As someone who lives in what’s so quaintly called a “bedroom community”, I get to see my fair share and then some of what happens when people flee the unaffordable real estate market of Toronto. Good things, occasionally; bad things, CONSTANTLY. Things like our own housing prices jumping insanely high for what are essentially suburban crackerbox developments, while storefronts and apartments in our historic downtown core sit empty and deteriorating for lack of maintenance. Or our once-fun local theatre companies getting semi-professionalized, meaning an infusion of cash (mostly government subsidies), which then goes to pay high salaries for glossy, imported directors with Big Names, rather than the friendly, clued-in local volunteers who used to run them for the love of the art.
My town is “growing”. Or rather, it’s metastasizing. It’s popping out suburbs — or sub-suburbs, rather — on two of its three sides. The fourth side is Lake Ontario, so that doesn’t count, unless you look at the ugly but absurdly priced condos that now squat by our lovely “heritage” harbor. That’s where a toxic old tank farm used to be, back when this town still had decent-paying factory jobs. (Rumor has it that Sir Elton John and his Canadian hubby bought one.)
Oh sure, it all looks fine from a distance, like when you’re speeding past our north-end metastases on the 401, en route to bigger and better places. Affluent Suburbia, hip hip hooray. Just free-market capitalism just doing its free, free thing. But inwardly, it’s a hot mess. It’s a dozen layers of wallpaper and ten coats of glossy paint over a cobweb of structural cracks in cardboard walls. It’s bound to collapse at some point, like the Twin Towers, in a morass of carcinogenic ashes. It’s not a question of if, but when.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. This isn’t about my town. It’s about what made such a hot mess of my town. And it’s also about the opinion-shapers who, in true laissez-faire (often pronounced, wrongly but also rightly, as “lazy-fare”) capitalist fashion, think there’s nothing wrong with small towns losing their souls, or most of us living in cardboard boxes full of structural cracks held together by paint, wallpaper, and devout prayers. As long as The Market, the holy, sacrosanct Market, gets its pound of flesh, eh.
Folks, today’s the day we spank the CBC’s own Neil Macdonald. Again.
Now Neil, for those who don’t know who he is, used to be a journalist, dealing in the CBC’s humble brand of intelligent, yet accessible reporting. But now he’s become that most insufferable of journalism’s plagues — a Pundit. Neil is probably just waiting to snag the prime Pundit spot that will open when Rex Murphy finally takes the hint and retires. And like all Pundits, he’s patronizing and hectoring us, insulting our collective intelligence, and just generally pissing on our heads and telling us not to worry about the acid rain corroding that metal roof that we spent so much money on. I’ve fisked him for that (twice!) before, and I’m about to do so again. Because Neil has pooped out a Punditry about the problems with our urban housing markets, and it’s high time he got his nose rubbed in it. So gird your loins, folks, it’s going to be a long one, and it’s bound to get awfully angry out. Ready? Here we go:
My job includes an indulgently luxurious morning news tour, skipping for hours around some of the best English-language websites in the world.
The British have the most literate, catholic tastes; the BBC alone maintains about 50 bureaux worldwide, and nearly 250 correspondents abroad and generally, the tone of British reporting is the calmest.
The American product is dynamic, provocative and utterly solipsistic. The primary focus, understandably, is their loopy president. (This morning’s Trump headline is his dubious proposal to compare his IQ to that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “And I can tell you who is going to win.”)
When U.S. news organizations cover foreign news, it’s through the prism of American power, or American interests. The tone is seldom calm.
Four paragraphs of self-indulgence, ego-masturbation, irrelevant generalizations and shit. Yawwwwwwn. What the hell kind of lede is this?
Oh yeah, it’s Neil trying to impress us with his Encyclopedic Knowledge, which of course is the fundament of all Punditry. Or maybe he’s trying to intimidate us in advance into believing he’s right, before he’s even within spitting distance of the point. Which, knowing him, is bound to be even more irrelevant, seemingly-in-touch-but-really-not rubbish.
