Today I was afforded the opportunity to address delegates at the 69th annual convention of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities. As noted on their website:
“The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) is the longest established area association under the umbrella of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM). The area association was established in 1950. It now has a membership of 53 municipalities and regional districts that stretches from the North Coast Regional District down to the tip of Vancouver Island and includes Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, the Central Coast and the North Coast. The Association deals with issues and concerns that affect large urban areas to small rural communities.“
Below I reproduce the text of my speech.
I am delighted to be here this morning with all of you – and I think we share an essential trait as politicians, even if we are not always aligned in policy or vision.
Each of you, I expect, can identify the issue or the passion that motivated you to run for local government. It may have been an environmental issue, as it was for my colleague Sonia Furstenau, or it may have been a desire to see a project in your community to move forward.
And it is passionate leadership at the local government level that sees so much positive change come forward in our province.
Look at the Town of Gibsons – the first in North America to pass a natural asset management policy, showing extraordinary leadership in recognizing the indisputable logic of including natural assets in financial planning.
In Cowichan there is the Cowichan Watershed Board, laying the foundation for watershed co-governance with First Nations, and taking tangible, necessary steps toward reconciliation in the process.
Recognizing that healthy and happy communities – as Charles Montgomery so eloquently points out – have social connection and collaboration in their fibre, Oceanside and Mt. Waddington’s Health Networks are models for bringing people together to create long-term positive health outcomes.
It was my own commitment to action on climate that motivated me to run for MLA in 2013, after I had seen our province go from a climate leader under Gordon Campbell to a climate laggard under Christy Clark.
As a climate scientist, I had long encouraged my students to engage with decision makers – or become decision-makers themselves – if they wanted to see politicians take action on climate. I realized that I too had a responsibility to participate in the building of political will to act on climate – not as a voice of doom, but as a voice for the extraordinary possibility and opportunities that lie before us in this challenging time.
So much of the conversation around climate and the transition away from a fossil-fuel economy is backward-looking, focusing on the economy of the 20th-century.
Look at the hysteria and rhetoric around the kinder morgan expansion – the shocking doubling-down on a pipeline that would export heavy oil – diluted bitumen – out of Vancouver. In every way, this is the wrong direction for our economy, our environment, our relationship with First Nations, and our climate.
Now take the potential that lies in new technology and innovation. Shell has recently announced that it has the technology to extract vanadium from bitumen, and use the vanadium to build steel that can be used to manufacture battery cells that have the capacity to store energy.
Consider that potential! Rather than dumping yet another raw resource as quickly as we can into foreign markets that reap the rewards of jobs and revenue as they process it into a usable and far more valuable commodity, we could be looking at using this resource to develop and support steel manufacturing, innovative energy storage technology, and the renewable energy sector.
We could massively increase the return to our citizens and our economy, and we could be actively building the future energy systems that will sustain our children and grandchildren.
We sell ourselves short by looking backwards – when transformation and innovation are happening more and more rapidly, it is the worst possible time for us as a province or a nation to double down on the ever decreasing returns in a race to the bottom of early 20th-century economics.
And it’s smaller communities – like the ones that many of you represent – that could benefit immensely from the emerging economy that’s rooted in education and driven by innovation and technology.
Consider the potential of Terrace as a centre for manufacturing – we as a province should be reaching out to Elon Musk and encouraging him to see the potential benefits of a Tesla plant or battery manufacturing plant in Terrace, where shipments to Asia are easily accessible through Prince Rupert’s port, and shipments to Chicago are at the end of a rail line that runs straight through Terrace.
Here on the island, Victoria has already earned the moniker “Techtoria” – and the Cowichan Valley is situated perfectly to be the next destination region for an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds.
BC’s own digital technology supercluster was recently awarded $1.4 billion in federal funding – an investment that is expected to produce 50,000 jobs and add $15 billion to BC’s economy over the next ten years.
And the work being done will make the lives of British Columbians better – including creating a health and genetic platform that will allow medical specialists to create custom, leading-edge cancer treatments that are personalized to the unique genetic makeup of each patient.
