to get a big boost from entrepreneurs and their employees fleeing Silicon Valley to dodge U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, industry insiders say.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he spent this weekend conducting more than a dozen client consultations with high-level engineers, managers and PhD or master’s students working in the U.S. tech industry. These prospective clients now want to move to Canada after Mr. Trump’s executive order last Friday blocking entry to citizens from seven Muslim countries, he said.

Mr. Kurland, who publishes the Lexbase newsletter on the Canadian immigration system, said his colleagues across Canada are all reporting similar interest.

“I’ve never seen anything like it from the United States. The last time I saw something like this was 1989 China – where you had top minds and top families seeking exit from the turmoil,” he said. “There’s this sense of fear and anxiety because you don’t know who’s next on [Mr. Trump’s] list.”

Further uncertainty was added Monday after several U.S. news agencies reported that the President had drafted another executive order targeting a special class of temporary work permits that technology companies have relied upon to recruit highly skilled engineers into the United States.
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I have to admit to not being amused, as described by the National Post in the article "An early test of Trump’s ethics pledge: The glittering tower in Vancouver about to open its doors" written for the Washington Post by Drew Harwell, Alan Freeman and Jenny Peng, that Trump Tower in Vancouver is set to open and in so doing open up space for a whole slew of problems for the Trump Administration. I would prefer Canada not get involved at all in the political issues of our southern neighbour.

As President Trump settles into his first week in the White House, the first paying guests will begin checking in tonight into the lavish suites of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, a glass skyscraper developed by the son of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest business executives.

The tower, the first foreign business launch of the Trump brand during the new presidency, is an early test of Trump’s controversial decision to retain ownership of his businesses while promising to combat ethical conflicts by removing himself from the management. It also shows how Trump properties around the world are likely to become focal points for protest or other forms of expressions aimed at the U.S. president and his policies.

Trump and his family do not own the Vancouver project, but the president has a stake in its continued success. The developers have paid Trump’s company for the use of his name while they also pay fees for his company to manage the hotel, according to federal financial disclosures filed by Trump.

Developers say that the hotel, where workers pulled the covers off its imposing “Trump” lettering the day before Friday’s inauguration, has seen an “overwhelming amount of reservations.” Deep-pocketed buyers have also scooped up condos. Buyers include an American tech billionaire who paid $7.6 million for three luxury flats.

To many locals, the building is something of a political symbol. Some, including Vancouver’s mayor, have protested the name that appears in lights above the skyline. Eggs were thrown at a Trump hotel window during the Women’s March there on Saturday that filed past the property.

Trump’s association with overseas hotels was cited in a lawsuit brought this week by ethics experts, who argued that permits or other benefits granted to Trump-branded properties could violate a constitutional ban on foreign government payments to the U.S. president.</blockquote
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At The Globe and Mail, Kerry Gold describes the pressure faced by renters as their long-time landlords sell their properties to others, perhaps less invested in keeping their current renters and more interested in maximizing their profit.

Bob Wilson was an old-school landlord, the kind who’d rather learn how to fix a clogged drain himself than call in a plumber.

The retired firefighter owned and meticulously managed the character three-storey on leafy Barclay Street in Vancouver’s West End for 40 years, until he sold it last year for an offer he couldn’t refuse.

And he did refuse many offers. His love of his tenants, the building and his desire to keep working kept him in the landlord business.

“I am friends with almost all of them – even my new tenants I’d seem to become friends with,” says 80-year-old Mr. Wilson. “A fireman is always helping people, so you can’t change that. I love that stuff, doing them favours if they needed something. It was fantastic for me.”

He worked for 30 years as a firefighter, but he managed several small properties around the city. When he was a teenager, his basketball coach advised him to buy real estate in the West End because it would always be desirable and it had nowhere to grow, surrounded by water and the downtown to the east. His investments earned him a decent income for a lifetime.
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This multiply-authored feature in The Globe and Mail takes a vivid look at the worsening drug problem in the Downtown Eastside in the era of fentanyl and related opiates.