And Canadians, I’m afraid, live up to our own clichés; a vast swath of our journalism is about how we relate to America. We obsess over defining and protecting our identity, particularly in a globalized world, and how, or whether, we matter. That, and our real estate prices.
Neil, Neil, Neil. Really? Clichés? Didn’t your high-school English teacher ever tell you not to fall back on them, because they’re lazy and stupid and a mark of bad writing? Do I have to give you a schooling about that here? You’re supposed to be a wordsmith, for fuck’s sake. Do you not know how to do your damn job?
And how many times do I have to tell you that the dogpile to the immediate south of us isn’t America, it’s just the United States of Amnesia? Oh sure, it THINKS it’s America, with a God-given Manifest Destiny to rule the entire continent that is actually America — or Turtle Island, if you will. But it’s not. And we would be fools to do things the way that dogpile does things. Even if that way seems “dynamic”, it’s actually stagnant to the point of brackishness. We’ll be getting into that shortly.
And just how “vast” is this “swath” of journalism obsessing over how we relate to the Big Dogpile To Our Collective South, anyway? Neil doesn’t say. He assumes he doesn’t have to. It just IS, okay? More inane, irrelevant generalizations to prove Neil’s Encyclopedic Knowledge of what the Chattering Classes are on and on and on about. Booooooring!
Canadian news organizations seem to have a permanent daily space reserved for the cost of lodging in Vancouver or Toronto. Prices in those cities have been remarkably steep for decades, and yet the subject remains hot news.
Oh, FINALLY something vaguely resembling a nut graf. We only had to wade through half a dozen paragraphs of eye-numbing, mind-glazing drivel to get to it!
And, whaddya know. It’s just more of the same. Eye-numbing, mind-glazing drivel, that is.
So…IS the “cost of lodging in Vancouver or Toronto” REALLY “hot news”, with “a permanent daily space reserved” for it? Or is that just another of Neil’s inane generalizations that are meant to be taken as truisms, because he is A Pundit? From where I sit, that kind of “hot news” is no news at all, much less hot. It’s a boring, dreary, mundane reality that everyone grumbles about over their coffee and Timbits. And in terms of news coverage, it’s mostly shoved off to the middle or back pages, which no one reads because no one needs to. They KNOW. Toronto and Vancouver ARE prohibitively expensive. And sadly, this meme is still all too relevant if you’re stuck there:
Anyhow. Let’s keep wading into this swamp, shall we?
I suppose I can see why they’re clickbait: they inspire hopelessness in the multitudes of renters hoping to somehow lever their way onto the real estate train, and smuggy happiness in those who have owned homes for years, and who love doing the mental calculation of how much money they’ve made, at least on paper (reality, because all boats rise with the tide, is another matter. To realize that wealth they have to sell and leave the city).
Anyway, the tone of the coverage is always puzzlement or outrage, as if such a thing shouldn’t be happening in Canada, and the stories are formulaic: the picture of some crappy little fixer-upper shot from the curb upwards to distort the size of the “sold” sign, with a headline proclaiming YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE WHAT THIS WENT FOR, or the despair of a tenant of ordinary means coping with greedy landlords (often meaning other ordinary people acting in their own economic self-interest), or an exhausted young couple who’s been outbid for the hundredth time on an ordinary little house somewhere (usually meaning a house they wanted but couldn’t afford), or where Vancouver ranks in the list of the world’s most unaffordable cities (#3) or where Toronto ranks on the same list (#13, in cities of more than a million people).
Toronto, a recent headline proclaimed, has just hit a new record of unaffordability.
No shit? Neil, you could at least have supplied us with a hotlink, so we could see for ourselves what that headline said, and if indeed it IS at the top of the news hour. This is the Internet, you know. I assume you have it in your cushy CBC office. Or do you have a butler bring you the papers in dead-tree form, freshly ironed for your delectation? Either way, failing to show your work just reeks of laziness.