This work – hi-tech innovation, research, education – this work can happen anywhere in our increasingly connected world. It’s the connectivity highways that we should be investing in – these will allow all communities to reap the rewards of the 21st-century economy.
At a reception for the BC Tech Association last week, I met Stacie Wallin. Her job is to nurture tech companies that have hit the 1 million dollar level in revenue to scale up to the 25 million dollar level.
And she is so busy that she has nearly a dozen people working with her to keep up with the work that’s coming her way. When pipelines and LNG plants crowd out our conversations about BC’s and Canada’s economy, we miss what’s actually happening – the exciting, innovative, emerging economy that is reshaping our communities.
And there’s so much more. The film industry, tourism, education, professional services, value-added forestry, innovation in mining, renewable energy – our potential in this beautiful province is as boundless as our stunning scenery – and squandering time and energy to prop up sunset industries is the wrong place to be putting our precious efforts and money.
And if governments double down on 20th-century carbon-based economics, it’s your communities that feel the impacts and pay the prices.
Floods, droughts, wildfires, damage from increasingly punishing storms, sea level rise & storm sureges – all of these cost your communities, and your citizens, more and more money.
Communities are hit with the costs of building infrastructure to prevent flooding during the melt season, at the same time as having to determine how to deal with depleted aquifers that won’t be able to sustain the residents who depend on them for drinking water, and another drought this summer will once again put Vancouver Island at severe risk for wildfires.
The impacts of climate change will continue to put severe pressures on all our communities – which is why it’s utterly irresponsible for our provincial government to be considering a 6 billion dollar subsidy of the LNG industry – including letting LNG Canada off the hook for paying their fair share of carbon pricing.
Consider that fact alone – that the potential single greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in BC would only ever have to pay $30/tonne for its carbon pollution, while the rest of us, including industry, will see carbon pricing rise by $5/tonne each year.
This is an unacceptable logic, and one that we can’t possibly support – and I urge you, as the elected representatives who will be seeing the costs and consequences of climate change in your communities – I urge you to also encourage this government to recognize that giving massive tax breaks to the LNG industry because it isn’t economically viable is not the direction BC should be heading right now.
Consider an alternative. Why not invest in the Squamish Clean Technology Association (SCTA) created to seek out leading edge ventures that will help create an innovation hub focused on clean energy. We could attract the best and brightest minds to come to BC to figure out how to harness the renewable energy that abounds in our province while encouraging the innovation that our world needs most right now.
In response to a question from the audience on Friday about how to get municipal staff to think beyond their standard frames of reference, I understand that Charles Montgomery pointed to new models for civic design, and suggested that politicians may need to “drag them kicking and screaming” into the 21st century.
This also applies to many of our provincial and federal representatives, who may say that they recognize our need to transition to the new economy, but then try to convince us that the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions … is to increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Doubling down with doublespeak – let’s not let this become a new Canadian tradition.
We need our provincial and federal politics to reflect the best of what we see at the local government level.
Informed discussion and debate, listening to people who present differing opinions, allowing for compromise as a path forward, working from a place of shared values and finding solutions that best reflect those values.
And while it may not always feel this way at your council and board tables, the reality is that your level of government is one that is generally far less driven by partisanship and ideology.
We have an extraordinary opportunity to bring our electoral system into the 21st century in BC with the referendum that is happening this fall. And while there will be many discussions on both sides of this debate over the next several months, it’s essential to begin with what are we trying to solve with electoral reform in BC.
Currently, under First Past the Post, elections are geared towards a “winner take all” outcome. And that winner almost never has the support of the majority of the voters.
40% is often the magic number.
40% of the popular vote in BC can generally deliver to one party a majority of seats in the legislature, and 100% of the power for 4 years.
Informed discussion and debate, listening to differing opinions, compromise, collaboration, finding common ground based on shared values – that’s completely unnecessary when your party has enough votes to ram through any legislation and any agenda you like.
