Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A nationwide march in Baku commemorating a tragic event in Azerbaijan's history

Most of us know very little about what happens in countries like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia....But since my trip to Baku last year, I have taken a greater interest in the history of these countries. Here's something I recently received from Vugar Mammadov, an official with the Azerbaijani government, with whom I have been in contact since my trip last September.

A tragedy few of us know anything about.

Baku, February 26, AZERTAC
A nationwide march has been held in Baku to commemorate the 27th anniversary of Khojaly genocide, one of the bloodiest crimes in the history of mankind. President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, first lady Mehriban Aliyeva and family members attended the march.
The nationwide march, which began from the Azadlyg Square in Khatai district, involves ten thousands of people. They gathered to pay tribute to victims of Khojaly tragedy and draw the world community`s attention to this crime against humanity, which was committed by the Armenian fascists.
With President Ilham Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva in the front row, the marchers started moving in the direction of the Khojaly memorial in Khatai district.
Thousands of young people gathered along the avenues and streets that the marchers are moving. They hold portraits of innocent victims of the bloody event – slaughtered children, women and elders – photos depicting abominable scenes of slaughter, placards demanding to bring to account and punish perpetrators of the tragedy and to recognize this genocide at an international level, as well as placards with names and surnames of victims. “The world must recognize Khojaly genocide”, “Justice for Khojaly”, “Do not forget Khojaly”, “No to Armenian fascism”, “Khojaly genocide -27” and other slogans are displayed on large monitors along the streets, and on placards on building walls and balconies.
x x x
A ceremonial guard of honor was lined up around the memorial.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev put a wreath at the memorial and paid tribute to Khojaly victims.
First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva, Prime Minister Novruz Mammadov, Speaker of the Milli Majlis Ogtay Asadov, Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Leyla Aliyeva, Arzu Aliyeva laid flowers at the monument.
State and government officials, members of the Milli Majlis, ministers, heads of committees and companies, representatives of the diplomatic corps, heads of religious confessions, as well as Khojaly genocide survivors also placed flowers at the memorial.
x x x
A Russian delegation also attended the nationwide march.
President Ilham Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva met with the Russian delegation and talked to them.
President Ilham Aliyev then was interviewed by the Russian Rossiya-24 TV channel.
x x x
The name of Khojaly, which was wiped off the face of the earth in just one night, is now mentioned along with Katyn, Lidice and Songmy.
This nationwide march is a climax of large-scale work carried out by Azerbaijan in order to make the truth about Khojaly genocide known to the world and convince the international community that if the perpetrators of this genocide remain unpunished, this may lead to a repetition of such tragedies in any place across the globe. The march showed the Azerbaijani people`s unity, their respect for martyrs as well as their eagerness to do their utmost to liberate the occupied territories and restore the country`s territorial integrity.
The atrocity committed by Armenians in the town of Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh on the night of 25-26 February 1992 went down in the history of Azerbaijan as a bloody page. That night helped by the Soviet Union`s Khankandi-based 366th motor rifle regiment, the Armenian armed forces massacred innocent people in this ancient Azerbaijani town.
The statistics of Khojaly genocide are as follows: of 3,000 people who were in the town at the moment of the attack 613 were killed, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elders; 487 people were severely wounded, including 76 children; 1,275 people were captured and subjected to unprecedented torture; the fate of 197 people still remains unknown. Eight families were totally annihilated. All these people were slaughtered, tortured and disabled solely because of their ethnic background, only for being Azerbaijanis.
This genocidal act by the Armenians was deliberately planned and its only objective was to partially or completely wipe out civilians because of their nationality. These actions are defined as genocide under international law, which must be recognized by the world community.
The real essence of this genocide, which was committed in front of the eyes of the world, was uncovered only after national leader Heydar Aliyev`s coming to political power. On initiative of the national leader Khojaly genocide was given a political and legal assessment, and February 26 was declared “Day of Khojaly Genocide”. Launched by Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Leyla Aliyeva in 2008, “Justice for Khojaly” international campaign boosted the awareness-raising efforts even more. The campaign has contributed to increasing the international community`s awareness of the truth about this genocide, exposing the Armenian nationalists who resort to any violence, including the murder of children, in order to reach their ridiculous and heinous plans. As a result of systematic work, what happened in Khojaly was recognized as a genocidal act by the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as the parliaments of Mexico, Pakistan, Czech Republic, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Honduras, Sudan, Guatemala and Djibouti. The parliaments of Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Jordan, Slovenia and Scotland, as well as executive and legislative bodies of 22 American states recognized Khojaly events as a massacre.
As in previous years the Heydar Aliyev Foundation continued to support the organization of Khojaly commemorative events across the world. This included commemorative rallies in Turkey, USA, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Georgia and the Netherlands, commemorative events, conferences, exhibitions and contests in a number of other countries.

