Poor marks on housing, taxation in Metro Vancouver’s report card

Remember running home from school, eager to show your parents your report card?

Or maybe you ran home, eager to hide the report card under the bed, figure out how to forge a signature and explain to your parents that schools didn’t give report cards anymore. All good, you’d say.

That second situation is closer to the Metro Vancouver experience in the second Greater Vancouver Economic Scorecard, released last week and commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade from the Conference Board of Canada. It looked at 38 indicators in 20 jurisdictions and gave us a B grade.

Which is, like many report cards, a benefit of the doubt and better than it seems. We are not talking about an honour student here.

In report-card parlance, this is a negligent student getting by on good looks who does not play well with others.

The best grades for the region mainly involve things over which our local and provincial governments assert little control: democracy, diversity and clean air. These are like grades for attendance, even if you’re looking out the window all class.

A high mark for office rents is more a product of low demand for office headquarters, which is hardly something to boast.  And another good mark – on our total tax rate – has been rendered basically wrong by recent U.S. corporate tax changes imposed after the marks were submitted. Basically, the hotshot student wilted when subjected to new international competition.

The troubling grades are things over which something should have, could have, would have been done with more effective application of attention: the housing distress, the transit project inertia, the staggering combination of taxes, and the attractiveness to tourists and conventions. Basically, the student can’t focus on what matters.

In more modern report-card terms, on many of the most important subject areas the student isn’t “meeting” or “exceeding” expectations – the student is euphemistically “approaching” them. Which is a nice way of describing a candidate for truancy.

The greatest area for improvement lies outside of the scorecard and in a more pointed Special Lens report from the board on regional co-operation and governance. It reads like a stern sermon from the principal about the student’s ineptitude in a team sport, a group laboratory or a shop project. This is a sermon the board has delivered before, but even though there are elements of a pep talk in the message, the student is making no headway.

Scorecard 2016 ought to have been a wake-up call, but the 2018 version suggests the student has been asleep in class and avoiding the homework.

The good attributes are hanging in for the most part, but our problems are still problems with few signs of progress. The scorecard correctly notes that two report cards do not make a trend, but let’s be fair: it will take a grand turnaround by the time the next scorecard is published to avoid calling it one.

At some point, even the most charming student is found out. •

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver Media Group and vice-president of Glacier Media.