Compare this to almost any other human endeavour, where collaboration, cooperation, and respect deliver the outcomes that have moved us forward throughout history.
Yes – let’s compete to bring forward the best ideas, the boldest visions – but let’s not make competition the only value that underpins politics.
Charles Montgomery points out that the infrastructure of our cities and our communities can be a source for unhappiness, through creating mistrust, a sense of disconnect, and a lack of sociability.
It seems that our political infrastructure – and in particular a first past the post system that delivers 100% of the power with a minority of the votes – can also create mistrust, lack of sociability, and unhappiness. In our winner take all system, inflicting knock out blows to the other side becomes a normal part of our politics – but how much does this damage our governance?
How many good ideas, brought forward by opposition MLAs or MPs have died sad deaths on the order papers under a majority government that can’t be seen to work across party lines?
Electoral reform – particularly electoral reform that would bring in a form of proportional representation – would deliver more minority governments to BC.
And some may try to convince you that’s a terrible thing – but I ask, is working across party lines a terrible thing? Is collaboration on policies and legislation a terrible thing? Is having more minds engaged on solving problems a terrible thing?
Or could this change in our electoral infrastructure actually bring us politics that contribute to more sociability – the one factor that Charles Montgomery said was paramount to our happiness.
Premier Horgan mentioned in his address that there has been conflict between our two parties.
There has indeed – and the media will always focus on these points of tension – but if you look at how much legislation was passed in the fall, how many initiatives have moved forward over the past nine months and then consider the ratio of collaboration to conflict, you’ll recognize that – much like at your own council tables – when you work from a place of shared values, it’s possible to almost always find a path forward.
Our current electoral model has its origins in the Middle Ages, and it has undergone significant change over the centuries.
It was only 100 years ago that women were given the right to vote in BC, and as we discuss and debate extending that right to 16 and 17 year olds, let us remember that the world around us changes continuously, and it’s up to us to ensure our institutions – particularly our democratic institutions – adapt to meet the needs of our society.
Happy cities, happy communities, happy politics. Let’s dream big.
Today in the Legislature we initiated second reading debate of Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2017. The bill makes a number of changes to the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act and the Residential Tenancy Act designed to:
Below I reproduce the text and video of my speech.
A. Weaver: I rise to take my place in the debates at second reading on Bill 16, Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act.
As we’ve heard, this bill has three main goals. It makes amendments to the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act and the Residential Tenancy Act. The bill makes the following changes. First, it restricts the ability for landlords to use a vacate clause with fixed-term leases except in special circumstances that will be provided for by regulation. Two, it limits rent increases between fixed-term tenancies with the same tenant to the maximum annual allowable amount. Three, it enables the residential tenancy branch to take stronger actions to enforce laws and repeat violators, and also it streamlines the dispute resolution process for the return of security and pet deposits.
I rise to speak to this bill as someone who historically has both been a renter and a landlord — a landlord since 1986 in one form or another. I rise to say that I approach this bill very cautiously.
I recognize that there is a crisis facing affordability in Metro Vancouver and in metro Victoria, where vacancy rates are below half a percent or 0.6 percent.
And I recognize that there are a number of bad apples out there — I come back to the Leader of the Opposition’s term “bad apples” — who have created a crisis, in terms of fixed-term leases being used as a means of avoiding the law, the law which limits rent increases for people who are there.
Now, I approach this also from the sides of those who are landlords to recognize that the fixed-term lease often is one of the only means to actually get a tenant out of a property if the tenant is actually not responsibly taking care of that property.
I understand that there is the rental tenancy agency and the agreement. I’m concerned that without an injection of substantial funds — something I’ll explore in the committee stage, and I understand these will be forthcoming —the intent will be lost of this one tool that landlords have to ensure that they can evict a tenant in a timely fashion without having to drag through the RTA process.
Because we do know that there are some cases where we have irresponsible landlords, but we also have irresponsible renters. So I respect the need for this legislation in a basically zero-vacancy market.