Deirdre is leaning against an alley wall, prepping a needle full of crystal methamphetamine that could be contaminated with fentanyl. She and a friend have paused to cheer as an employee of a nearby needle exchange rushes over to revive an overdosing man.

“Breathe bro, breeeeathe!” another bystander shouts as he gently slaps the man’s blue face while the employee preps oxygen and a syringe of naloxone that can reverse the deadly effects of opioids.

A small team of firefighters and paramedics take over. The first responders believe the man – Justin – is the one they revived in the same spot a day earlier.

Deirdre, who asked that her real name not be used, and her friend prepare their rigs and inject them into their arms, the scene in front of them no deterrent to the risk that could put them on the pavement in need of a similar lifesaving intervention.

It is 11:29 a.m. on a frigid Wednesday morning– the second-last Wednesday of December, when millions of dollars of social-assistance payments flood into the Downtown Eastside, or DTES. For recipients who regularly use drugs, this day – known in the neighbourhood as “Cheque Day,” “Welfare Wednesday” or “Mardi Gras” – dramatically increases their risk of a fatal overdose.

Though much of Canada has felt the effects of the fentanyl-driven overdose crisis, British Columbia has been hardest hit, experiencing more fatal overdoses this year than in three decades of record-keeping. The death toll is expected to climb to more than 800. Two weeks ago, eight overdose deaths were recorded in the Downtown Eastside in a single day.
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The Globe and Mail's Frances Bula looks at how even Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is sharing in the housing construction boom of the wider Vancouver metropolitan area, perhaps at the expense of the deprived people who live in that neighbourhood.

A prominent long-vacant lot on the edge of the Downtown Eastside is about to be developed by the company also building the Trump Tower.

But because of a city zoning policy put in years ago and the developer’s preference for something different, the new building at the rapidly transforming corner of Hastings and Abbott across the street from the Woodward’s project will be a rental.

“It is an important and underutilized corner of the city,” said Phillip Scott, the director of development for Holborn Group. He said rental residential is a good fit for the diversified company, adding that “the larger scale of rental building projects such as this helps to deliver amenities and …sustainable living space.”

The 132-unit building is being designed by architect Gair Williamson, who has done a number of unique projects in the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown and Strathcona, including The Keefer, the Paris Block and the Paris Annex, and projects that combine social and market rentals.

The Holborn lot, which used to house a one-storey building that had a food market in its last incarnation, has sat vacant for years. In the decade since Holborn bought the site, the area has changed dramatically.
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The Globe and Mail's Marsha Lederman describes a program in Vancouver for artists that goes some way towards making the city actually affordable for them.

In a city such as Vancouver, high rents and a low vacancy rate do not paint a pretty picture – particularly for artists, who need a place to live as well as a studio space in which to work. Solutions can be trying and not always conducive to one’s artistic practice – finding a roommate, sharing a studio, getting a day job or, yes, leaving town. And size restrictions imposed by space issues can also limit the kind of work an artist produces.

Colleen Heslin currently has three works at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the recently opened exhibition Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures, the inaugural triennial featuring local artists.

Ms. Heslin’s works are dye on linen paintings. They are all large, but one of them, True Grey, 2016, is enormous – 330-by-244 centimetres.

The Vancouver-based artist says her studio “was very crucial” in creating the pieces. For one thing, it was big enough.

Her place has 1,075 square feet over two levels, with a bright living space upstairs and a studio space below with very high ceilings. In the living area, the windowsills are lined with plants, there’s a full kitchen – including a dishwasher – and room for a large dining table, couch, bed and more. Downstairs, there’s a large custom-built work table on wheels, generous storage space for paintings and sculptures, a shelving system for textiles and all kinds of floor space, where even large works, such as True Grey, can be easily laid out.

Her rent is $440 a month.

Ms. Heslin is one of the beneficiaries of the City of Vancouver’s Artist Live-Work Studio Awards Program, which grants spaces to Vancouver-based artists at low or no rent based on financial need and artistic merit.

