Does the province meet the challenge of the infrastructure deficit and increased demand?

Nov 10, 2023 | 42-4, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video

With the BC NDP government moving to rezone vast areas of British Columbia from single family to multi-family — three, four, or six times the density — they have to answer the question how local governments will accommodate the increased development pressure on aging and insufficient infrastructure, on top of a countless billion dollar infrastructure deficit.

There is no magic trick that can make this reality disappear. The BC NDP produced Bill 46, to answer some of the critique levelled by local governments by providing funds through amenity cost charges. I am remain concerned that this bill is only part of the answer that the provincial and local governments have been negotiating for more than a decade.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 46, the Housing Statutes (Development Financing) Amendment Act. This is one of five pieces of legislation that are currently in the mix here in this fall 2023 session and that have to do with changing housing policy in this province.

[1:55 p.m.]

As I spoke to earlier this week, Bill 44, which was the first directly housing-related bill, was supported by our caucus. Finally, regulations on short-term vacation rentals — definitely a long time in coming. Bill 44 is about substantively changing the zoning laws.

I spoke at great lengths — possibly the greatest length that I’ve spoken to any bill — on that, sharing my experience first as a municipal councillor who had to deal with the impacts of decisions that were made in this chamber on the well-being of our communities and on the ability of local government officials to be able to support the people that live in our communities, to be able to generate enough revenue and to be able to maintain and upkeep infrastructure and other services that are much needed in the community.

It’s been no secret that this province has not provided local governments the financing mechanisms that they need and the funding mechanisms that they need to be able to capture an appropriate amount of revenue to be able to keep the infrastructure up to date.

I remember when I first got elected in Central Saanich, I sat down with the finance director, talking about the strategy that was required by the provincial government at the time to start to account an accounting practice of all of the bits and pieces that make our communities work. All the things that nobody thinks about — the fire hydrants, for an example — have a price that you have to pay in order to have a fire hydrant.

From the moment that’s installed, that’s the piece of infrastructure that’s above the ground that everybody can see, and there’s a whole bunch of infrastructure that’s below it that people can’t see, and then that infrastructure is attached to high pressure pipes that are maintained by a different level of government or type of government. They have to maintain those. Then if you follow that back to the reservoir, there has to be a sufficient amount of capacity in the reservoir to have the type of water that’s needed in order to be able to suppress fires in our province.

All of that needs to be able to be funded, somehow. All of that needs to be able to be paid for. All of that pressure that’s in that pipe, the wear and tear that comes from age…. It needs to be replaced at some point.

For the longest time in this province, we just kind of treated it like: “Well, we were able to afford it when we first built the fire hydrant. We’re going to be able to afford to replace the fire hydrant in the future.” It’s not just one fire hydrant needs to be replaced. It’s entire neighborhoods, usually developed around the same time. All of that infrastructure aging at the same pace.

[J. tegart in the chair.]

Take a look at a fire hydrant. I could have probably spent a little bit more time to get the actual price of a fire hydrant, but say, a few thousand dollars to do it. Accumulate that across a municipality like Central Saanich. It’s a large number. Take it over a much greater region, like the capital region. Then of course, just fire hydrants alone becomes a very large cost, on who?

I think this is probably one of the reasons why I disagree that we view these development costs and these development financing mechanisms as a tax. It’s just the cost of servicing the infrastructure that we’re building. It has to be captured somewhere, if it’s not captured in the development process. If the provincial government….

All brands. All types of all political parties. Everyone. All the different brands that have represented in here. Nobody in this building wants to extend adequate amount of resources to local governments through increasing their taxation power, shifting some of the taxation that the provincial government collects towards local governments.

I proposed in my speech earlier this week shifting some of the revenue that’s generated through the property transfer tax to the Indigenous Nations whose land was never surrendered or ceded. I thought that might be a good way to recognize the fact that since 1875, when that packet of documents got handed over called the Indian land question in this province…. Still a question. Still not answered over vast swaths of land here in the province.

[2:00 p.m.]

The Minister of Finance has an issue with transferring some of that wealth that’s generated at the sale of the property — at the transfer from one owner to another, there’s some wealth that’s captured in the process — and has a problem transferring that to the First Nations people.

