Union of B.C. Municipalities president Jen Ford wants a fundamental re-working of the relationship between municipalities and senior spheres of government to deal with the housing crisis.
Ford used her opening remarks at the organization’s 120th annual conference now underway in Vancouver to say fixing the worsening housing affordability crisis requires systemic change.
“Let me be clear — by the system, I mean the whole system,” Ford, who also serves as councillor in Whistler, said. “Federal tax policies, policies to limit speculative demand, programs to increase the supply of skilled labour or building inspectors, federal and provincial investment in supportive housing, aggressive investments in schools, public transit and core infrastructure to build complete communities, and yes, along with all of those important matters, zoning and development approvals.”
She embedded this call within a speech that described the relationship between the provincial government and municipalities as a pendulum, regardless of which party is in power in Victoria.
“I have a bias of course,” she said. “I believe that British Columbians are better served when the province’s focus is on empowering local government. Give us the powers and responsibility, along with the tools necessary, and we will deliver.”
Ford added later that municipalities are looking “for the pendulum to swing to the middle to a place of balance” where municipalities can fulfill their responsibilities, “not at the expense of the province, but in support of provincial mandates and for the benefit of the people that we serve.”
Ford praised recent federal announcements around housing and promised that UBCM staff will do “everything possible” to improve provincial housing legislation.
“We have to do everything we can to make provincial policy better,” Ford said. “Sometimes, that means saying things that our provincial partners don’t want to hear.”
Ford endorsed calls by housing minister Ravi Kahlon to link housing targets with immigration targets and welcomed comments from health minister Adrian Dix around the health effects of wildfires. But she also called on the province to give municipalities the financial resources to deal with anticipated changes to provincial emergency legislation.
“This is not an academic exercise,” she said. “One thing we know is that when the province adds responsibilities to local government without ensuring that resources are in place to undertake them, the results can be disastrous.”
Within this context, she pointed to the BC Liberals’ decision to download the authority for dikes to municipalities. The costs of maintaining dikes in many places is far beyond the resources of local governments, she added.
“We don’t want to see the same thing happen with emergency services,” she said.