There are currently seven studios in the program – two work-only and five live-work spaces. Two are awarded at no cost and the other five at significantly reduced rents for three-year terms.

It’s enough time, Ms. Heslin says, to make a difference in an artist’s practice – and the cost is liberating. Previously, she paid about $1,000 for her apartment and separate studio space, which she shared. In the new space, she’s been able to work with thicker, stronger materials. And the washer and dryer in the unit have helped enormously with the dying that is crucial to her practice.
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The Globe and Mail shares Geordon Omand's Canadian Press article looking at the exciting research into ancient wildlife engineering for food production in British Columbia, with the design of marshes optimized for the yield of a tuber known as the wapato.

An ancient wetland-gardening site unearthed during a road-building project in British Columbia is as culturally important as any other wonder of the world, says a member of the indigenous group who directed the excavation project.

A study published Wednesday found that as early as 1,800 BC, ancestors of the Katzie First Nation in B.C.’s Lower Mainland were engineering the wetland environment to increase the yield of a valuable, semi-aquatic plant known as a wapato. The report describes the finding as the first direct archeological evidence of the cultivation of wild plants in the Pacific Northwest.

“This is as important to us as the Egyptian pyramids, or the temples in Thailand, or Machu Picchu,” said Debbie Miller, who works with an archeological consulting firm owned by the Katzie Nation.

Road-building crews uncovered a rock platform measuring about 12-square metres made up of flat stones that would have rested several feet underwater four millenniums ago. The distribution of the stones into a pattern of single and double layers, as well as their closely packed arrangement, suggests they were placed deliberately, the study published online in ScienceAdvances found.

The stone “pavement” would have prevented the wapato from penetrating deep into the sludgy, wetland sediment, making it easier for gatherers to use long, sharpened digging tools to locate the buried plant and cut it free.
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The Globe and Mail's Mike Hager notes that Ontario's Peel Region, including among other municipalities Mississauga, has abandoned the exact sort of homebuyer loan program that British Columbia is set to adopt.

As British Columbia plans to roll out interest-free loans to thousands of people seeking to buy their first home, the Peel Region in Ontario is suspending a similar loan program so it can instead use the resources for much-needed social housing.

Last week, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced her government would soon start offering interest-free loans to help first-time home buyers with their down payments in a market where skyrocketing real estate has priced many out of owning property in and around Metro Vancouver.

Under the program, the B.C. government will match down payments of up to $37,500 made by first-time buyers purchasing any home priced up to $750,000. These applicants can get only the 25-year loans – which are free of interest for the first five years – if they commit to living in the unit for those initial five years.

Critics panned the move as heaping additional risk on young families while stoking property prices at a time when Ottawa is warning of abnormally high household debt and introducing measures to cool the frothy housing sector.

In Peel, where more than a million people live in the communities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, the regional government says a similar program of loans was successful in helping 681 renting households become owners over the past eight years. Those wanting to buy a property priced up to $330,000 can have a loan of up to $20,000 for a down payment. That debt is forgiven if they make that home their principal residence for the next 20 years.

Beth Storti, the manager who oversees Peel Region’s loan program, said there was not enough funding in recent years to meet demand from aspiring homeowners.

“Last year was a very, very busy year for us,” she said.
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MacLean's' Jason Kirby describes how a BC government program involving free loans to homebuyers will not help people shopping in Vancouver, with examples.

Attention, all young residents of Vancouver feeling shut out of the local housing market in this, the lead-up to May’s provincial election: Premier Christy Clark is here to help with free money!

Well, sort of. On Thursday, the government unveiled details of its new B.C. Home Owner Mortgage and Equity Partnership, which will see the province provide interest-free 25-year loans of up to $37,500—or five per cent of the purchase price of a home—with no requirement to start paying back the money for five years. Not everyone qualifies for this homebuyer subsidy, mind you—only people struggling to get by on household incomes of less than $150,000 a year can use it. And don’t go thinking you can buy a mansion, either: the maximum purchase price under Clark’s plan is $750,000.