We have a crisis on our hands. We need to deal with that crisis to ensure that renters, the most vulnerable in the society, are not being taken advantage of by those exploiting it. But at the same time, in the longer term, I think we need to look very carefully at how we actually move the whole Residential Tenancy Act forward to ensure that we protect good landlords.
I come to my own personal circumstance as somebody who has been a landlord for many, many years and, also, from a family of people who worked in the restaurant business, who did not have a pension. They had no pension other than by the fact that they squirrelled their savings into real estate to ensure that their pension would be the rent from this real estate in their retirement.
Now again, the single most important thing a landlord can do is get a good tenant who lives in the same place for a long time. A good tenant is more valuable than $100 a month, because you know a good tenant is one that will take care of the property and is one you do not price out of the market.
One of the means and ways that landlords use this fixed-term clause is you’ll sign a one-year agreement but not automatically go to the month-to-month, because automatically going to the month-to-month will start to invoke the RTA process.
And you view it both for protection of the landlord and the renter. This one-year period is a period to see whether the relationship…. In a tenant or renter case, for most small business landlords — not the multinationals or the big property owners but the small business ones who are really trying to get the best tenant — this is a good check to ensure that you’re a match.
In my personal case, I viewed it as a way to give back. We, for years and years, have given below-market rent in a house or two houses because we could give someone a leg-up. We could give them a chance, and we’d know that they’d be there and they’d take care of the property for a long, long time.
I mean, some members here would think it kind of odd if I said that we rented a four-bedroom house for a $1,000 a month. That is what we did here, because it covered our costs, it gave people a break, and it allowed us to protect ourselves for the future and our children in this escalating real estate market.
With that said, we can look to those bad apples. Those bad apples have taken this and made it into a crisis, and I have no sympathy for that.
People taking advantage of other people because of a difficult time in affordability is wrong at a fundamental level, which is why ultimately I support this bill, with the caveat that I’ll explore at committee stage some of the attempts that government will take to actually ensure that the rental tenancy office is resourced properly, so that delays are not there for the sake of delays, that people can get responses for concerns in a timely fashion, that landlords and renters are protected. Because ultimately, I think the collective view here is we want to make this system better.
As we know, there’s a small minority of these landlords who’ve been engaged in this business. And again, for those out there, other landlords, we really need to turn to those irresponsible landlords and say: “You know what? This is your fault.” Government has responded, as it must respond, to a crisis that was created by irresponsible landlords taking advantage of a system. For that, again, I come back to the reason why ultimately I think this is an important bill to support.
In terms of the enforcement laws, this too is important. The amendments that are being proposed will allow the branch to more strongly enforce the tenancy laws. Again, this is important because they will be able to compel the production of documents as part of penalty investigations, publish penalty decisions, refuse to accept an application for dispute resolution if an administrative penalty is owed and pursue prosecution where penalties have been levied but there is still no compliance.
This largely protects the renter, but there are clauses in here that do also protect the landlord with respect to administrative penalties if they have not been paid as well. Again, this is a good component of the legislation, which I’m very pleased to support.
Finally, when it comes to streamlining pet and damage deposits, again, this legislation…. I understand the need for doing it, but ultimately it comes back to the fact that those few bad apples out there have required such legislation be put in place.
The overwhelming majority of landlords take the return of pet and damage deposits very seriously. They follow due process. They ensure that they’re not retained for inappropriate means. To be blunt, the process, if the renter knows — going through the rental tenancy branch and the whole adjudication process — is very, very cumbersome, and nobody wants to do that. So the majority of landlords have been following process appropriately. But again, those bad apples have made this necessary.
I come to the compelling arguments put forward by the member for Vancouver–West End, who is in an area of Metro Vancouver with a very low vacancy rate, very high rental accommodations — frankly, a whole bunch of vacant places as well — and I hear his concerns. I hear his concerns, and I support the amendments, as we’ve seen fit to ensure that the retention of security deposits is not done inappropriately.