Monday, February 25, 2019

A letter from Texas regarding the so-called Speculation and Vacancy Tax. I'm ashamed of my provincial and muncipal governments. We all should be.

I received the following note from one of the many people who love BC and have kept second homes here. However, thanks to brainchild of some university academics determined to find a way to tax Chinese satellite households who don't pay income tax in BC, and the NDP government, many will be forced to sell and give up a home in BC, or rent a second home. 
I know for a fact that this is something many are contemplating. Ironically, this will further reduce the availability of rental housing. I can't help but wonder if the provincial government and City of Vancouver even thought of this. Somehow, I doubt it.
Hi Michael,

Thank you for taking my call today.  As I mentioned, my primary residence is Texas.  However, I spend summers - usually May - Oct on Vancouver Island.  As I understand the Speculation Tax, I can only claim an exemption if it is my primary residence AND I am a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of BC for income tax purposes.  Please see the info below from the website.

Perhaps some of the confusion is that as also stated on this site, the speculation and vacancy tax is distinct from the empty homes tax in the City of Vancouver (see below).  Even if the requirement to live on the property were reduced to 3-4 mos, this would not be helpful for foreign investors outside of Vancouver, like myself who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents. 

It is unheard of to introduce a new law - and put it into effect retroactively, so that individuals don't have time to make adjustments to comply. It seems that this speculation tax is a money grab and not truly designed to address the housing shortage. We and others are actively contributing to the economy of the community by patronizing local stores, restaurants, attending and even volunteering at community events.  We are not being supported by Province or community services.  At a minimum, it would seem that we should be "grandfathered", since this was not an issue when we made our decision to purchase our properties.  

The government website states: 

By levying the highest tax rate on foreign owners and satellite families (those who earn a majority of income outside the province and pay little to no income tax in B.C.), the speculation and vacancy tax is a way to make sure these property owners are paying their fair share in taxes.  

What this doesn't take into consideration is that we pay GST and PST on goods and services in addition to our property taxes.  Individuals such as myself who are retired are no longer producing income, so how is this a fair tax?!

One of the reasons given for the tax was that investors are buying properties and keeping them vacant.  However, that is not the case for many who are being affected by this tax.  We are using them as Second Homes, a scenario which is not provided for in the Speculation Tax Exclusions, but is discussed under the Vancouver Empty Home Exclusions.  
My property and those in our subdivision are not properties that would help with the first-time buyer, senior, student or "working family" market, which is another reason given for the rule that we must rent it if we are not using it for more than 6 months.  However, the rent that we would charge would not be affordable to this population.  Additionally, those of us from outside of Canada are not able to remain for longer than 6 months or even eligible to apply for permanent residency due to immigration laws, so it is a "catch-22".

So, even with living in BC for 6 mos (the maximum time allowed a US Citizen), there is still a clause that says we must rent it for 6 mos to get the exclusion.  

Michael, I appreciate the work you are doing to address this mean tax and hold the government accountable.  I love my life in BC and I take great joy in participating in community events and making new friends and hiking in the Provincial parks and patronizing my new community.  However, this decision by the government has somewhat soured my feelings about the decision that I made to invest in the Canadian economy.  There is no downside to people like me owning real estate in BC and it seems that this is a broad sweeping tax aimed at solving a specific problem (Chinese in Vancouver taking advantage of provincial services and not paying taxes).  For the majority of the folks who will be adversely affected by this tax, this is not the case.

You can get to the links below by right clicking to Open in a New Tab. 