Which, if you’re looking for a house and not a condo near downtown, leaves you with limited options.

How limited? Well, according to Realtor.ca, there are only four houses available for under $750,000. They don’t come with land. And you’ll have to build two of them.
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CityLab's Laura Bliss shares a video describing how Vancouver managed to transition to a substantially car-free existence. Policy sustained over the course of decades is responsible for this success.

Vancouver's Multi-Modal Success Story from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

When it comes to nudging drivers out of cars, Vancouver ranks as North America’s biggest success story. Fully 10 percent of commutes to work are on bikes, far exceeding U.S. and Canadian cities of a comparable size. As of 2015, half of all trips within city limits are taken on foot, bike, or transit—a goal the city had hoped to reach by 2020. Ahead of schedule—and way ahead of its peers on this continent—Vancouver’s “active transit” success is the subject of a new short documentary by STREETFILMS. In interviews with key planning officials and advocates in attendance at a summer 2016 placemaking conference, filmmaker Clarence Eckerson traces the city’s remarkable urban trajectory and shows how Vancouver managed to avoid the planning pitfalls that claimed so many other towns over the past few decades.

It all began back in the late 1960s, says the city’s former chief planner (and urban-Twitter celeb) Brent Toderian, when residents rejected a proposed highway that would have torn up the dense urban core and separated it from its famous waterfront. Vancouver is still the only major North American city without a freeway running through it. The open waterfront became the location of the hugely successful Expo ‘86, which was themed around the future of transportation and featured the debut of the elevated SkyTrain, a swoopy automated light rail system. A new extension that opened in December allowed SkyTrain to reclaim its title as the world’s longest fully automated metro system in the world (besting the similarly driverless Dubai Metro). The system also helped pave the way for the dramatic transformation of Vancouver’s waterfront a couple of years later. Hundreds of new residences and offices were built, unified by pedestrian thoroughfares and the city’s seawall—which is “routinely ranked as the best public space in at least Canada,” says Toderian.

The 2010 Winter Olympics encouraged more car-to-pedestrian street conversations, and peppering the in-between years were lots of smart decision-making, such as turning a stretch of Granville Street into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s and the city’s 2008 strategic shift to support cycling as daily form of mobility rather than pure recreation. A mess of new protected bike lanes have pushed Vancouver’s active-transit infrastructure beyond the downtown core: “24 percent of our bike network is now considered [appropriate] for all ages and abilities,” says Dale Bracewell, the city’s manager of transportation planning. A $2 billion plan to expand TransLink, Vancouver’s mass transportation network, was approved last month by the mayor’s council, and stands to bring active transit options to parts of the city that haven’t had them before.
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The Globe and Mail's Paul Willcocks gives an elegy for a notable independent bookseller in Victoria, British Colombia.

Jim Munro, who died suddenly at his Victoria home on Nov. 21 at 87, created one of the world’s great bookstores in a city of fewer than 400,000 people.

Munro’s Books, with its beautiful historic interior, carefully selected stock and storied staff and service, is a destination for bibliophiles. Earlier this year, National Geographic listed it as No. 3 on a list of the world’s top 10 destination bookstores. That was only the latest in a string of accolades from across Canada and around the world.

But in Victoria, Mr. Munro was much more than a store owner, even a celebrated one.

Mr. Munro did things. When he saw problems he brought people together to fix them. He pushed projects that he believed mattered to the community, from heritage conservation to the arts. Stylish, with a tidy white beard and sharp blazers, smart, generous, modest and charming, Mr. Munro was very much at the centre of life in Victoria.

“He had friends in all ideologies and parties and sectors,” says Dave Hill, who spent 38 years working with Mr. Munro. Mr. Munro’s broad personal interests connected him with a wide range of people – including owners of small businesses, writers, artists, musicians – and his enthusiasm helped bring them together, Mr. Hill says.
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In The Globe and Mail, Kerry Gold describes a new push to make renting a practical possibility for Vancouverites.