In conclusion, I support the intent of this bill to end the abuse of the current act by a small number of landlords who skirt rent controls and evict people from their homes if they won’t agree to large rent increases. I look forward to discussing the bill in committee stage and, in particular, exploring the means and ways the tenancy branch will actually be funded and the means and ways that will allow disputes to be dealt with in a timely fashion, and I look forward to listening to others in this second reading debate.
Today in Committee A (which sits simultaneously with the main Chamber), Education Budget Estimates were being addressed. I took the opportunity to ask the Education Minister about funding for public libraries.
As you will see from the exchange (reproduced in text and video below), the BC Liberals cut the budget for public libraries by 20% in 2009. Since 2010, public libraries have received about $14 million from the province on an annual basis. There has been no cost of living adjustment since that time and increasing costs have been downloaded to local governments.
What’s worse is that historically there was a line item in the Budget that noted funding specifically set aside for public libraries. That line item recently disappeared and now Provincial funding is buried within the general education budget.
I was very pleased with the thoughtful responses I received from the Minister of Education.
A. Weaver: I’m going to switch topics slightly. Oak Bay–Gordon Head is not pressing for the building of new schools. We have thanked the previous government, actually, for the new high school that was built in Oak Bay quite recently.
I’d like to ask a couple of questions on public libraries, if I may. I don’t know whether that requires staff to change. It’ll be a few questions on public libraries. I do apologize for not providing my questions in advance, but it’s been crazy today. I’m actually supposed to be speaking right now in the main House at the same time, but clearly, I’m not. Can I proceed? Thank you.
A number of years ago, back in 2010, public libraries lost about 20 percent of their funds. Public libraries were cut to $14 million provincewide, and it’s remained flat ever since. In previous budgets, there used to be an actual line item that said “Public library funding, $14 million.” Now that line item no longer exists at all.
I’m concerned, in light of the fact that public libraries play such an important role in any democratic institution, that this line item is hidden somewhere, and it may be subject to future cuts. I’m trying to get a sense from the minister whether or not public libraries are protected in this budget update, and I’ll follow up with a couple of questions after that.
Hon. R. Fleming: I thank the member for his question. We haven’t gotten to libraries yet in this set of estimates. He may know that there has been some advocates for library funding for many, many years who have passed resolutions at the Union of B.C. Municipalities and other places specifically asking the library funding to come out of the Ministry of Education.
After I was sworn in, I endeavoured to meet with all of the four major library associations in the province to ask them if that historic position was still, indeed, the case. I’m happy to say they are giving us a chance, as a ministry, to do more with public libraries.
I certainly understand how critically important they are in communities. We’ve heard that loud and clear. I had at least a dozen or a dozen and a half meetings with mayors and councillors at the recent UBCM conference specifically about libraries and how important they are in all communities but rural communities especially.
Their utilization rates are growing all the time. There are a couple of communities — Trail is one that comes to mind — where they’re investing significant capital dollars in state-of-the-art library facilities. So there are good things happening out there.
In specific reference to the member’s question about the cut that the previous government brought in in 2008, when library funding was reduced from $17 million to $14 million, and where it’s at currently. In this budget update, the $14 million is protected. I’ve made that clear to anybody that is working in local government or in the library sector that that is the case.
We’re having some interesting conversations about what a new vision might look like for libraries in B.C. As the member understands, this is the budget update, so it was not a lengthy opportunity to engage in budget-making, but to his question, specifically, the $14 million in funding is protected.
A. Weaver: Thank you, minister. There will be a lot of people very happy to hear that answer on record.
I do recognize, and I have some sympathy, that public libraries are coming out of the Ministry of Education. It’s a difficult jurisdiction for whether it should be advanced ed. You could make the argument that it could be advanced ed, or it could, who knows, span many ministries.
I think the key aspect, though, is the shared importance of protecting these for public good. These are a public resource that is critical to the betterment of society. Many of the municipalities are concerned, as the minister knows, because of the fact that, since the funds have been stalled are at $14 million with no cost of living increase, costs have been downloaded onto municipalities.
