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COLUMN: Why are these houses empty?
Within a one-minute walk of my home there are five empty houses. One has been empty for 26 years.
Fortunately it is well cared for; gardeners come to cut the grass and prune the shrubs. A maintenance company checks for wear and tear, leaks, wasps nests, and squirrels in the attic. A young couple lived in it for six months in 1989, but no one has since then.
One house has been empty for 14 years, another for 11 years. These are big homes. The other two are more recent—vacant less than five years. I’m surprised they aren’t rented out. Someone owns these homes and pays taxes, pays upkeep or security. It’s a bit strange, like dead teeth in an otherwise bright smile.
Friends who live in condos say there are empty units, some for more than five years. There may be a rule against subletting, or perhaps the owners think of it as a bank account, a term deposit with hefty fees. They can’t all be mysterious overseas owners, can they?
A colleague lives near Queen’s Park in New Westminster and says the same thing. As she runs she notices homes that are vacant: no garbage or recycling bins on the curb, overgrown lawns and gardens, and piles of soggy flyers on the doorstep. The up side is that they are quiet neighbours. Usually that’s a good thing, but some houses are dead quiet when they shouldn’t be.
My house in Victoria is empty too. It’s a lovely old house right on the harbour.
I own it with the rest of the citizens of B.C. But this house, the provincial legislature, is empty because of a political decision to avoid debate. I’m not a political pundit but even I am suspicious when the legislative assembly has only sat for 36 days out of 579.
I know, Christy says she wants to “go out and talk to the people of B.C.” rather than “close herself off in Victoria” but really, it’s just not enough democracy for me. I need to see the house full and functioning to have confidence in the government. She didn’t attend the 17-day summer session. Now they won’t meet until February? Not good enough.
What about accountability? The purpose of an opposition is to question the government on its policies and programs. They can’t do it if the Legislative Assembly doesn’t meet. Freedom of speech is a hollow principle if there are no speeches being made.
My house by the river in Ottawa is empty too: another political decision to avoid debate. Yes, the Senate scandal is embarrassing, and Mr. Harper did appoint Pam (Wallin) and Paul (Duffy), but what’s with the cowardice? Some call it political manoeuvring, political smarts, but to me it looks weak. He’s using time as a damper on hot issues. We are promised 35 days out of the usual 55 for a fall session.
What’s with the dwindling democracy in Canada? The old quote “Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done,” can be applied to government. Not only must governing be done, it must be seen to be done.
And I don’t see it. And I’m just a barely political retiree from Burnaby!
If I’m ticked off about abandoned and deserted legislatures then we know it’s bad. Ask pollsters why more people don’t vote in provincial or federal elections—this is one of the reasons.
I want debate. I want both sides of an argument. I want to hear the facts and questions the government doesn’t want me to hear. And I want to know if the opposition is doing its job.
If democracy falls in parliament and no one is there to hear it …
The trouble is that nothing is more important to Ms. Clark and Mr. Harper than getting elected and staying in power.
Democracy in action is way down the list.
• Anne Hopkinson is a Burnaby resident still working on the three Rs: reading, writing, and rambling.