By TODD STONE
MLA, Kamloops-South Thompson
LAST WEEK WAS THE UNION OF BRITISH COLUMBIA MUNICIPALITIES (UBCM) conference in Vancouver, an annual event that gives local leaders a chance to set priorities, debate policy resolutions and meet face-to-face with MLAs from all sides of the legislature.
I personally met with dozens of local leaders, and the major takeaway for me was that John Horgan’s NDP government is not listening to their concerns and not doing enough to mitigate the issues facing their communities.
But don’t take my word for it, as the very first resolution local governments debated (and endorsed unanimously) called on the NDP government to “…ensure that the principles of mutual respect, consultation and cooperation as outlined in s.2 of the Community Charter are adhered to and implemented as it moves forward with future initiatives.” And it only got worse for the NDP from there.
Through endorsed resolution after endorsed resolution, local leaders expressed frustration at the lack of respect, consultation and cooperation from the NDP government in the context of changes made to the Agricultural Land Commission, Mountain Caribou management, minimized community input into land-use planning processes, location and composition of modular housing projects, lack of true wrap-around supports at supportive housing projects, imposition of the so-called Speculation Tax, lack of cannabis revenue sharing, and the clawback of all funds from within the Rural Dividend Fund (RDF) resulting in its indefinite suspension – to name a few.
On the latter point, UBCM delegates were shocked that, after they had unanimously passed an emergency resolution earlier that morning calling on the NDP to reinstate the RDF funding immediately, government simply didn’t budge.
In his closing convention speech, Premier Horgan refused to give the RDF funds back to rural communities across the Interior and North. Instead, Horgan spent 45 minutes delivering what can only be described as a Yuk-Yuks stand-up comedy routine, telling joke after joke about everything from chickens and ducks, to pot-smoking, and saying shortly thereafter, “I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid, I always wanted everything right now too, and I ended up turning out okay.”
To add insult to injury, despite more than 250 truck loggers descending upon downtown Vancouver with horns blaring in an attempt to be heard by the NDP government while the UBCM convention was taking place, John Horgan refused to come outside and show his support for these hard-working forestry workers, and he even refused to accept a small delegation of these workers who offered to meet with him in his downtown Vancouver office.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised as this is the same Horgan who has not yet set foot in the Interior to meet with even one impacted forestry worker since the forestry sector crisis ramped up nine months ago. So much for being the premier of all of B.C.
Next week, all 87 MLAs return to Victoria for the start of the fall sitting of the legislature. For myself and my B.C. Liberal colleagues, this will afford a prime opportunity to hold John Horgan’s feet to the fire with respect to the forestry sector crisis, and the issues noted above, plus other concerns such as B.C.’s deteriorating fiscal situation, sky-rocketing ICBC premiums, and surging youth vaping rates.
Failed promises to make life more affordable for British Columbians will also figure prominently in our focus during the upcoming session.
On the latter point, I’m excited that my role was recently expanded to that of Official Opposition critic for Municipal Affairs and Housing. As such, I will be holding the government accountable for their promises to make housing more affordable in B.C., and to create 114,000 units of affordable housing – both areas in which the government has made little progress to date.
Despite Horgan’s false claims that the NDP has created 22,000 units of affordable housing, the housing ministry’s own numbers indicate that only 2,300 units have actually been delivered over the past two years.
At that pace, it will take another 100 years for the NDP to deliver the 114,000 units they promised. And few British Columbians would suggest that life generally – and housing specifically – is more affordable today than it was when the NDP assumed power in 2017.
Housing is no more affordable for homeowners today than it is for renters, as rents continue to climb while new rental stock continues to decrease.
There is plenty of evidence showing that building more homes improves affordability. Across the border, Seattle has focused on policies to increase home choice – including zoning for increased density – and is now experiencing a boom in rental housing projects. The vacancy rate in that city has increased to 10 per cent, providing prospective tenants with greater choice and increased mobility in the housing market.
In many cases, Seattle landlords are even offering renters incentives such as free rent for several months. In contrast, Vancouver still has a vacancy rate under one per cent, making it difficult for renters to find affordable housing.
Here in B.C., rather than stepping up with initiatives focused on encouraging more housing supply, the NDP have piled on 19 new and increased taxes and imposed a range of measures that are suppressing demand and reducing supply.
All of this will inevitably lead to a further increase in housing prices and rents. Stay tuned for more on this and other housing-related matters in the weeks ahead.
To say that there is an ever-increasing volume of issues on which to confront and challenge the Horgan government would be an understatement.
It’s frustrating that other jurisdictions have been able to find workable solutions to similar problems – like making necessary adjustments to improve forestry sector competitiveness, taking action to combat alarming youth vaping rates, or driving policies that encourage more housing supply – yet the Horgan NDP government here in B.C. doesn’t seem to be able to get it together. That said, my colleagues and I aim to do everything we can to get some answers.
Todd Stone is the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson.