Sonia Furstenau and I have been asking the BC NDP government about their approach to solving the housing crisis in British Columbia.
Each Minister who has responded to our questions have pointed to programs they have implemented in the past four years. Despite all the billion dollar programs I continue to hear how millions of British Columbians are struggling to keep up. This is largely because the BC NDP government is unwilling to take the bold, progressive steps that other jurisdictions around the world are taking.
In this session, I asked the Minister of Finance what specific measures she has taken to address wealth inequality in relation to the out-of-control housing market.
In British Columbia, inequality is on the rise. I’m not talking about income inequality, which is a huge issue unto itself. I’m talking about wealth inequality. The gap is visible in our housing market.
For decades, we’ve treated having safe, secure housing as a privilege, not as a right. As a result of the commodification of housing, those who are lucky enough to own real estate see their wealth growing, while those who do not own their own home are struggling to keeping up with the rising costs of living.
This government has been reactive by investing public money to decrease some costs, but in reality, we can’t spend enough money to make up for the structural changes that are needed to combat the growing wealth inequality that the status quo policy protects.
To the Minister of Finance, what is the minister doing to combat wealth inequality?
Hon. S. Robinson:
I want to express gratitude to the member for the question, because I too am concerned. I think everybody here in this House is concerned about the challenges that British Columbians have certainly been telling us for some time about affordability and about what it means to them to be able to have a family, raise a family and age with dignity here in this province. That’s why we’ve taken, over the last four years, significant steps to address that.
It’s why we addressed, from a housing perspective…. It’s why we brought in a speculation and vacancy tax. It ‘s why we brought in the largest investment in housing in this province’s history.
It’s why we removed tolls on bridges so that there’s more money in people’s pockets. It’s why we undertook a wholesale revamp of ICBC to make sure that, again, we can put money back into people’s pockets, because that’s really critical to British Columbians. We’re going to keep doing that work because we know how important it is to British Columbians.
The Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
But from what I’m hearing from constituents and many British Columbians is that while the minister’s able to provide examples of what’s happening, the actual structural changes that are needed are not happening quickly enough in order to make life actually more affordable. We can talk about life being more affordable, but life and affordability is still out of reach for many British Columbians. Entire generations of people cannot afford to live in the communities that they work in.
As a result, the business and service providers that they work for are chronically understaffed. The housing market is detached from the economic reality of most British Columbians, except for those who’ve been able to accumulate wealth over decades. The cost of child care is making having children more difficult. The cost of transportation and food are also increasing.
We achieved our legislative poverty reductions largely because of actions the federal government took. We need structural changes across a number of ministries, but it starts with the budget from the Minister of Finance. She must remove her reliance on revenue on real estate transactions; ensure that public money is only financing true, non-market housing solutions; and coordinate with her colleagues to ensure that restrictive community planning and zoning does not further entrench wealth inequality in housing.
To the Minister of Finance: generations of British Columbians need this government to take the bold, progressive measures we’re seeing other jurisdictions take. What is the government doing to combat wealth inequality in the housing market?
Hon. S. Robinson:
Well, I think the members opposite seem to forget about a whole list of other actions that this government has taken and continues to take by eliminating MSP — again, putting money back in people’s pockets; by starting the largest social program in decades and decades with the child care plan.
Average hourly wages have increased to over $30 an hour. Before, in 2017, it was only $25 an hour. That makes significant differences to people. The largest increase in social assistance rates, too, has made a difference for those who are at the bottom, those who have been struggling so hard.
We also have the child opportunity benefit — again, putting about $130 — up to, I think — in people’s pockets. That really makes a difference in their ability to care for their families. We know that there’s more work to do. No one is saying that that isn’t the case. But we’re off to a fabulous start, and I can’t wait to continue to deliver for the people of this province.