The 2016 Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention will begin today in Victoria, hosting nearly 2,000 community leaders from across the province. These leaders will join together to vote on nearly 200 resolutions covering a wide range of civic issues.
This year’s big topics? Affordable housing, taxation on short term rentals, gang related crime and violence, marijuana, dangerous dogs, and the widespread issue of homelessness, tent cities, and ongoing poverty.
That issue will be discussed in detail during the first day of the four day conference, which will run through to Sept. 30. The lecture will consider the larger issues of homelessness, challenges associated with tent cities, as well as the underlying issues that allow these encampments to continue developing.
A look at tent cities across Metro Vancouver
In recent months, homeless encampments have been establishing a presence throughout Metro Vancouver, but the only resulting consequence has been to dismantle them without necessarily providing a solution for those left on the street. In the past eight weeks alone:
Earlier this month, squatters at an encampment in Abbotsford were ordered to vacate by B.C. Supreme Court after months of refusing to leave the former hospital grounds owned by Fraser Health. Activist Tim Felger said at the time that he set up the encampment to advocate for the rights of homeless and drug-addicted people in Abbotsford.
Last year the courts gave campers the right to stay overnight in some Abbotsford parks due to an increasing volume of homeless people, but this encampment did not fall under that realm as it was on private property.
In August, an encampment in Victoria was served an order to pack up as well. In this case, the goal was to move the tent city’s residents into a housing facility, but even the day before the forced move, there were lingering concerns. A former camper said she worried about having enough space in the facility to fit all those in need.
“Everyone who was on tent city the last four months or so it seems like there’s going to be enough for that, but we could have had had five, ten tent cities with the numbers of homeless that we have in Victoria.”
Another tent city began to take shape in August in the city of Langley, where residents started to complain of drug paraphernalia making its way into their yards and neighbourhoods. The city has one existing homeless shelter with only enough capacity to fit 32 people. Ted Schaffer said at the time that the City of Langley, Maple Ridge and the Township of Langley have appealed to the provincial government for funding to aid the housing issue.
Vancouver, a city that has dealt with multiple tent cities on the downtown east side, saw Mayor Gregor Robertson meet with the homeless population at 58 West Hastings St. and committed in early August to devoting the site to 100 per cent social housing. Residents had been there for a month demanding action on the issue. Robertson said partnering with the federal and provincial governments would provide funding for the project – but in the mean time, campers said they would not be moving.
At August’s end, the city of Burnaby announced 181 new units of social housing would be built. While support came pouring in for the plan, it still doesn’t tackle the immediate homeless issue which is that the city lacks a homeless shelter of any kind.
What UBCM resolutions will address this issue?
The UBCM Resolutions committee has endorsed a renewed call for a National Housing Strategy by the federal government.
Also, the UBCM Resolutions Committee has endorsed the B.C. government to “follow the lead of all other provinces by adopting a comprehensive and accountable provincial poverty reduction strategy to reduce the number of people living in poverty in B.C. by setting concrete targets and timelines to reduce poverty.”
Despite endorsement from the committee itself, a decision will come only as a result of the conference for all resolutions on the table.
Tackling the problem of short term rentals
The development of a national housing strategy doesn’t just affect the homeless; a growing problem in B.C. has been the lack of affordability and unavailability of homes even for working professionals and students.
Rental sites like Airbnb have been particularly troublesome for Metro Vancouver, where the vacancy rate sits below 1 per cent and countless homes and apartments are being rented by the night to tourists instead of occupied by those in need of permanent housing.
City of Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs has been vocal about the hope of developing a strategy to limit short term rental property taking over the city’s real estate, where there are 5,000 listings in the city alone.
What’s currently going on
People renting out rooms, apartment suites or entire homes using Airbnb avoid paying a series of taxes. This can range from commercial property taxes, to sales and room taxes, which represent up 25 to 30 per cent of a regular room’s costs, according to the resolution that will be put forth at the UBCM conference.
The City of Vancouver’s resolution asks the province to collect all applicable sales taxes at the point of purchase on daily private room rentals. It also notes that B.C. regulations already do require operators with four units or more to collect PST and hotel room taxes; however, the government hasn’t enforced that against online booking operators at this time.
What UBCM resolutions will address this issue?
The UBCM requests that provincial government examine these issues and work with UBCM to establish regulations for short-term accommodation that address taxation fairness and allowing a competitive environment between all short-term accommodation providers. The resolutions committee has made no recommendation on this issue.
Marijuana in B.C.
The path towards legalization of marijuana in B.C. will be a hot topic at the UBCM conference this year.
A task force has been established since July, the sole purpose of which is to advise Canadian government how best to move forward with legalization. The nine member of the task force include five doctors, and is chaired by Anne McLellan, a former deputy prime minister under Paul Martin. New marijuana legislation is set to arrive spring of 2017, according to federal government.
Medical marijuana dispensaries, provided with business licenses, are popping up throughout the city of Vancouver (among various other B.C. municipalities) following a series of injunctions and fines for illegal operations that had not obtained a permit or license to distribute.
Back in August, Health Canada established new rules when it comes to growing medical marijuana at home. “Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations,” also provides patients the ability to nominate someone else who can grow the supply for them, if they are registered with Health Canada. Those nominees will have to pass a police background check. Patients can get starter supplies like seeds and plants from the 34 licensed producers, but not from illegal dispensaries.
What’s next: What UBCM resolutions will address this issue?
Two resolutions will come out of the UBCM conference. The first essentially calls for federal government, UBCM, and local governments to work together on developing policies and regulations surrounding marijuana legalization as that 2017 deadline approaches.
The second deals with the financial aspect of legalization: taxation, and how those tax dollars will be distributed.
A spike of dogs attacks across B.C., specifically in Metro Vancouver, has sparked the conversation about whether a dangerous dog registry should be created, and also what kinds of punishments should be in place for owners of dogs that harm others.
A ‘bully breed’ and Labrador-Retriever, Shar Pei mix attack in New Westminster led to charges earlier this week for the dog’s owners. The victim suffered tendon damage. Meanwhile in White Rock, a particularly gruesome attack in August on an elderly woman sparked city council to ask the province to step in.
The threat of dangerous dogs even led to a threatening note posted in a North Shore trail, warning the owner of a pit bull to keep themselves and their pet away or they may succumb to injuries themselves.
What UBCM resolutions will address this issue?
In order to protect others from harm of animals that are known to be dangerous, the UBCM will discuss enforcing a dangerous dog registry. The resolution asks that the registry is established and mandated across the province and all local government animal control agencies. Not only that, but that municipal police and RCMP are required to register dogs they have deemed as dangerous.
The interpretation of what exactly warrants the label of ‘dangerous dog’ will be deliberated and discussed at the convention as well.
Delving deep into gang related crime
And while tent cities and homelessness lead the convention in importance of discussion, as does a second topic that is a common problem in many B.C. municipalities: gang violence.
The second portion of UBCM’s opening day will feature a seminar speaking to gang violence and its impact on the safety of urban communities of all sizes. Because gang-related criminal activity does not respect local government, the conference (which this year is sporting the theme ‘Stronger Together’) allows a collaborative approach to solving the problem.
This panel discussion will include Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris and Mayor of White Rock Wayne Baldwin and Surrey Councillor Mike Starchuk among others.
The goal is to improve community safety, but also ask the bigger question of whether the perception of gang violence is real and what areas might not face this issue.
READ MORE: Surrey: What’s at stake?