Estimates 2023: Municipal Affairs

Jun 7, 2023 | 42-4, Blog, Community, Economy, Estimates, Governance, Legislature, Sessions, Video | 0 comments

The exchange with Municipal Affairs Minister Anne Kang is mind-boggling. She had no good answer to how Premier David Eby’s housing plans were going to impact communities and no idea if the Islands Trust was included or impacted in any way.

Minister Kang encouraged me to go and talk to the Housing Minister. Why then do we need a Municipal Affairs Minister if she can’t, or won’t, answer questions about land us and local governments. The Housing Minister is not responsible for the Local Government Act!

I have thousands of constituents who are concerned about how these new laws are going to impact their communities and they have a right to know. I certainly hope Minister Kang can provide the answers to these basic questions soon!


A. Olsen:
Thank you to the member for Penticton for giving me an opportunity to ask a few questions. In fact, it gives me an opportunity to, I think, segue nicely from what the member was talking about.

The reality is that that billion-dollar fund is catch-up, not grow-out, money. I think that’s really important to point out. It has been long recognized that there is an infrastructure deficit in this province and, indeed, in this country, and that municipalities and their funding formula — and I raised this with the minister in the supplemental budget estimates — has not been sufficient. Municipalities have been saying it’s not been sufficient, and the provincial government has been moving at glacial pace, along with the UBCM. But I think it’s been pretty clear that the UBCM has been looking for a quicker pace than what has been taken.

The first conversation that I remember having about this was when I was on local government back in 2011, I believe, so more than a decade now that we’ve been talking about a new fiscal relationship. The thing is that the province is just not delivering it.

Definitely, the $1 billion that has been split between the communities is a positive, for sure. That money is going to be exactly what municipalities need, but not one time. Those municipalities need it on an ongoing basis. And now what has happened is that the minister’s colleagues have made a more challenging situation for municipal governments by, basically, taking all single-family properties and upzoning them, allowing much higher density on them.

That requires more water, more roads. It requires more electricity, as my colleague was saying. It requires more sewer capacity, and then, as well, it’s going to require more money from the Minister of Education, the Minister of Health, because the reality is that all of the services that the provincial and municipal governments provide…. There’s going to be pressure on all of those services.

The government was very good at making the announcement, but the thing that the government has failed to do has been to explain how it’s going to happen. That’s what my colleague has been asking about. That’s what our colleagues at local government have been asking about. Quite frankly, none of the responses that have been provided today, and none of the responses that have been provided to date, give us any clarity on how we’re able to respond to our colleagues who are calling us and who are concerned.

None of the responses are going to be able to assuage the concerns that the constituents in our ridings have about the potential impact on the form and character of their neighborhoods. That discussion has been part of the challenge. There is no doubt about it.

Part of the increased challenge that, now, the government has created, and the inability for the Minister of Municipal Affairs to respond to these basic questions about what kind of impact it is going to be are not giving us, giving our colleagues and giving our communities and neighborhoods any confidence that the government has actually thought through the impacts and the implications of the policy decision that’s been made.

My colleague was asking questions about what was going to go in his specific riding. How is this policy that has been announced going to be applied to the Islands Trust?

Hon. A. Kang:
Welcome, to the House Leader for the Third Party. Thank you so much for your question.

I do want to talk about the $1 billion that was a one-time investment to all municipalities. But as well, since 2018, we have, through a combination of federal and provincial dollars, invested $1.8 billion. That one-time $1 billion is quite significant.

As well, we have made announcements — using our surplus to invest in community infrastructures, critical infrastructures, with $450 million. These are just some of the examples of the investment that we’ve made into local governments and core infrastructural needs. We continue to work very closely, listening to local governments on how we can be partners.

I really appreciate the questions on housing. However, that would best be directed to the Minister of Housing. We continue to support local governments in conversations on issues that are their priority, and this would be one of them. We work in collaboration with Housing, and Housing is the lead for that question.

A. Olsen:
I think it’s an important opportunity, at this moment, to really recognize that the siloing and the fragmentation of the policy, as is the desire of the Premier, may be workable for this institution. But it doesn’t serve the purpose of delivering a coherent policy on the ground in communities, necessarily. It could, but it doesn’t. Just because we’ve set it up in here the way that we’ve set it up in here doesn’t mean that municipalities are getting the kind of leadership from the province that they need.