Maybe they could transfer some of it to the municipal governments where, then, that would offset the cost. So maybe it’s not a development cost charge. It’s a property transfer charge. Call it a tax. Call it whatever you want.

But the reality of it is that that infrastructure needs to be paid for somewhere. If it’s not paid for, if there are no fire hydrants — if there are zero fire hydrants, if there are zero pipes, if there are zero fire trucks — then it will be captured in insurance. The homeowner who’s built their nice new home will be paying an astronomical insurance rate to make up for it. Those of us that have been in local government know this is a reality.

Another conversation that I had when I was in the district of Central Saanich was that our fire hall was too far away from a large number of residents. They weren’t able to meet the 12-minute response time. A volunteer fire department. Great value. Awesome crew. Consistently been an awesome crew of community volunteers in our community for years. Central Saanich volunteer fire department, North Saanich volunteer fire department, department, Sidney Volunteer Fire Department. All of the outer Gulf Islands. Salt Spring Island, Pender, Mayne, Galiano, Saturna.

I think I got them all. I better make sure I’ve got them all. If not, I’ll mention them in my next speech. All have got great volunteer fire departments, right? If it takes too long for those fire departments to get to that home that’s on fire, then that homeowner is going to be paying an inflated insurance rate.
The reality is that the system that we’re living under…. This was the premise of the speech that I gave earlier this week. The economic system that we’re living under is producing these results. The fact that we can come in here, and I can hear debate after debate after debate in here, pretending like something else is possible under the system that we’ve got…. Just a little tweak here, a little tweak there, and we’re going to get an entirely different result. It has my mind swirling.

I just don’t understand how we can come in here, speech after speech after speech, and think that somehow, the infrastructure that it needs to support the hundreds of thousands of people that Bill 44 is going to accommodate in this province…. Somehow, the infrastructure that’s going to support those houses, those homes, is going to magically appear.

Somehow all of that infrastructure that hasn’t been replaced, that is at the end of its life, is going to magically be suitable for more density. Somehow, none of the planning that is done by our local governments, none of the planning that considered this change that we’re debating in Bill 44, is going to somehow suddenly be able to accommodate — the infrastructure under the ground is going to be able to accommodate — the new density that’s going to be put on top of it.

Somehow, magically, just out of nowhere, the reservoir in the Sooke Hills is going to be able to produce the amount of water, the volume of water that’s needed in order to be able to support the people. So when the fire trucks do get there in eight minutes, and they plug that hose into that fire hydrant, it’s working, and the water starts to pump. It doesn’t just run dry at the end because of the reservoir up at the top of the hill.

Where’s that money coming from? How is that money being generated? Magic. From a lot of what I’ve heard in these debates — magic. That’s how it’s going to be. You can’t capture it here. You can’t capture it there. If you capture it over there, you call it a tax. You make it this boogeyman. It becomes this bad thing. But everybody, when their house is on fire — 100 percent of people in this province — wants to know that that fire department is going to be there, that when they plug it into that fire hydrant, that hose fills with water and covers that house.

[2:05 p.m.]

Magic isn’t going to get water into that hose. What’s going to get water into that hose is good planning, a solid fiscal framework that’s going to be able to generate enough revenue to be able to keep that infrastructure up to speed, an understandable and knowable number of people and a growth pattern that’s going to be sustainable and manageable.

That’s what the whole idea of regional growth strategies — regional sustainability strategies, it was starting to be called in the capital regional district…. Official community plans. All of those pieces are pieces that are designed in order to ensure that the development that is planned is going to be able to be supported by the infrastructure: pipes in the ground, asphalt on top of the ground, power lines above ground, or underground in some communities.

Magic is not going to pay for that.

When the minister tabled Bill 44, there was this ripple through the local elected officials in this province. A ripple — you could hear them: “How are we going to pay for a 300, 400, 600 percent increase in some neighborhoods? How are we going to pay for the infrastructure in the ground?” So they come out and they say: “This is not right. You cannot do this to the zoning and not have a solution for the infrastructure.”

The minister runs around, meets with local government people, lets them know it’s going to be all right. And in a couple of days, we get Bill 46 on the table — the answer. Twenty-one pages. A surprise to only everybody in B.C. except for the minister that this bill was hot on its heels.

What was the point of that two-day gap? What was the point of destabilizing this conversation further — fun? Was it fun for the minister to have to answer to all the mayors going: “How are we going to pay for the thing that you’ve known for decades that we can’t pay for?”

Communities on the on the Sunshine Coast running out of water. Communities on western Vancouver Island running out of water. Come to Tofino; come see the Pacific Rim national park. Come and view the beautiful, rugged west coast of B.C., but bring your own water.

For decades, we’ve known that these communities, the community infrastructure has not met the demand already that’s on it. The infrastructure that we have in the ground is aging and coming to an end.
In 2010, I was a municipal councillor. I walked through this in my discussion on Bill 44. I was introduced to the primary challenge that local governments face, and that is a provincial government and a federal government that simply have neglected to give them the financing tools that they need in order to be able to maintain the infrastructure that is expected of them.

Reports came out. Well-known, experienced mayors and councillors sitting around the table trying to come up, in 2010 and 2011, with a new fiscal framework. Hundreds of local government officials around the table agreeing that what we need is something different than the conditional grant framework. The development cost charges.

Municipalities already have a way to be able to generate revenue off of the cost of development, and it was generated from a point in time during the rezoning and subdivision process.

But when a huge amount of densification happens, with Bill 44 the provincial government recognizes that it needs to create a different point in the process for revenue to be able to be generated.

[2:10 p.m.]

That’s why I find it so disappointing that this part of the process, despite what I think about what the government is doing on land that there still are questions over, that they’re not answering, that they’re not prepared to answer — standing up and sitting down all the time here when it comes to reconciliation.
A few times every year, we do ministerial statements about reconciliation. Good ideas are given to the ministers to be able to address that, to be able to reconcile the land question in this province. I mentioned that I’ve seen the map before the lines were drawn on it. Who started drawing the lines? This place started drawing the lines. Who asked? Nobody.

So it’s disappointing, no matter what you feel about Bill 44, that when a bill comes out, Bill 46, to try to accommodate the increased costs that are going to be associated with densifying neighbourhoods that were never planned to have four people for every one…. It leaves me wondering how it is that we’re going to pay for those things. Bill 46 is a part of it. It’s a part of it, but it’s only the future part of it. You know, it’s going to replace some infrastructure, for sure. Absolutely. But it’s going to replace the part of the infrastructure that’s directly under the houses.

As I talked about, there’s a whole continuum of infrastructure that is needed in order to maintain everything up to the door, and this bill doesn’t fully answer that question. It gives a mechanism. No clue as to whether or not what is going to be generated in this bill is going to be anywhere near what municipalities have.

The former B.C. Liberal government under Gordon Campbell had no interest in providing a new fiscal framework for local governments. He said so much at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities when I asked him that question back in 2009.

The Leader of the Official Opposition at the time, Carole James…. I asked her the same question. This granting system is broken — the provincial government making decisions about whether or not a local government has pleaded long enough for the money that’s needed in order to fix a sewer pump.

I didn’t even give the whole picture. What happens when you flush the toilet? What happens in a neighbourhood when you flush the toilet, and it doesn’t go away, right? It just backs up onto the floor. We’ve got sewer pumps and we’ve got undersized pipes from a past generation underneath all of these houses. This Bill 46 is supposed to magically solve all those problems, but it won’t.

Everybody that’s been around this problem in this country, not just in this province but in this country, agrees that the infrastructure deficit in this province and in this country is not $100 million. It’s not $200 million. It’s billions and billions of dollars. It’s the result of lost time. It’s the result of an assumption that the system that we have is going to magically solve itself.

This mechanism isn’t good enough. The building communities fund is about 120 years too short, if you’re going to put a billion dollars a year on the table. The $51 million announced at the last UBCM to placate local governments that were already feeling the pressure of the infrastructure deficit in this province is a nod in the direction of the problem. It doesn’t solve the problem. Anybody who represents a community in this province that has dikes in it knows we are in significant problems in this province, right?

[2:15 p.m.]

If your communities…. If the only infrastructure between your community and the river is a dike that was built in this province, then you know — then you know — and when spring freshet happens in this province, you’re just crossing your fingers. You’re just hoping.

