For the past year I have been advocating for the BC NDP government to support the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) so it can transform into a stable long-term community-led economic development vehicle for Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities.
The BC NDP has ignored the pleas of local elected officials, community leaders, and MLAs. They have ignored the recommendations of their own legislative review committees. All have recommended the provincial government to make substantive changes.
This is an abandonment by the BC NDP of the regions that have consistently supported this government. This Bill allows the government to give the Trust $10 million to extend its life but it fall well short of creating a stable and reliable economic development vehicle.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill 42, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3). Thank you to the Attorney General for bringing this act forward.
As has been canvassed to some extent, this legislation covers a variety of pieces of laws that are being updated here: the Supreme Court Act. to change some of the definitions and some of the titles within the act; Low Carbon Fuels Act, to institute an expansion of the low-carbon fuel standard; and as the member for Abbotsford West just outlined to some extent, changes to the Residential Tenancy Act and the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act.
I’m going to go into some detail in my comments with respect to the development initiative trust acts that are in section 5, as was previously noted.
I just wanted to, I think, make a couple of comments with respect to what the member from Abbotsford West was just talking about. First, I think that it’s important to acknowledge that the goal of the changes — and we’ll see if they will be achieved — is to reduce the wait times at the residential tenancy branch, increasing flexibility and giving the RTB some more flexibility on how it conducts its hearings, but the ultimate goal, I think, of trying to reduce hearing wait times.
When you take a look at what’s happening with the changes to the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, I think that it’s important at this stage that we also ask some questions at the committee stage for this part of the bill. I’ve heard from members of my community — my constituents — who live in manufactured home parks — some 900 of them across the province. They don’t feel the type of security that people in homes that they’ve invested in and invested their parts of their lives in should feel. They were hoping back in 2018 that the rules would tighten, but they have not.
I think that it’s important to recognize manufactured home parks are a viable housing solution for many people in this housing crisis. Many of the people living in manufactured home parks in my community are seniors living on a fixed income. Tenuous housing situations for them. It makes them feel even further vulnerable. I think that it’s important that we understand just whether or not the provincial government here has listened to the advocates and the people representing those who live in manufactured home parks, or if we’ve yet again made amendments without achieving that level of security.
I think that it’s important just to respond to some of the comments that were made. Interesting that the member from Abbotsford West started talking about the residential tenancy branch by talking about bias, and in particular, talking about the bias that he’s identified within our current B.C. NDP government. Doing so, I think, demonstrated very clearly a bias of his own.
For the last number of decades, the narrative has been constructed around renters as being the lower class citizens in our community. That the pursuit of home ownership had created classist tiers in our society. I was I’m going to talk about this later when it comes to Bill 44, but I remember when I got elected to Central Saanich Council how there were rules that basically, you couldn’t have renters in neighborhoods if the landlord didn’t live on the property with the tenant. Of course, the premise behind those kinds of laws was based on the fact that if you just left the neighbourhood, to the renters — to the tenants — that it would fall into disrepair.
Back in 2008, when I was sitting around the council table — in fact, in the community that I grew up in — those were the narratives that were emerging. So I think that it’s important that we recognize, and I think that it’s important to also recognize and acknowledge the burden that the secondary market landlord carries in our society of carrying the mortgage and buying the house and being able to do that.
However, it’s important when we’re talking about the residential tenancy branch and the need for it to be improved and the need for the response times to be improved that it not be just from the context of the landlord needing to be able to deal with their pesky and out of control renters, which has been largely the stigma context wrapped around renters for decades, but that in fact, tenants need an accessible, efficient, well-funded, well-resourced and well-supported residential tenancy branch.
I’m thankful that the member for Abbotsford West got there eventually, but very much delivered only half the narrative.
I thought that some rebalancing needed to happen in that context, because the residential tenancy branch doesn’t just serve landlords, secondary landlords or even the larger landlords. It represents the tenant, as well, in the discussion.
