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Housing dominates B.C. legislative session with next election less than a year away

Housing dominates session

Politicians left British Columbia's legislature Thursday after passing a series of housing-focused laws that Opposition parties say will do little to change the province's status as one of the most unaffordable jurisdictions for housing in all of North America.

The end of the fall legislative session comes less than a year away from B.C.'s expected election, and about three months before the New Democrat government's tabling of its February budget. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy signalled this week it will post a multibillion-dollar deficit and projects economic growth below one per cent.

The seven-week session was highlighted by four NDP housing-related bills, concerns about the government's safe drug supply and decriminalization initiatives, demands for carbon tax relief and the rise of B.C.'s Conservative Party, which now has two members in the 87-seat legislature.

"I want British Columbians to know we're not done," Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said at a news conference Thursday. "There's more on the way."

The housing-focused bills included legislation to restrict short-term rental accommodations, permit multiplexes on single-home lots, relax zoning permit requirements in municipalities and support increased housing density in areas with public transit.

A fifth measure that would ensure municipalities seeking to dismantle homeless encampments have alternative shelter options available still requires cabinet approval to proceed.

Kahlon told the legislature earlier this month that the government's multi-unit housing legislation could create 130,000 new homes over the next decade.

But Opposition BC United Leader Kevin Falcon said after seven years with the NDP in government, the province has the distinction of being home to the most unaffordable housing in Canada.

"The problem is that their so-called hard work has actually got us the most unaffordable housing in North America, not just Canada," he said in the legislature. "I've said from Day 1 that we must hold governments and politicians accountable not for what they promised, not for the announcements and photo ops, but for the results they actually get for British Columbians."

The measures the government used — which included invoking time limits on debate to ensure the NDP could use its majority in the legislature to pass the housing bills this week — drew sharp criticism from Opposition parties.

"It's been a bit of a dumpster fire, yes it has," said Green house leader Adam Olsen. "The bills that we are putting in here have tremendous impact on every British Columbian. Shuttering (debate) is a design to keep people from understanding what the laws are that are changing their lives. To me that's offensive."

Todd Stone, BC United House leader, said the government appears to have little concern for providing time to debate important issues.

"This place does not belong to the NDP," said Stone. "This place belongs to the people of B.C. who send 87 MLAs here to represent them, period."

Kahlon, who is also the NDP house leader, said he could not get consensus from the BC United, Greens and Conservatives about how the housing debate should proceed in the final days of the sitting.

"I understand the frustrations," he said. "People are tired. People are working late."

Kahlon said the legislature spent 61 hours debating housing legislation.

Premier David Eby said BC United members are voting against government housing initiatives that are receiving support from local governments, including some municipal council members known to support the Opposition.

"It's been a helpful session to really illustrate the differences between the parties," said Eby. "We should be advocating for more housing for British Columbians they can actually afford."

The session also saw the first appearance since the early 1970s of two Conservatives in the B.C. legislature.

B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad and Abbotsford South Conservative Bruce Banman, both former BC United members, made their presence felt throughout the fall session, especially during question period.

Rustad repeated his earlier pledge Thursday to drop B.C.'s carbon tax if elected.

The carbon tax has become a major issue across Canada following the federal government's decision to pause the tax on home heating oil,but not extend the plan to other fuels, including natural gas, gasoline and propane, which is more commonly used in B.C.

The province introduced its carbon tax in 2008. It now amounts to more than 15 cents per litre of fuel.

Eby has said the federal carbon tax policy is unfair, while Falcon said a BC United government would drop the carbon tax on all fuels. Falcon said they would drop the tax entirely if the federal Conservatives were elected in Ottawa and followed through on their promise to eliminate it.

Rustad said the carbon tax is making life unaffordable for people in B.C. while doing little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He suggested paying the carbon tax on an average vehicle gasoline fill up is the equivalent to the cost of two rotisserie chickens at a Costco warehouse store.

"Essentially what you're doing with the carbon tax is every time somebody fills up their tank, you're taking two chickens away from them in terms of what they can feed the family," Rustad told reporters Thursday.

He said he based his estimates on a 60-litre fuel fill up at a cost of $2 per litre, which adds up to about $16 in carbon taxes.

Rotiserrie chickens at Costco cost about $8 each, Rustad said.

"It makes no sense whatsoever to be taxing people into poverty in a hope you might change the weather," he said.

The current party standings in the legislature are: NDP, 56; BC United, 26; BC Green, 2; BC Conservatives, 2; Independent, 1.



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