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andrew.weaver.mla@leg.bc.ca

Where’s the Capital Integrated Services & Governance Initiative report?

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.


Video of Question & Answer



Text of Question & Answer


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.

 

Bill M231 — Ensuring municipalities actually have residents!

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.


Text of my Introduction


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.

Motion approved.

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.


Video of my Introduction


Highlights from Housing & Affordability Town Hall

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who attended and participated in our recent Town Hall on Housing and Affordability. We were lucky to have a diverse range of panelists bring their own perspectives and insights to our discussion about the complex challenges facing our housing market. In the Q&A period following the presentations, audience members provided their personal perspectives on how the housing and affordability crisis has affected them, asked a number of insightful questions and offered some creative potential solutions. It was a lively and informative discussion.

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Cairine Green, a Community Housing Advocate and volunteer Board Director for Our Place Society, spoke about some of the causes and the effects of the housing and affordability crisis in Victoria and across the Province. The BC Non-Profit Housing Association defines affordable housing as requiring 30% or less of gross household income (in 2012); two other factors are suitable housing, where there are enough bedrooms for the size and make-up of occupants, and adequacy, where a home does not require major repairs. Increasingly, fewer and fewer people in Victoria live in housing that meets these criteria. Cairine highlighted the importance of affordable housing in maintaining healthy and sustainable communities, and the concerns of low-income seniors who want to be able to stay in their homes as they get older. She outlined the actions that municipalities can take to stem the tide of rising housing costs, and the need for different levels of government to work together to implement solutions.

30385634136_ff4d3d5a96_zAlex McGowan, Chairperson of the Alliance of BC Students and President at the Kwantlen Student Association, emphasized the challenges facing students looking for housing, as well as the steps that Universities can take to address student housing needs, thereby benefitting the rental market more widely. His comments were supported by Maxwell Nicholson, Director of Campaigns & Community Relations from the UVic Student Society who was also in attendance.

In the last ten years, the number of full-time students in B.C. has steadily grown and the number of international students has nearly doubled, yet very few new residence spaces have opened. There is a high demand for student housing: the Alliance of BC Students estimates that Universities in BC need to double their stock of student housing to meet the need. In 2014/2015 there were 10,900 students on waitlists for campus housing in B.C., nearly 3,000 of which were on the UVic list alone. Student housing is cheap to build, and would play an important role in easing the pressure on the rental market, creating space for those who may be currently in unaffordable housing or squeezed out of the market all together. A serious problem is that the Province won’t allow post-secondary institutions to take on the debt needed to build more student housing on their land. Yet debt undertaken to build campus housing in B.C.’s desperate market would not impact the government’s credit rating as it would be self-supporting through residence fees.

30385632556_da0cf05d74_zKyle Kerr, a licensed Realtor with RE/MAX Camosun, Associate Partner with Tony Joe and Associates, and a Director of the Victoria Real Estate Board, brought his insights from his experience in real estate to bear on the crisis in Victoria. He highlighted the factors that make Victoria such an attractive place to live and have led to an increase in net migration here, such as the industries here (including Government, military, tourism and technology), our educational institutions, and the lifestyle that Victoria offers. These strengths make it unlikely that we will see a significant housing crash or a “bursting of the bubble” in Victoria. Kyle also discussed the need to build more affordable housing, and to increase density, to meet demand.

30305066552_c036472a40_zEric Swanson, Executive Director of Generation Squeeze, showed how the odds that young Canadians face in getting into the housing market and purchasing their own home are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. He highlighted the differences in the magnitude of the challenges faced by young Canadians today versus forty years ago, in 1976, showing that average earnings have decreased, student debt has increased, and the average housing price has more than doubled, leading to a situation where young Canadians in BC have to save more than three times as long for a down payment on a house today than in 1976.

Potential solutions to the crisis highlighted by the panelists and explored in the Q&A period include actions that different levels of government and members of the public can take.

The Provincial Government can offer support for co-housing or blended housing, to allow seniors to stay in their homes, while providing an affordable rental option for low-income individuals, families or students. As an essential step in addressing student housing needs, the Province could reverse its stance on preventing universities from acquiring debt to build more on-campus housing.

Municipalities have a number of tools at their disposal that they can use to address the housing crisis. These include:

  • Removing minimum unit size requirements;
  • Reduce parking requirements for units;
  • Removing re-zoning requirements for garden and laneway housing;
  • Reviewing housing reserve fund guidelines for grants to developers of affordable housing projects;
  • Supporting the conversions of older hotels/motels to housing units;
  • Establishing land trusts, in which municipalities contribute publicly-owned land at no cost or at a reduced market value for the development of affordable housing projects;
  • Demanding more from developers, such as higher percentages of affordable units to meet community need;
  • reducing unnecessary regulations in building codes.