I think that it’s also important to recognize that the cultural discussion that’s happening right now is not that owning a second home is inherently bad. It’s the impact of turning housing units into economic units, rather than their primary purpose of homes for people that they can afford, places that they can afford to live, in communities near where they work, go to school and do all of those things so that all of the stress and tension and anxiety that’s created by housing insecurity isn’t in the neighbourhoods across the province. That’s what we’re talking about.
It’s not about taking the stigma of the renter and turning it on to the owner and saying that they’re all good or they’re all bad. It is a culture and an economic system that says that it’s okay for us to turn housing into an economic unit, primarily, and making it an inaccessible place for people to live because they can’t afford to be there, and they need two and three jobs to be able to live in that space. That’s what we’re talking about when it comes to making sure that people can afford to live in the places that they’re in.
When it becomes an investment vehicle, when that’s what it becomes, then it’s not about a market of housing people safely and securely in a place that’s near where they work and go to school. It just becomes an investment vehicle. More on that later. A lot more on that later, as it turns out.
Anyway, I just think that as it’s important also to recognize that the member for Abbotsford West called the Minister of Housing and said, “Be ready for the upcoming debate,” I think that it’s important that the Minister of Jobs is also ready for the upcoming debate. Finally, we’re seeing the government fulfil a commitment that they made last fall to the communities in…. It’s technically called the North Island–Coast Development Initiative Trust Act. But we know it as the ICET on Vancouver Island and in the coastal communities.
To me, it’s inexplicable that this government failed to support communities here on Vancouver Island, specifically communities that supported them at the provincial level for decades. It’s no secret that Vancouver Island and the coastal communities have been a stronghold for our government. Yet when the B.C. NDP are on that side of the House, they wilfully ignore the socioeconomic opportunity that the North Island–Coast Development Initiative Act, ICET, as local and community groups affectionately call the fund — that is offered by this opportunity.
Our government followed through on the B.C. Liberals’ announcement in 2017 to extend the life of the trust that was created by the B.C. Liberals at the time. But the money was running out for ICET, and so they gave it a $10 million boost, essentially kicking the can down the road — until now, as it turns out.
Since then, the ICET has been hard at work trying to create a long-term, sustainable model for itself. Last year, approaching, again, the can that was just kicked down the road, the ICET, and their board of directors and regional advisory committees — consisting of mayors, electoral district directors, MLAs and other community members — produced a vision for government to invest in those communities that have supported them so strongly.
Our current provincial government, the B.C. NDP, sat on the vision and case for investment. They sat on the recommendations of the 2022 independent legislative review of the North Island–Coastal Development Trust Act. The review was undertaken by a legislative review committee consisting of former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard, Sarah Morales, Wayne Rowe and Judith Sayers, Vancouver Island University chancellor and president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
It was the third review, as is required by the legislation, and the panel found: “The current legislation has worked well, but it’s past time that Indigenous governments be given a defined role in trust governance.”
The panel found (1) “The current legislation has worked well, but it’s past time that Indigenous governments be given a defined role in trust governance.”
In addition to recommending (2) the trust work along side by side with First Nations they acknowledged (3), the ICET has played a useful role in economic development. ICET provides a valuable supplement to any work that’s being done” of an interwoven mesh of government and non-government community organizations.
The panel called for the provincial government to (4) “remove the legislative cap on the provincial contributions and make a significant investment in recapitalizing the trust.”
They recommended (5) that the provincial government envision a tripartite approach between provincial, local and Indigenous governments.
The panel provides (6) useful advice on how to proceed with including and working with Indigenous nations in the DRIPA Declaration Act and (7) they point out a few other recommendations to update outdated language in the act.
This was a review that was given to the government last year. The independent legislative review is a year old. It’s the latest in a series of reviews, and it forms the substance of the vision and case for investment that ICET submitted to the government last September. At that time, the fund had invested more than $56 million into the Vancouver Island and coastal communities. Each of those dollars leveraged up to $300 million invested in those communities. Remarkable investment in those communities.
The ICET vision and case for investment outlined (1) a request for $150 million to “transform the Island Coastal Economic Trust into a permanent environmentally and socially responsible trust that would be led by and empower First Nations and local governments to build an inclusive and resilient coastal economy.”