Because we’ve got report after report after report: orphan dams, orphan dikes. Nobody wants to take credit for them. Nobody wants to take ownership of them. Nobody wants to take responsibility for them because of the humongous liability that they represent. And this is what we get from this government. We get: “Don’t worry. We’re going to get you everything you need in order to put three, four or six times more people in those neighbourhoods, Merritt. Those neighbourhoods that were just covered in water, Abbotsford. Don’t worry, we’re going to get you everything you need to put more people in there. We’re going to give you a bill that looks like we’re going to give you mechanisms to be able to fund them.” Except the big money projects are not being touched by this.

How long did it take in this city, in Victoria, to get a sewage treatment facility? It took years, decades, to get a sewage treatment facility. We’ve got communities in this province that have ancient technology, if you can call it that, for sewer pipes. Stormwater and sewer: same pipe or same ditch with a cover over it. Right?

We just look the other way. We just prefer to pretend like that’s not going to be a problem for us. If we’re going to force these municipalities over 5,000 people to put three, four, six more people, we might be able to articulate in the media that we’re solving one problem, but we are creating a host of other problems.

We faced intense drought in this province for a few years now. Probably one of the single biggest investments that all of our communities should be making in this province is increasing their water supply, increasing their ability to capture water. One of the biggest projects that the provincial government should be working on is how it is that they can supplement drinking water, grey water and black water recovery systems.

Communities that I represent on the Southern Gulf Islands have been pleading with this government: “Please organize this. Please don’t make us talk to five different ministries to figure out whether or not this is Island Health or whether it’s, you know, the Ministry of Health….” No organization on this. Rainwater capture? You can do it for your own personal houses. Multifamily? You can’t do it.

You’d think…. Okay, we’re going to be having a situation where we’re going to take a single-family home. We’re going to turn it into a fourplex or a three-plex. We’ve got a drought that’s been just lingering over top of our province here for the last few years. No answer.

I’m just going to end with this. We have a situation that’s happening in this House, in this Legislative Assembly right now where the housing affordability crisis is being responded to with five distinct, separate acts of legislation.

[2:20 p.m.]

At one point, next week maybe or the week after next, when we come back here, we will have, very likely, three different Houses: this chamber; the Douglas Fir Room; and the teeny tiny House, as we call it, upstairs where nobody can go, by the way, the least best place to be debating legislation. No members of the public are welcome there.

We’re going to have three different houses debating housing legislation at the same time. We’re going to have a misc stats bill talking about the residential tenancy branch, we’re going to have a misc stats bill talking about how it is this government can clean up the encampments easier, and we’re going to be talking about either Bill 44, Bill 46 or Bill 47.

The rationale that we were given for that is that it’s easier for the public to think about five things than it is for the public to think about the one thing. Why did this government not put Bill 44, 45, 46 and the two misc stats bills in the same bill and give British Columbians a comprehensive response to a housing affordability crisis that people need resolved? How did a government think that it would be better for the public, better for the media and better for the legislators to have this fragmented response that is nonsensical? How did they think that that was going to be better for everybody?

The only people that that benefits are the people on that side of the House, because there is no way for us to take what’s happening in Bill 44, what happened in Bill 45, what’s going on in Bill 46 and what’s going on in Bill 47 and what’s going on in the two misc stats and amendments bills and have a debate about it, because those debates are fragmented across this House.

It makes our job as legislators, it makes the media’s job as part of the accountability mechanism of this House, and it takes the job of British Columbians…. It makes it that much more difficult. Not just that much more difficult — that much more difficult times five.

A real approach to solving a housing affordability crisis would be to put a single document, as large as it would be…. It would be very large. The housing policy changes that are being represented in these bills are substantive, and you know what? Some of them are laudable. Some of them are questionable. Some of them are outright unsupportable.
The reality here is that the process that this government has undertaken in order for the people of British Columbia to be able to understand what is happening on housing affordability, what’s happening on their property value, what’s happening to them as renters….

[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

They’ve made it impossible.

With that, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this bill. I look forward to the various committee stages of all of the housing bills that we’ve got in front of us, and I’ll take my seat. I’ll adjourn debate.

A. Olsen moved adjournment of debate.


Share This

Share this post with your friends!