BC mayors calling for action amidst election

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The BC Urban Mayors' Caucus is calling on the next provincial government to work with urban communities to address unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press conference on Wednesday, September 30th, caucus co-chair and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps outlined four key priorities.

These include mental health and substance use, public transit, affordable housing and a new fiscal relationship; and they each call for specific action to be taken.

Helps says they are using the election to highlight these challenges and their goal is for their calls for action to end up in all party platforms.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart was up first to address their main priority.

He spoke about the unprecedented escalation in the challenges facing communities stemming from the mental health and substance use crisis’ since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said “these crisis’ existed before COVID-19 but have been exasperated by a toxic drug supply, the increase level in pandemic related homelessness and encampments and increasing stigma and anger from some members of our communities.”

He called on all parties to commit to expanding the availability of treatment and recovery options, increase access to safer pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply and consider alternative approaches for responding to mental health and substance use calls.

Co-chair and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran spoke next about the affordable housing challenges BC residents face regardless of significant investments made by local and provincial governments.

“There’s not enough housing in our communities that is affordable for the people who live and work in them. This situation is also causing economic fallout for businesses in terms of recruitment and retention of workers thereby reducing the overall productivity of our provinces economy,” said Basran.

On behalf of the caucus, he asked political parties to make three commitments.

“Accelerate investments to affordable, supportive and social housing on a priority basis and simplify the funding application process; Continue to ensure there is a regulatory and taxation climate that prioritizes housing for people who live and work in our cities rather than housing as an investment; And thirdly ensure there is a rental housing system that balances the needs of landlords and the security of tenure for renters.”

Richmond Mayor Malcom Brodie outlined the caucus’ transit priorities requesting that all parties commit to investing in public transit to support their low-carbon fleet plan and service expansion.

 He also asked that parties commit to completing the financial recovery of the projected long term losses facing TransLink, BC Transit and BC Ferries once the recently announced Safe Restart operating funding expires in late 2021 and redesign the transit funding model that had relied to heavily on progressive transit fairs and local property taxes to one that is resilient and equitable.

Lastly, the caucus called on the next government to strengthen funding to municipalities.

When asked why they don’t just raise property taxes, Abbottsford Mayor Henry Braun said Canadians already have some of the highest rates in the world.

“[Local governments] see 8 to 10 cents of every tax dollar collected in Canada. We are responsibly though for 60 percent of the public infrastructure. This system that we have is not sustainable and if it doesn’t get fixed we can only go to property taxes which in itself is a big issue.”

Mayor Helps said they want provincial governments “to pursue municipal finance reform to provide municipalities with a broader range of sustainable, predictable and reliable funding tools.”

She says consistent funding will allow them to address the increasing pressures related to aging infrastructure, climate change, housing and the opioid crisis.