Part of the challenge with local governments has been that there’s oftentimes a separation between the transportation requirements and the community development piece. We see that bifurcation in community planning all over the place. I think what the minister’s response just indicated was what we have in here is a completely…. Well, it just doesn’t make any sense.

The chief function of municipal government is to zone land and to be able to plan the services that serve the people, the businesses, the commercial and industrial zones that are their responsibility.

It’s their responsibility to ensure there is coherence in that. To not be able to have a response from the Minister of Municipal Affairs, with respect…. That it’s the Housing Minister’s responsibility to answer the question about zoning and municipal governments and the Local Government Act, which is the act that this ministry is responsible for that guides and directs all of that is…. Well, I referenced it in another budget estimates that I did today. It’s these circular conversations that happen in here that absolutely are crazy-making, really.

The fact is that local governments need to have a coherent response from the…. These discussions needed to happen before the Premier stood in front of the million-dollar townhome, making a big announcement, because as soon as that announcement happens, the next thing that’s going to follow from that is a flood of questions about what is going on here.

I think that there’s going to be a mixed response from municipal governments. Some are going to say: “This is great. The province has taken some of the stress of the public hearings off of our shoulders.” But if they’re witnessing this debate, if they see the Minister of Municipal Affairs say, “Go talk to Housing,” and then Housing, when we go and talk to Housing, says, “Well, actually that’s a land use situation. You should’ve talked to Municipal Affairs. That’s over already,” nobody gets answers to anything. There’s no coherence in this, and there’s no common sense in actually what it is that local governments need.

The province has been constantly flowing cash out to local governments through conditional grants. It’s never been enough. So to respond with: “This is how much money we’ve given….” The point that I made was that it has never been enough, to the point where we have infrastructure deficits that are in to the tune of billions of dollars in this province. And every elected official, if they weren’t aware of it in November, is aware of it now as they try to figure out how they’re going to deal with this situation.

The minister didn’t respond to my fundamental question. Do these new rules that have been announced with respect to zoning — not housing, zoning, which is a responsibility in the Local Government Act — impact the Islands Trust, and if so, how?

Hon. A. Kang:
A number of new rules will be prov­incewide. Some rules will be regional. Right now we are consulting. Consultation is critical to legislative amendments, as we know.

These amendments are expected to be brought forward in the coming fall, so I encourage the member to stay tuned. There’ll be more to come, but ongoing work is happening right now.

A. Olsen:
Thank you for the response.

We had a previously scheduled meeting, and now we’ve got maybe a future scheduled meeting to discuss this, but I just wanted to ask with respect to improvement districts, because I continue to receive letters and I continue to have to ask about improvement districts. I think we’ll have more of a conversation about this. I know the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General was on Saltspring and heard from the fire department and also, I think, police and others, just with respect to communications — fire service and the water services.

Part of the reason why I think it’s important to get the clarity on whether or not the Islands Trust is involved in the new policy piece is because finding servicing for Gulf Island communities is challenging enough, never mind the added challenge of the water improvement district and the fire improvement districts, the way that they’re funded and the relationships that they have with the local government in place, which is the capital regional district.

I’m just wondering if the ministry has done any technical work or if there’s any different approach that can be taken if a community chooses to maintain the improvement district that they have but the money — which has been made available, and which the minister has been talking about, in providing support for communities — is not accessible to communities that are served by improvement districts.

Has there been any thought to how, perhaps, we can support those services so that they’re not deteriorating? There’s this inequity that exists between communities.

The Chair:
At this point, I’m going to call a five-minute recess.

The committee recessed from 5:20 p.m. to 5:25 p.m.

Hon. A. Kang:
Thank you so much to the member. I could feel your passion you have for your improvement district. It’s very beautiful. I’ve been there many times, over spring, summer and winter. It’s beautiful in all seasons.

We do have some policies in place and some support and funding in place. We do encourage improvement districts to transition to a local government model. I don’t know; you’re smiling, so I think maybe you have gotten the answer previously. There is money there to support improvement districts. We do encourage them, perhaps, to look into that funding to support them.

In addition, asset management is critical to making sure that their infrastructure assets are being looked after and planned to have that longitudinal lifespan and that they have a plan for placement and growth. We can have more conversations on that. I promise you, we will have that meeting.


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