From the website:

The Empty Homes Tax:

Note: The speculation and vacancy tax is distinct from the empty homes tax in the City of Vancouver.

Most properties will not be subject to the Empty Homes Tax, including those:
  • Used as a principal residence by the owner, his/her family member or friend, or other permitted occupier for at least six months of the 2018 tax year
  • Rented for residential purposes for at least six months of the current year, in periods of 30 or more consecutive days
  • Meeting the criteria for one of the exemptions 

Individuals Exemptions for Speculation and Vacancy Tax


The following exemptions are available for individuals:
  1. Principal residence exemptions
  2. Occupied by a tenant
  3. Can’t live in the residence because it’s uninhabitable
  4. Secondary residence close to medical treatment facility
  5. Just bought or inherited the property
  6. Separation or divorce
  7. Bankruptcy
  8. Recent death of owner
  9. Property is in a trust created by a will for a minor
  10. Property has rental restrictions
  11. Property is a strata hotel
  12. Property includes a licenced child daycare
  13. No residence on the property
  14. Other exclusions from the tax

1. Principal residence exemptions

Generally, an owner is exempt from the tax if the residential property is their principal residence, which is the place where the owner lives for a longer period in a calendar year than any other place. People who have multiple homes can only claim the principal residence exemption on the home they live in for the longest period in the calendar year.
Spouses cannot claim two different principal residence exemptions unless specific situations apply, such as spouses living apart for work or medical reasons or because of separation or divorce.
To be eligible for a principal residence-related exemption, an owner must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada who’s a B.C. resident for income tax purposes and isn’t part of a satellite family.

Let's continue to share what we learn.  I will appreciate any assistance that you might provide.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Opinion: City of Vancouver speeds up development process, but it could do more Vancouver Courier February 13, 2019

While many people think the answer to more affordable housing is taxing the rich or those owning more expensive or second homes, I think more could be accomplished by increasing supply, especially the right supply. And yes, subsidizing those who need support. 

For this reason, I have written many columns trying to highlight the need for a more rational approval process, especially in Vancouver. Here is my latest effort, written following a recent city presss release on efforts to improve the approval process. 

Need to speed up permitting process one of mayor’s campaign promises

One of the most common complaints from developers, homeowners and local business owners in Vancouver is the amount of time it takes to get a project approved at city hall.

Last April, I wrote a column about the impacts of “red tape” on the cost of housing, which included a photograph of rolls of architectural drawings, attaché cases and knapsacks lying on the pavement outside of the city’s Development and Building Department offices.
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     They belonged to people who were holding their early morning place in line outside in hopes of submitting permit applications that day.
     Processing delays are not a new problem. I recall discussing this matter while president of the Urban Development Institute with former city manager Ken Dobell in the 1980s.
     At one meeting, following a litany of complaints about how long it was taking to get permits, a frustrated Dobell exclaimed, “What do you want us to do? Work weekends?”
     “Yes,” we replied and offered to pay overtime rates if necessary.
Soon most developers were paying the overtime rates. And while approval times were initially reduced, it wasn’t long before processing times returned to what they were before.
     Another innovation was the introduction of “certified professionals” to review plans on behalf of city staff paid for by the developers. While the union didn’t particularly like this practice, it did work, and to this day the city continues to allow certified professionals to assist with the review of applications.
     However, since then, the number of items reviewed by city staff has increased, and conflicting demands by an increased number of city departments are causing further delays.
     Two years ago, the city hired new senior staff, including Kaye Krishna, general manager of development, buildings and licensing, to help solve the problems. She quickly impressed many with her acknowledgement that too often the city unnecessarily prepared “bespoke” documents and legal agreements. She also proposed a “Nexus Lane” for experienced consultants and developers. While Krishna was achieving encouraging results, sadly she will soon be leaving the city to join the provincial government.
     To his credit, Mayor Kennedy Stewart identified the need to speed up the permitting process as one of his campaign promises. This week, under his leadership, the city tabled a staff report and released a press statement proclaiming significant results in reducing processing times. It noted that permits for 900 affordable housing units were issued in as little as 12 weeks, and some single family and laneway home permit processing has been reduced from 38 weeks to six weeks.
This has been accomplished by moving more permit applications online, training more than 230 staff in new development policies and procedures, and hiring 42 new staff in 2018, with a further 43 planned for 2019.
     Gil Kelley, general manager of planning, urban design and sustainability has promised that the city will do more.
     To help him, I would like to offer a few suggestions.
     A recent press release from the city noted the number of rezoning applications has increased 97.5 per cent since 2010. Why? Because the city continues to improperly zone land in order to charge developers rezoning fees and Community Amenity Contributions.
     For example, every new building along the Cambie Corridor has been the subject of a separate rezoning. This is not necessary. If the city wants to impose charges, fine. But why put everyone through a two-year process?
     Secondly, staff should write shorter reports to council. Most Cambie Corridor reports exceed 50 pages, and many reports are much longer. While I wouldn’t dream of commenting on the current councillors, I know for a fact that in the past, few councillors read the entire reports.
     Thirdly, make more use of certified professionals. In many instances, they are more knowledgeable than city staff when it comes to the building code.
      Speaking of the building code, why is Vancouver the only city in Canada with its own building code?
     Finally, become more sensible in terms of what is being asked. For example, my friend was recently asked for an arborist’s report for trees in the front of his house, even though his application was for a laneway house at the back. Is this really necessary?

"Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?

     A friend sent this to me today. Notwithstanding all the other things I could be writing about, I thought it was well worth sharing, especially with those of you who (like me) are Brits, or appreciate British sensibilities.
Someone on Quora asked "Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?"
Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

     "A few things spring to mind.Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.
For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace - all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.
     So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.
Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing - not once, ever.
      I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility - for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.
But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is - his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.
     Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.
And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults - he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.
There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.
     Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.
     And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.
     Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.
     He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.
     He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.
  And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.
     There are unspoken rules to this stuff - the Queensberry rules of basic decency - and he breaks them all. He punches downwards - which a gentleman should, would, could never do - and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless - and he kicks them when they are down.
So the fact that a significant minority - perhaps a third - of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think 'Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don't need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.
     This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.
After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.
God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.
     He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.
     In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws - he would make a Trump.  And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:
     'My God… what… have… I… created?
If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set."

Monday, February 4, 2019

Vancouver Courier column on China generates very mixed responses

Don't worry. This will never be approved in Kerrisdale!
At this driving range, you hit your balls into the water. They float!
Since writing my last Vancouver Courier column about China, I have been surprised by the variety of responses I have received. While a number of people wrote to agree on how clean and technologically advanced many Chinese cities are, especially when compared to what they expected,  others wrote highly critical letters damning me for praising any aspect of China, given the country's human rights record.

A number of people also posted comments on the Vancouver Courier website which I am pleased to reproduce here, since I generally agree with the points made. That said, I would welcome further comments regarding the level of homelessness in Chinese cities compared to Vancouver and other Canadian cities.

  • Do you suppose there were no visible homeless because the local authorities do such a good job of caring for people that are destitute, vulnerable, or mentally unstable? Or do you think it might have more to do with coercive measures that keep them out of sight?
    Homelessness was much less visible in North America, years ago, but then we also had laws against vagrancy and loitering. We gradually realized that afflicting the miserable in order to soothe those better off was not really compatible with notions of fairness and justice.
    I am happy that the lives of many Chinese citizens have improved vastly in the past two decades. But, I am also reminded of a timely quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky. “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons". There were also many glowing reports of progress submitted by visitors to the 1936 Olympics. I pray that we will not some day be drawing parallels to that time.
  • Avatar
    Great article, I remember when I first traveled to SE Asia back in the 1990s. I was shocked at how much more advanced was the urban technology versus what we had in Canada. Shocked because I had the naive view that we lived in The Best Place on Earth (TM). I've been back several times since to ~ 5 different SE Asian countries. Highlights for me were, in no particular order, LED billboards showing how full to capacity were parking garages (e.g. 85%), the current air quality at specific sites, computerized highway signs showing traffic volume ahead and on alternate routes to facilitate flow, beautifully lit multi-colour riverside walks, superior urban and regional transit (e.g. high speed trains), and so on. Every place has pros and cons, including SE Asia, but there is a lot to love and as the author writes, Vancouver could learn a tremendous amount in terms of making our city wonderful. One barrier to this would, however, be the opposition to spending money to improve the city for productive residents - for which I'd expect howls of rage from the usual Poverty Inc. hostile minority; "how can you spend money on ... taxpayers when we have addicts/ prostitutes/ excons that are going to take those public funds?!?" And as such, the chance to improve Vancouver could well be stolen before there was even a chance.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Opinion: Trip to southern China offers lessons for Vancouver Vancouver Courier January 29, 2019