The City of Victoria has already implemented some of these measures, and is considering more, such as “an inclusionary housing density bonus policy” where new housing has to represent the income distribution of the area in which it is built.

Individuals can become familiar with their official community plans and local housing strategy. An important action that individuals can take is to attend council meetings to express their thoughts on proposed projects, especially voicing their support for projects that would result in more affordable housing.

I am grateful for the commitment and ongoing concern so many in our community are giving to this crucial issue facing our Province. There are few topics of more importance facing our Province today.

The growing demoviction crisis in Burnaby – a path forward

Many might not be aware that an emerging, and entirely preventable, crisis in affordable rental accommodation is developing in the Burnaby Metrotown area. Perhaps the reason for this is that neither the government nor the official opposition has been raising this issue publicly. That’s one of the reasons why I accepted an invitation from the Metrotown Residents’ Association to tour the region on August 18th. While my visit to the area generated some excellent local media coverage in Burnaby Now and Vancouver 24 hours, I thought it was important for me to expand upon what I learned from my tour.

Background

IMG_20160818_133613The issue that Burnaby is now facing has arisen from recent and imminent changes in policy. The first concerns legislative changes to the Strata Property Act that were passed in Bill 40, Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2015. An obvious question concerns why changes to the Strata Property Act were passed within a Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act. There is, of course, no justifiable reason for this to have occurred. My own opinion is that it was done simply because Richard Coleman is the Minister of Natural Gas Development and also the Minister Responsible for Housing. By burying housing amendments in a natural gas bill the minister was able to deal with his entire portfolio at once. Bill 40 contained provisions that allowed Stratas to be dissolved (and hence the property sold) with only 80% instead of 100% of strata owners agreeing.

IMG_20160818_132652The second important policy change is that the municipality of Burnaby is moving towards rezoning low-rise areas to mid- and high-rise in and around the Metrotown skytrain station. While in and of itself this might sound like a fine idea — by increasing density you increase availability of housing stock — the reality is that it is compounding the affordability crisis in the area. Below I’ll attempt to outline why this is the case.

But first, I’d like to thank the  Metrotown Residents’ Association for inviting me to participate on the tour. I’m also grateful to the residents of the Maywood,  Marlborough and Cedar Place who took the time to speak with me.

The problem

IMG_20160818_132703In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of demolition permits that have been issued by the City of Burnaby. Older, low rise apartment buildings are being bought up at an alarming rate by developers whose intention is to demolish them and turn them into high end condominiums. Now in theory, as I note above this might sound like a great idea. The current stock of rental housing is dated and densification increases housing supply. But in reality, what is happening is that lower income rental housing is being replaced by higher income luxury condominiums. The result is that these lower income people are displaced and have nowhere to go. This is particularly troubling as Burnaby is ranked dead last in terms of affordability in the Canadian Rental Housing Index.

IMG_20160818_132453Metrotown mall and the Metrotown skytrain station are immediately adjacent to the neighbourhoods that are being affected. The proximity of rapid transit is particularly important to the residents living in the area who rely on it to get to their employment. At the same time, it was evident that the residents moving into the newer high-end condominiums are far more affluent. One can readily see this simply by looking at the cars parked along the residential streets immediately in front of the new constructions as opposed to the older ones.

The response by Burnaby’s Mayor has been to blame the provincial and federal government for the problem. I find this odd in that zoning falls squarely within municipal jurisdiction and that municipalities have the power to create standards of maintenance bylaws which can incentivize upkeep of existing stock. They also have wide discretion as to how they use funds acquired from developers through the granting of increased density. Of course, the development of affordable rental housing, like Cedar Place in Burnaby, often requires the investment of resources from multiple levels of government, but it’s simply not good enough to pass the blame to someone else.

IMG_20160818_133054Residents in the area that I talked to spoke of the constant stress that they are living with as they wonder if their apartment building will be next. They have tried to organize and meet regularly. Unfortunately, several of them told me that whenever they put up posters advertising their next gathering, the posters are quickly blacked out, like the example shown to the right.

So what is being done for those being evicted. The honest answer is that virtually nothing is being done. Burnaby council seems to be turning a blind eye as the demoviction problem gets out of hand. Rather than recognizing that the municipality has a moral obligation to look out for the best interests of their constituents, they seem content with the knowledge that property taxes and developer funds acquired through granting increased density will increase the City’s coffers.  In fact, Burnaby’s Mayor has been reported to have said “he’s not about to give in to downloading what he says are provincial and federal responsibilities.”

