For the working class, death by a thousand tiny cuts

As I watched a man about my age gathering his sparse possessions from a raggedy tent haphazardly pitched in Whalley’s tent city, I couldn’t help but feel empathy.

Although I’m not in danger of falling into homelessness myself, it’s not an impossible scenario. I’m just a few missed pay cheques and an alcohol or drug addiction away from similar destitution.

And anyway, life is hard enough without adding more hardship. The cost of living in the Lower Mainland is almost so prohibitively high as to be pushing out the working class.

Living Wage Canada estimated that in Metro Vancouver, the minimum wage needed to survive the high cost of rent, food, clothing and other necessities of life is now $19.62 an hour, close to $9 an hour more than the minimum wage set by the provincial government.

If the livable wage continues to rise in Metro Vancouver – as I expect it can only continue to do – who’s going to be left to build our glass skyscrapers, clean our toilets or serve us coffee?

The solution to the problem used to be moving to Surrey. Ah yes, Surrey. The fastest growing city in the province, expected to eclipse Vancouver’s population in the next decade or so. It’s where the working class moved as the gentrification of the big city forced out anybody who couldn’t afford – read this next part with a Dr. Evil voiceover – $1 million for a single-family home.

But now even people in Surrey are feeling the persistent pinch of poverty. The city is set to increase the tax rates by 2.9 per cent to pay for all those police officers we don’t have, while adding a “cultural and recreational parcel tax” of $100, and a 3.9 per cent user fee increase for municipal facilities.

With municipal coffers swelled by a seemingly endless supply of development cost charges, one hopes Surrey never runs out of room to develop or we might be in store for a serious tax hike one day.

That’s the bad news for homeowners, but it gets worse for those of us who sign away our earnings to a landlord (or lady). The city is planning a $116 increase to secondary suites, putting a strain on affordable rental units at a time when the vulnerably housed can least afford it. That represents a 28.3 per cent fee increase, which will almost certainly be passed along to the renter.

But wait. There’s more. There’s been talk by the provincial government about allowing hikes to rent control, which is already set at two per cent per year plus the cost of inflation (1.1 per cent). Should that happen, rents could skyrocket beyond the budgetary controls of many people renting.

I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t get a 3.1-per-cent pay raise every year to ensure my ability to pay rent meets the inflationary value of the property.

To add the last straw to the camel’s back, the 2015 transit referendum is proposing a 0.5-per-cent increase to the provincial tax rate to pay for the $7.5-billion regional transportation plan of the Mayor’s Council.

It wasn’t long ago that Premier Gordon Campbell was dangling a 10-per-cent sales tax carrot in front of the noses of voters to keep the HST alive. Alas, B.C. residents decided we wanted to pay an extra two per cent to go back to an inefficient and antiquated system, and now we’re thinking about adding another half-percentage point again.

This, when we already pay a TransLink premium of 17 cents a litre on gasoline in Metro Vancouver. Yeah, no thanks, I’ve got a Nexus card.

It’s just another tiny cut and, individually, it doesn’t hurt. But collectively these cuts are bleeding the working class dry.

If things keep up like this, the middle class will soon be taking my place, and I might have to go looking for a good tent.

Adrian MacNair is a staff reporter with the Now. Email amacnair@thenownewspaper. com.