  I write to you from Nanning in southern China where I have spent the past week. With an administrative area population of seven million, it ranks as the country’s 40th largest city. That’s not a typo.
     I was invited here by a Canadian client to tour housing developments and resort-oriented communities, and not to sell condos as suggested by one internet troll.
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     On the contrary, I discovered many Chinese have warm feelings towards Canadians as a result of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune who did much for the Chinese people.
     It was also noteworthy that the latest China Daily account of Meng Wanzhou’s confinement blamed the Americans, not Canadians.
     This was my fifth trip to China. While somewhat familiar with other cities, I did not know what to expect in Nanning. What I found was a surprisingly green, clean, smog-free city. In the coastal city of Beihai, I enjoyed a sparkling white sand beach and sunny 20 plus degree Celsius day.
These cities offered some interesting lessons for Vancouver.

Nanning has banned gas-powered motorcycles and scooters. Instead residents get around on electric scooters without the noise and fumes often experienced in Asian cities.
     While the ban was to reduce pollution and GHGs, the local authorities also care about noise levels. This was apparent in Nanhu Park, Nanning’s version of Stanley Park, where an electronic display constantly monitored nearby noise levels in decibels.
     I would like to see Vancouver ban excessively loud motorcycles.
     While I only saw a small part of the city, the streets were exceptionally clean and often lined with manicured hedges and street trees. In comparison, with a few exceptions, Vancouver streets often have weed-strewn medians and need a good cleaning.
An example of the beautiful landscaping found along many major streets in Nanning. Photo Michael Geller
Some commercial streets resembled Vancouver’s leafy residential streets with a solid, continuous tree canopy. They were particularly beautiful because the wiring was underground. While Vancouverites take overhead wires for granted, we shouldn’t. Too many of our streets and lanes look like they belong in a developing country.
     Nowhere did I see any graffiti or homeless people camped out with their sleeping bags like I often see at Burrard and Georgia and in the Downtown Eastside.
     On the Beihai waterfront, dozens of people were dancing outside on a plaza. In a Nanning park I came across an outdoor roller-skating rink and other attractions. While Vancouverites generally applaud the removal of the zoo and commercial activities from Stanley Park, perhaps we have gone too far. The same might be said about our waterfront walkway system where additional vendors would add vitality.
Vancouver could learn from Nanning's downtown pedestrian street network.
When my host took me to a major new shopping centre, I was shocked to discover we didn’t have to stop to get a ticket or pay at a machine. Instead, a transponder in our vehicle automatically registered when we entered and when we left. Each month a bill is sent to the owner. The transponder also calculates tolls on certain roads, while on other tolled roads you stop and pay.
At night, many office buildings are lit up like giant TV screens. Photo Michael Geller
     Along some major roads, I was astonished to see large, colourful overhead digital displays that monitor traffic congestion and advise on the best routes to take.
At night, surrounding office towers were lit up like TV screens.
     While many Chinese love to visit Vancouver, I can highly recommend China as a tourist destination. Don’t worry about not speaking the language. In many places English signs can be found, although sometimes they are more comical than informative.
     If you use a “Roam like Home” phone program, despite claims to the contrary, Google is available. You can also download Google Translate to read menus or enjoy a conversation. If you are not familiar with this app, check it out. It’s marvelous.
     My visa was relatively easy to obtain and allows multiple entries for up to 60 days, for five years.
Villas and highrises surround one of the only two golf courses in Nanning.
     Notwithstanding the high-level political tensions between our countries, I found China to be most friendly and welcoming. I am sure you would too.