And how nice of you to dismiss a decades-old social problem (because the root of this problem arose well before the internet, you know) as mere “clickbait”. How very clever you are, Neil. So clever that I see you’re falling back on economic as well as linguistic clichés about rising tides and boats and shit. Only you’ve left that last bit out. Tsk, tsk. Shit rises with the tide too, Neil, but you’re not going to get into that, are you?
Oh, and before I forget, Neil: It’s even worse in Calgary than it is in TO and Vancouver. Your own network has said as much.
(See what I mean by coats of glossy paint over deep structural cracks? Don’t worry, you soon will.)
No, the problem of crappy houses being sold for millions isn’t “formulaic clickbait”, Neil. It’s a real thing that’s leaving hard-working, cash-strapped people fighting like rats over substandard real estate of every kind, but how nice of you, again, to say that money-grubbing absentee landlords are just “ordinary people acting in their own economic self-interest”. As though they weren’t criminals (and often organized criminals, at that). As though those all-too-commonplace flippers and speculators expecting sky-high returns on their “investments” weren’t a real problem for people who aren’t being paid enough to afford what those greedheads are demanding of them. People are being thrown out in the name of “renovations” that aren’t really happening, just so rent can be raised. Housing is now being bid on, rather than simply bought. And meanwhile, the Chinese oligarchs are all rubbing their hands, or would be if they didn’t have to put all that cash down first. Chairman Mao is both gone AND forgotten, as far as the princelings are concerned. All that matters is having a place to launder all that looted money, and maybe turn a quick Canadian buck while they’re at it. Who’s clickbaiting whom, again?
Oh yes, of course. It’s Neil, trying lamely to forestall an actual, reasoned argument:
In the background is the shadowy, anonymous Chinese buyer, who flies in and pays cash, far above asking, driving prices forever beyond the reach of ordinary Canadians.
And the subtext is the unfairness of it all, usually summed up by some househunter asserting something like: “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to afford a home in my own city,” or some reference to affordable housing as a natural right.
Which of course it isn’t, at least not in a capitalist system. Prices are even higher in New York and London and Hong Kong, but news outlets in those cities don’t dote on the subject, and residents seem to have long ago accepted market realities.
O RLY, Neil? I’m pretty sure that New Yorkers, Londoners, and the denizens of Hong Kong ARE all complaining about the cost of living there, too. Last I looked, all three were loud and fractious about how their rent was too damn high, and how speculators are ruining their cities. So it’s not just Toronto and Vancouver complaining about the too-high cost of housing. Everyone is doing it, and no wonder: Everyone has speculators fucking it up for everyone else.
They’ve been seething about it for years, too. London, as I recall, had a major apartment fire just recently that brought all the anger boiling up to the point where it actually bubbled into the headlines. So it’s not like the news media there aren’t “doting” on it. No, they’re actually fucking REPORTING it, because it is A FUCKING STORY.
But then, I know about these things because I pay fucking attention. And I do it in ways that Neil, who is A Pundit and thus paid to pacify rather than inform us, does not, even though he claims he has the luxury of perusing all manner of news at his CBC desk every day. Know why I pay attention? Because I’m a socialist, and I happen to think that yes, having a reliable, affordable roof over one’s head SHOULD be a natural right.
Frankly, it’s criminal that we are forced to haggle and scrabble over every scrap and crumb and droplet that falls off the gilded table of Trickle-Down Economics. What the hell kind of existence is THAT?
And no, Neil, I don’t accept ANY of the absurd “market realities” that have houses standing empty while people are living on street grates, or out of cars in mall parking lots. Nobody should accept that, and nobody should HAVE to. There are more peopleless homes in the US of Amnesia now than there are homeless people to occupy them, and STILL the speculators are gobbling up land and vomiting butt-ugly condos all over it, and then charging extortionate rates just to live there. There are apartment buildings with one door for the rich residents, and another for the not-so. If that’s not fucked up and classist as all hell, then tell me, Neil…what the hell is it???
