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Comment: B.C. must not force housing on municipalities

A commentary by the mayor of View Royal.
Construction at 1025 Johnson St., a 12-storey mixed-use affordable rental tower. View Royal Mayor David Screech suggests that while he shares the province’s concerns over housing availability, forcing it upon municipalities ignores the hierarchy and independence of different levels of government. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

While I share Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby’s deep concerns about the housing crisis we face, I am far from convinced that we can build our way out of it or that municipalities are to blame. I believe the problems are far more complex.

As a local politician involved for close to 20 years in our region, I am chilled by the minister’s comments that the province will consider using its supremacy to force housing an elected council may oppose. In fact, even musing out loud about that possibility is of grave concern. Local governments are an order of government, and as such collaboration and respect is the order of the day, not a decree from the province.

In 1996, then-premier Glen Clark signed a protocol of recognition with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. The number one guiding principle of this document reads: “In the interests of all British Columbia the parties are committed to discharge their responsibilities within their respective areas of jurisdiction, while respecting the jurisdiction of others.”

Simply put, zoning and permitting are the jurisdiction of local government, not the province. Suggesting that the province will implement legislation in the fall is a direct contravention of the signed protocol, a protocol that has guided relationships between the province and local government for 25 years. To violate the spirit of this protocol would be an enormous step backward.

View Royal is currently in the midst of an official community plan review, a provincially mandated document. Residents, council and staff are working diligently to ensure our community has a document that shows a vision for the future of what we want our community to be. One can’t help but wonder what the point is of that work if the province is considering legislation that would, in effect, blow this document up.

Our region is one of the most beautiful and sought-after locations in the world. We have to be so careful to safeguard the characteristics that make it so, and the varied communities in the CRD are all unique. There is no one-size-fits-all for municipalities.

Do we truly want to see the province force rural communities to provide housing that is contrary to their zoning and OCPs? Do we truly want to see unbridled and rampant growth in our region in some misguided attempt to lower prices and increase inventory?

Local government is local by its very nature. We understand our communities and what is necessary to make our communities better. We are elected to look after our communities, and there is a sacred trust between council and their residents. For the province to feel it can use a heavy hand to violate that trust is unthinkable. And to take away the opportunity to refine and improve proposed developments at the community level is also unthinkable.

Minister Eby, I plead with you to respect your local government partners and to enter into collaborative discussions where we can collectively find solutions. And the forum for those discussion is the Union Of B.C. Municipalities, not legislation being prepared without our involvement.

In our community, we have recently approved some major rental projects that fit with our OCP. Ironically, one of these projects is in danger of having its development permit expire. The reason? The province has delayed issuing a certificate of compliance with environmental regulations.