Now that many young people are expecting to rent for life – if they want to live in Vancouver – developers have woken up to the formerly neglected rental market. Renting has for too long been seen as second to owning, but in Vancouver at least, that attitude will soon have to change in the face of unaffordability and a rental vacancy rate below 1 per cent.

In Vancouver, the push for rental housing is moving forward, with a few new significant developments under way.

Condo marketer Bob Rennie has taken the position that he’d like to see rental housing get yet more priority around transit hubs. He’s pushing for the creation of “rental zones.” That would require a legislative change, since the City of Vancouver can’t currently create zoning according to tenure. Mr. Rennie would like to see the creation of 10,000 rental units in the next five years, all close to transit, since renters use transit more often than homeowners.

“I believe we can create a zoning that is rental-only – we can create something scalable throughout Greater Vancouver,” he says. “Let’s create solutions that aren’t just a Band-Aid, like [building] 10 units somewhere.

“Freeing up vacant rental in 5,000-square-foot units in Coal Harbour isn’t a solution for anybody,” a reference to the city’s new vacant-property tax, which was introduced to bring potential rentals onto the market. “The solution is under $1,500 a month, and I think rental-only zoning will do that. If governance says we can’t do it, let’s figure the thing out. It’s 2016. This is where our civic governments have to work with our provincial government. Put partisan politics aside. It’s a problem. Let’s solve it.”

When asked if condo developers might have an issue with choice land around transit hubs going toward rental, he responded:

“Too bad. Then create more density so you can do both.”
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Nick Wingfield's October article in The New York Times looks positively prescient.

Seattle and Vancouver are like fraternal twins separated at birth. Both are bustling Pacific Northwest coastal cities with eco-conscious populations that have accepted the bargain of dispiriting weather for much of the year in exchange for nearby ski slopes and kayaking and glorious summers.

Yet 140 miles of traffic-choked roads and an international border divide the two cities, keeping them farther apart than their geographic and cultural identities would suggest.

Now the political, academic and tech elite of both cities are looking for ways to bring them closer together, with the aim of continuing the growth of two of the most vibrant economies in North America.

“Vancouver has a lot more in common with Seattle than we do with Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, anywhere else in our country,” Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, said in an interview. “We should make the most of those cultural commonalities.”

Whether their grand vision of a “Cascadia innovation corridor” — which borrows its name from the region’s Cascade mountain range — ever materializes, leaders on both sides of the border have motives for getting cozier immediately. American tech icons like Microsoft, with voracious needs for global engineering talent, are expanding their Vancouver offices, partly because of Canada’s smoother immigration process.
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Natalie Obiko Pearson's Bloomberg News article, published in the Financial Post, reports on a noteworthy tax indeed.

Want to keep your million-dollar luxury pad in Vancouver empty? Get ready to pay $10,000 (US$7,450) annually in extra taxes. Lie about it? That’ll be $10,000 a day in fines.

Canada’s most-expensive property market, suffering from a near-zero supply of rental homes, announced the details of a new tax aimed at prodding absentee landlords into making their properties available for lease. The empty-home tax will take effect by Jan. 1 and will be calculated at one per cent of the property’s assessed value, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters at City Hall.

“Vancouver is in a rental-housing crisis,” Robertson said. “The city won’t sit on the sidelines while over 20,000 empty and under-occupied properties hold back homes from renters.”

The measure is among efforts to make housing more accessible and affordable in Vancouver, ranked the world’s third-most-livable city, and has drawn attention for its sky-high prices fomented by global money flows. Public scrutiny has focused on absentee landlords, particularly from overseas, who are accused of sitting on investment properties where windows remain dark throughout the year.

In August, the provincial government imposed a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers, and last month the federal government tightened mortgage insurance eligibility requirements. The city of Vancouver has focused its efforts on the rental market, where vacancies can get scooped up within hours while bidding wars drive up leasing costs.


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