The concern is that some of their budgets are going to getting some shocks, pretty soon, when the new public library budget comes in.
My question to the minister. I know this is a budget update. It’s if the minister is thinking — whether it be through his ministry or other ministries — about, perhaps, actually putting the libraries into a base budget somewhere and giving them the opportunity to grow through the provincial funding, whether it be through cost of living or other. Because it’s very difficult to make ends meet with funding that has been frozen for quite a number of years.
Hon. R. Fleming: Thank you to the member for that follow-up question. There has been some contemplation about where libraries might best fit in the structures of government. I think there’s a strong case to be made that the Ministry of Education is the right place for it. We have terrific partnerships all across British Columbia with local libraries. We’ve been asked to look at whether broadband access that we provide to rural and remote schools might be possible for libraries to benefit from. Lots of exciting discussions and literacy programs that happen between our local libraries and school districts.
Having said that, what the issue I think he’s getting at here is, is the frustration from, essentially, the erosion of library funding over the last ten years, nearly, since that cut was introduced to library funding. Then it was frozen against inflation — a bit of a double hit. It has led to a decline in the overall percentage share of provincial contribution to libraries. It’s meant that local governments have faced tax pressure on their ratepayers to make up for that state of affairs.
I heard mayors loud and clear and have been lobbied directly by a lot of city councillors, as well, and regional district directors to look at exactly that. I can say it’s a conversation that’s happening within government. I did not fail to note that the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution as well.
I think I will just conclude by thanking the member for raising it. It’s an important issue, and I think there’s massive potential for libraries to provide additional life-long learning opportunities, connection to employment and just general resilience and wellbeing of individuals and the communities that they serve.
On June 1, 2016 the Minster of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Peter Fassbender, announced that the province had commissioned two consulting firms to
“facilitate fact-finding and discussion among local governments in the region to help inform opportunities that support the efficient delivery of services needed by communities and citizens“
Today in the Legislature I rose to question the Minster as to the status of the so called Capital Integrated Services & Governance Initiative report. A preliminary version of the report was completed in the fall. A final version was to be delivered by early January 2017.
I was very unsatisfied with the response I received. Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange.
A. Weaver: The government commissioned a study on municipal shared services in the capital region in 2016. That report has been ready since October of last year.
Could the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development please explain why this report has not been released and when he is planning to do so?
Hon. P. Fassbender: Indeed, the report is being finalized. It is being reviewed. I have communicated with the mayors in the region that that report will be brought forward when that final review is done, and then it will be shared publicly as well.
Today in the legislature I introduced Bill M231 — Local Government Amendment Act.
If passed, this Bill will ensure that municipalities in BC cannot be incorporated without first ensuring that there are residents actually living in the area at the time of incorporation. This might seem like an unnecessary bill as it would seem obvious that a municipality, governed by a Mayor and two Councillors, should actually have people and property to govern. Well that’s not the case in the wild west of British Columbia politics.
Back in 2012, the BC Liberals amended The Local Government Act to allow mountain resort municipalities to be created that have no residents. In particular, this was done in support of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Mountain resort that I have written about earlier.
Given opposition to the resort by the Ktunaxa Nation, the fact that the environmental assessment certificate has expired, and that the project has not substantially started, it seemed timely to close the loophole for good as it sets a dangerous precedence.
Below I reproduce the text and video of my introduction of the Bill.
A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled the Local Government Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given in my name, be introduced and read a first time now.
A. Weaver: I’m pleased to be reintroducing a bill intituled the Local Government Amendment Act. It’s absurd that in British Columbia today a municipality exists that has no houses, no infrastructure and no people. The Jumbo Glacier Resort is designated as a mountain resort municipality, and despite not having any people, it has a salaried, province-supported mayor and two councillors.
This government created the loophole that has allowed this municipality to exist, despite there being no residents. It was created solely for the purpose of a specific pet-project that this government wants to proceed.
This bill would close this ridiculous loophole and ensure that municipalities in British Columbia actually have people living in them.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting after today.
Bill M231, Local Government Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.