Oh yeah. I forgot. It’s just Economic Reality! This I know, for Neil the Pundit tells us so.
In any event, government power to contain market forces is limited in the extreme, despite efforts like Toronto’s highly aspirational “Open Door Affordable Housing Program,” or even provincial surtaxes on foreign buyers, which the market seems to inevitably absorb in its upward march.
Rent control, recently imposed province-wide by Ontario, instantly creates two classes of renters, the lucky and unlucky, and instantly discourages potential new landlords, capping their income but not their expenses. What small investor would now buy a rental property in Ontario?
Oh noes, those evil, evil rent controls! Won’t somebody think of the poor “small investors”? Oh, thank heaven, Neil Macdonald, Crusading Pundit and voice of the voiceful, is right on it!
The only real right you have is to seek cheaper accommodation, which can mean moving to a cheaper city, of which there are many in Canada.
Yes, and none of them are where the decent-paying jobs are. Neil doesn’t want to mention this. (And there goes yet another coat of paint over yet another structural crack!)
I lived in Toronto and Vancouver in the ’80s, and fled both after six months or so of hemorrhaging money. I realized I simply didn’t make enough to live in any degree of what I considered comfort. I had a particularly hard time understanding the cost of Toronto; perhaps I’m missing something, but to me, it doesn’t even compare to the other cities on the nosebleed-affordability list. I mean, over the years I’ve flown to New York or Chicago for a weekend of splurge-fun. Hard to imagine jumping excitedly on a flight to Pearson.
I know, I know, TIFF, but still….
I couldn’t afford Toronto in 1988 and I certainly can’t now. Vancouver might as well be on another planet. I’d far sooner consider moving to Halifax. Or Calgary. Or Montreal. But Ottawa is a fine compromise. I can be cycling in a national park within 15 minutes of leaving my doorstep. There are excellent restaurants here, decent city services and I can always find on-street parking downtown for about three dollars an hour.
Gee, Neil, you sound awfully smug. Is that a note of “Fuck you, jack, I’ve got mine” I hear creeping into your drivel there?
I realize not everyone is mobile. Some people are stuck in Toronto and Vancouver for family or job reasons, and simply cannot uproot. And Montreal has punitively high taxes and a language wall built around it that is insuperable for most Canadians.
Fucking duh, Neil. Fucking DUH. So what are you proposing they DO, anyway? If they all moved to Ottawa, not only would they be too far from the jobs they need to afford the housing, they’d also crowd you right the fuck off your precious bike trail. Not to mention that they’d soon overheat the local housing market, thus doing YOU out of an investment…eh?
We live in Canada, but we also live in the world. Supply and demand in free markets trumps vague notions of social justice almost absolutely. Our three biggest cities are for financial and social reasons now out of reach for millions of Canadians.
That’s not going to change, at least in my lifetime. And by now, it should no longer be news to anyone.
Oh, I see. Just more of the same old “suck it up, buttercup” shit that any student of high-school economics gets to hear a thousand times over before they tune out and fall asleep at their desk. Very helpful, Neil.
See what I mean, kiddies, by Pundits being paid to pacify rather than inform us? Neil has told us not one thing that we haven’t already heard a million times before. And he wasn’t even original in the telling, either, so we can’t say that he at least entertained us. He has bored us stiff, and if he’s done what he was paid to do, he has distracted us from reading up on all the things WE could be doing. Like organizing. And agitating. And protesting. And blockading. You know, SOCIALIST stuff.
But Neil Macdonald, unlike your average Canadian, clearly has no use for that. As long as he has bike trails in the city and the riffraff (that’s you and me, kids) aren’t crowding him out of them with our damn demands on his damn supply, he’ll be all right.
And the rest of us, as usual, can just go suck rocks.