Local MLA Adam Olsen of the B.C. Greens said he would like to see the provincial government treat local municipalities as partners after the government of Premier David Eby announced new legislation around housing.
He made these comments in a year-end-interview with Black Press that touched on a range of issues, including the housing supply act announced shortly after Eby became premier.
The act promises to speed up housing development and increase supply by giving the provincial government the power to set housing targets in municipalities with the greatest need and highest projected growth.
These targets would draw on a range of documents (such as housing reports but also regional growth strategies) and data (such as projected population and economic growth).
Provincial observers have described the legislation as offering a “lot of stick” and a “little bit of carrot.” Local voices on the Saanich Peninsula, especially in North Saanich, have hailed its arrival as a necessary antidote to the election of a new municipal council, whose critics accuse its majority of being anti-housing.
“It does provide a stick, but it is also unclear as to how the government is going to swing it or if the government is going to choose to swing it,” said Olsen in his assessment.
While the Saanich Peninsula has a need for housing, Olsen signalled his preference for a more cooperative approach.
“The province has given itself the tools and sent the message,” said Olsen.
“I think communities need to take a look at the message that this government has delivered and then figure out how they are going to fit within that.”
Overall, Olsen calls for more public investment in housing,
“We need to see public money being invested in public solutions that support a wide range of people (on the socio-economic spectrum),” he said.
The housing supply act — which passed late last month, along with changes to strata legislation — belongs to a relatively substantial list of legislation and other announcements under the premiership of Eby within a short period of time. By one measure, Eby’s government announced $1.2 billion in new funding within less than two weeks.
This flurry of funding announcements prompted Kevin Falcon, leader of the official opposition, to argue that the government “cannot just equate more spending with better outcomes,” a critique that Olsen shares, albeit from a different perspective.
“What we need this government to talk about are their outcomes, not just how much they have invested in a particular area,” he said. “A government can show that they have spent a lot of money into something, but we need to start seeing better outcomes.”
That starts with the health care system, he added.
“What we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic do is erode health care systems that we are already fragile to the point of where they are breaking in many parts of the province,” he said.
“Thankfully, that has not happened to any great extent on the Saanich Peninsula.” This said, Olsen had earlier called for additional government investments into genuine community health care centres and grassroots organizations like Shoreline Medical Society.
He also identified the state of the health care system as a source of growing dissatisfaction with the performance of government.
“I have a growing level of concern about the lack of confidence that people have in their governments to deliver to the level of expectation that we as Canadians have come to expect,” he said. “I see it mostly in the health-care system for sure.” Other areas of concern include the provincial government’s child care program currently under development and its level of support for individuals with disabilities.
This year is ending with high inflation and expectations about lower economic growth in 2023 as Olsen warned of a soft economy for the next 18 to 24 months after attending a briefing by economists advising the provincial’s finance minister.
The Economic Forecast Council predicts that the province’s economy will grow by 0.4 per cent in 2023, off from 2.9 per cent predicted for 2022, itself a lower figure from earlier predictions.
Provincial officials have acknowledged the anticipated slower growth in 2023, but also pointed toward B.C.’s operating surplus of $5.7 billion. The provincial government will release its budget on Feb. 28, 2023.
Olsen calls for revised economic approach.
“The provincial government is far too addicted to revenues that came from the real estate industry,” he said. “We need to continue to diversify our economy. We cannot continue to rely on commodities such as fossil fuels and fibre (wood). Those industries are in decline and challenged right now.”
He also rejected the argument that B.C. should lean into high global prices for energy.
“I just don’t buy it that we are doing the world any favour by selling them LNG — we need to move to renewable sources of energy and we need to be very careful about the fossil fuels that we are extracting and we should not be investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure.”
Investments in LNG are not worth it from a climate change perspective, nor should the government continue to subsidize that industry, he added.
The current economic situation should also not distract from the climate change threats, he argued. Despite economic challenges, the environment remains a top priority for many, Olsen said, pointing to last year’s extreme weather events in the summer and winter, as well as this year’s lower rainfall. These crises have in part contributed to economic conditions, he said in pointing to the effects of climate change on agriculture among other issues.
The provincial government should be investing in local and regional food production to help the province become more resilient, he said.
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