The solutions

Burnaby council doesn’t have to look far to get a sense of what they might do. Under the leadership of Gregor Robertson the City of Vancouver has taken numerous steps to incentivize the development of rental houses. At the same time they successfully petitioned the provincial government to bring in enabling legislation that would allow Vancouver to introduce a vacancy tax that would penalize those purely speculating in the marketplace.

Burnaby did not. In fact, I wrote to Burnaby Mayor and Council in May asking them for their views on the vacancy tax. As I have written about earlier, the addition of the vacancy tax only into the Vancouver Charter and not the Community Charter as well (which other communities like Victoria and Oak Bay have been calling for) makes no sense at all. For example, on one side of Boundary Road (in Vancouver) a vacancy tax could be applied; on the other side of the street (in Burnaby), it would not. I never received a response or even an acknowledgement that my letter was received. In addition, Burnaby has the jurisdictional ability to slow the pace of demovictions to ensure that the construction of affordable, rental accommodation keeps pace with the increased densification.

Unlike the more progressive housing approach of Vancouver, Burnaby’s response to the affordability crisis has been to call on the BC government to allow municipalities to introduce “rental-only” zoning. The BC NDP have also been musing over the possibility of introducing legislation that would allow rental-only zoning options for municipalities.  In my view this is not a solution. In fact, I would argue that this has the potential of being disastrous as it would potentially lead to the development of big city ghettos as found in other jurisdictions world wide.

Following up with the Animal Liability Act

Since introducing my private member’s bill Bill M212 — Animal Liability Act, 2016 earlier this month I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of individuals and my office has been in contact with various organizations and concerned constituents.

There has been overwhelming support for the notion that BC  needs some sort of legislation to encourage responsible pet ownership. Dog attacks happen every day and for the most part it is from irresponsible owners. To begin the conversation as to how we can more effectively deal with irresponsible pet owners I introduced a bill in the Legislature on April 6.

We’ve received numerous emails and comments on our proposed bill and while virtually all the correspondence is from people supporting the bill, a number raised some important concerns.

One concern has been around provoked attacks. Obviously pet owners may feel concern that they would be held liable if their dog was provoked into attacking someone. While ultimate liability would still rest with the owner,  the bill I introduced clearly states that  the actions of the plaintiff must factor into any decision. Section 2 of the bill I introduced states,the court shall reduce the damages awarded in proportion to the degree, if any, to which the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the harm.”

Simply put, this does not, nor is it intended to, put full liability on pet owners if their dog acts out of self defence or in response to aggression. The context that led to a bite is as important as the fact that a bite took place.

Four-year-old George Brown from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, recovers at home today after being mauled by a dog.There are an untold number of circumstances that could occur and I think it is preferable to allow the court to figure out the degree of liability based on the circumstance.

As with any piece of legislation, the regulations behind this bill are integral to its operation. The bill itself assigns liability but should also be considered enabling. For example, regulations could provide more context around defining important terms such as an “unprovoked attack” or whether specially-trained dogs could limit their owners liability (such as guide dogs for instance). Regulations could change the rules around pet ownership, and there is ample room to have the regulations address dog-training programs to encourage more responsible ownership. There could also be increased penalties for repeated offenses of irresponsible pet owners.

Indeed, regulations, if developed properly with consultation and forethought, could address many if not all of the gaps in this legislation. Pretty much every piece of legislation introduced has a number of regulations that are behind it, and if enacted this bill would be no different.

One final concern that has arisen is how this legislation might affect the adoption of rescue animals. Some might see this bill as increasing the barriers to adopting an animal, however, I think it ensures that animals that need additional support and help are going to families that understand their responsibilities and are prepared to provide what is needed. In my view, this is a positive step as I don’t think it is wise for irresponsible pet owners to adopt rescue animals.

Ultimately I brought this issue forward because there is a gap in our legislative framework in BC regarding pets and pet ownership liability. Other provinces have addressed it, and while I don’t think it is wise to follow Ontario’s lead in banning certain breeds, we do need something to ensure that pet owners are responsible for the behaviour of their pets and that there are stiff penalties for not being a responsible pet owner.

Since introducing the bill my office has reached out to a number of organizations and we have been in contact with the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development as a way to move this issue forward.

I welcome discussion on this topic and I am hopeful that the interest that this bill has generated gives the government the push it needs to start working towards a solution for British Columbians.