The Red Swan: Jean Swanson speaks with worldly perspective on housing, distribution of taxes and better democratization

It’s a brisk evening in Chinatown, Selector’s Records is covered in red posters and a painting of a swan, calmly floating on unknown waters.

Vancouver city council candidate and 40 year activist, Jean Swanson is spreading her wings over our municipality because she believes she can stop the rat race of the city’s richest and put money back into the social services and housing we need for the rest of the local population.   

Volunteers use traditionally effective election tactics such as mass phoning and hosting social justice rallies in an election not optimally designed for the people, it becomes apparent that this is not a campaign. Alex Kennedy (pictured in the feature image), a Jean Swanson volunteer and formerly employed in the Canadian Forces, says this is a social movement.

The Wildcard caught up with Swanson on multiple occasions this month to witness Swanson’s approach and honing in on her words of experience to housing and taxes in the City of Vancouver. At Cities Designed to Work for Women, she resonated with former city planner Ann McAfee on what social housing funding should be today in comparison to what it had in the seventies, “2000 units of social housing a year, for three years, if we had that now we wouldn’t have a housing crisis, so it shows that governments can do that.”

When asked about her perspective for students and young adults or anyone else of vulnerable stature trying to establish themselves in the city, she explained the current rental housing issues, “The biggest loop that landlords have right now with rent control is when there’s a move, they can raise the rent. Students move a lot, so the rents in those places get moved up a lot. If we can have a rent freeze would stop that.”


A former Portland State grad, Swanson points out the inevitable signs of young people trying to earn income during the summer months or even during school, it is now impossible to earn enough to stay on top of one’s tuition. The way we view education has changed a lot, wages have gone down and rent has gone up. Tuition has gone up in times where a piece of paper documents your investment to a monstrous business.

“I was in Denmark in the 90’s and talked to people and they said that people get a minimum wage for going to school. Not only is it free but they get paid a minimum wage. There’s no reason we couldn’t do that here.”

When I asked why Swanson thinks this is happening, she feels as if it’s corporate lobby groups that are pushing reasons why we have to cut taxes, she continues that free trade has a lot to do with that and corporations can put their energy wherever taxes are lowest. Then companies have to race to the bottom for taxes and wages, there’s no revenue there for free school let alone any other public services.

The one percent or two percent increased mansion tax (depending on the property value) for that Swanson has implemented in her candidacy, would monitor the profits of the city’s wealthiest and make sure it goes back into the system for social housing and services. She says that this could generate $174 million a year, which would be the foundation for 900 modular housing and then social housing units, which would also be available to students. 

“In Vienna, there’s 60 per cent social housing. They also have a lot in Hong Kong, the bastion of capitalism. 50 per cent is social housing, in Singapore it’s about 80. It is possible to have good social housing, to have it just be a part of your life, people like it, that’s what we feel we have to strive towards. For the last 40 years, since my activist career began. Governments have been cutting taxes back on the rich, cutting back on programs for the poor. When Gordon Campbell was in power he cut taxes for the richest 10 per cent on average of $41,000 a year. That cut has stayed in played for all 17 years, that means we have billions of dollars less to do what’s needed.”

“There’s been 40 years of corporations, buzzing think tanks and media that they own to justify policy that reduces taxes on the rich, and services for everybody else. There’s certain phrases and questions to justify that. I was on CKNW and they were asking me, ‘Well what about these hard working mansion owners who invest all their money?’ The thing is, lots of people are hard working, the woman at the coffee shop behind the counter is a hard working woman, but she probably can’t invest her money into a mansion because she can’t afford to buy property, she doesn’t make enough wages. Everybody works hard, let’s not use that cliche.” 

Swanson commented on her thoughts of post secondary school efforts to preserve and evolve First Nations heritage, like the House of Teachings at Langara College, she explained, “We should be trying to put some teeth in reconciliation, we need to give land back. I think anything is good, but its not enough. I don’t think it’s enough to say that everybody appreciates Indigenous culture. The land was stolen. We have to start trying to give the land back.” 

To come full circle, Swanson noted at the Cities Designed for Women panel that while it’s amazingly important to discuss where women fit in urban planning but also the representation of that planning, we must focus on our most vulnerable, as to lift everyone up in the community, “I’ve always been involved with people who are dying from the opioid crisis and with single parent welfare, there are a lot of important issues. It was nice that the female architect (Aly Kenyon from HCMA Architecture and Design) mentioned the Alley-Oop project, because it was designed to eliminate marginalization.”


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