Further, they requested (2) that the government work with them and the “50 First Nations and 35 local governments to create an updated act to reflect the new approach” and (3) to work toward a full capitalization of $250 million.
There are a few other snapshots that I’m surprised that this B.C. NDP government had no interest in. Perhaps they’ve grown too comfortable here on Vancouver Island and the coastal communities, but communities are frustrated. Community leaders are frustrated. This government knows that. The “vision to fully engage First Nations and local governments in co-governance of a regional economic development organization will be the first in Canada.” It seems very much in alignment with the goals of this government.
Next, they will “be the first regional economic trust in British Columbia to develop and execute a comprehensive environmental, social and governance — an ESG — strategy, inclusive of Indigenous rights,” also in alignment with the principles and the vision that this government talks about. “The trust will adopt a wellbeing impact framework, the first for a trust in British Columbia. It will focus on strengthening wellbeing across the coastal region.” Certainly, that would be welcome from our communities on Vancouver Island and coastal communities.
Finally, and this piece is the piece that I find very hard to digest. The ICET estimated in their planning that over a 25-year period, the trust would produce nearly a billion dollars of economic activity on Vancouver Island and the coastal communities with that initial investment of $150 million.
This was all in front of our government. They had billions of dollars of a surplus that the Finance Minister shovelled out last spring. It was the perfect opportunity to deliver the recommendations of the legislative review committee. The door was open for the B.C. NDP government to finally provide a tangible long-term benefit to those communities that have consistently delivered them seats one election after another.
Instead, what those people got were excuses. Now, all the communities over 5,000 people within the region are facing increased pressure due to the changes in Bill 44, dramatically increasing the density on urban infrastructure with no potential sources of revenue to pay for it.
Bill 42 is not about community. It’s not about building a sense of community. It’s about dramatically increasing the density of residential zones, potentially flooding communities with new people. It will be up to local governments to find resources to actually build a dynamic culture in their communities.
The funds that have been invested in ICET have been invested in local theater and place making, repairing community docks and building up the arts. These are projects that help build and maintain a sense of community in the places humans live. This government has chosen not to invest in that over the long term. They removed most of the capacity local governments have to capture some revenue in the rezoning of land, and they provide no support.
Last spring, when this government had the opportunity to make a generational investment in our communities on Vancouver Island and in coastal communities, they chose to deny, delay, deflect. They chose to offer full options as replacement funding programs that are not sustainable, not community-led funds but rather conditional grants that allow the provincial government to deliver and cut the ribbons.
The three trusts, the Northern Development Initiative Trust, the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior and the Island Coastal Economic Trust have been advocating to the minister responsible, not the Attorney General, the Jobs Minister. Over the last year, I’ve heard how challenging it’s been to even get a response from the B.C. NDP government.
Recommendations have been made, clearly articulated by the trusts, their legislative review committees and their local leaders. Yet when I look at the changes offered in this Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, it’s the bare minimum. The Attorney General moves the cap by $10 million, increasing it. Better than nothing, for sure, but a long way from creating a sustainable community led economic development initiative co-governed by First Nations and local government leaders.
It is appreciated that the Attorney General is removing references to Olympic opportunities and pine beetles and replacing it with innovation and technology as has been requested. But why stop short? Why stop short from enabling grassroots vision of community economic development? Why ignore a requirement for the board to prove that they’re working towards sustainability? Why not update gendered language? I get a sense this B.C. NDP government wants to get this done as quickly as possible, as little debate on this as possible.
The people on Vancouver Island and coastal communities who have supported this government and this political organization for decades need to seriously consider this slight. This is the thanks that they get. Our effective organizations are kept on life support because the organizational model doesn’t allow for the province to take direct credit for the accomplishments. It’s a petty game. It’s one that is apparently not too low for this government to stoop.
I’ll be grateful that the ICET and its sibling trusts across the province will get a short-term boost of $10 million. I hope that the people on Vancouver Island and coastal communities understand that the B.C. NDP government missed a tremendous opportunity to return to them the long-term investment that many have made in them.
HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM .