Government memo raises concerning questions

Future of CleanBC plan

Last week, there was a leaked memo from B.C.’s Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Minister Josie Osborne. This memo not only revealed the minister’s haphazard approach to governance but also brought to light deeper concerns regarding the government’s CleanBC plan.

The plan, meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has been under significant scrutiny, particularly from Ken Peacock, chief economist of the Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC) and analysts at BMO Capital Markets.

Peacock's discovery of economic modelling of the CleanBC suggests a grim outlook for B.C.'s economy, projecting it to be $28.1 billion smaller by 2030 due to CleanBC policies. This revelation, indicating substantial setbacks across various sectors, has raised alarms about the potential for more than 200,000 job losses and economic contraction??.

Furthermore, BCBC’s analysis, echoing Peacock's concerns, predicts a dire slowdown in B.C.’s average annual economic growth rate to a mere 0.4% in the latter half of this decade. This slowdown, bordering on recession territory, would translate to a significant reduction in real per capita income for households across the province—more than $11,000 per family. That would be the largest shrinking of the B.C. economy on record.

Instead of addressing these economic warnings head-on, the government and the minister appear to be in panic mode.

The Osborne memo referred to proposing “big and shiny affordability measures” to distract British Columbians from the underlying issues facing them due to government policy, like CleanBC. Further, the memo outlines implications for private sector interactions that are deeply concerning.

The government’s intent to apply leverage on companies, like green energy and metals company Fortescue Future Industries, to scale down their projects in B.C. — such as the establishment of a green hydrogen and ammonia plant in Prince George — is a direct attack on our economic stability.

This attempt to strong-arm private businesses contradicts the government’s public endorsements of clean energy initiatives, like hydrogen fuel??.

BC United, led by experienced voices like MLA Mike de Jong, has rightfully challenged the government's intimidation tactics towards investors.

The Osborne memo also highlighted the expectations of the CleanBC requirements are “uneconomical” and suggests a hasty and superficial approach to policy-making, focusing more on political gain than on the long-term economic and environmental well-being of British Columbians. British Columbians expect a government that prioritizes sound economic policies, fosters a healthy investment climate and engages in transparent and principled governance.

Previous government’s in B.C. have all done their level best to balance the protection of our environment with a healthy and vibrant economy. As the representative of Kelowna-Mission, and a BC United MLA, I believe these findings paint a troubling picture of the government’s economic management.

The combination of memo and the economic implications of the CleanBC plan suggests a government grappling with policy consequences it did not fully anticipate. That raises serious questions for me about the government’s ability to navigate the complex balance between environmental sustainability and economic growth.

As your elected representative, I am committed to holding the government accountable and ensuring policies are made in the best interest of our citizens and the economy.

My question to you is this:

Do you agree that the current CleanBC plan needs to be changed or even scrapped? Why or why not?

I love hearing from you and read each email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Addressing the growing crime rate in Kelowna's Rutland neighbourhood

Crime rate growth concern

Rutland is a great area in Kelowna. It has rich amenities, great neighbourhoods and awesome people are part of the reinvention of this town centre. But lately Rutland has been in the news for other reasons.

The recent report delivered by RCMP Supt. Kara Triance showed a startling shift in crime in our community. Crime in Kelowna’s downtown core had dropped by 22%, while calls in Rutland jumped by 27.5% compared to last year.

In Rutland, the concern over rising crime rates is a pressing issue for residents and local authorities alike. The statistics presented by Triance paint a vivid picture of the challenges we face.

While the figures may be alarming, it is important to acknowledge there are commendable efforts being made by the RCMP, Downtown Kelowna Assocition, local officials and the Mayor's Task Force on Crime in addressing those concerns.

Under the vigilant leadership of Triance, the local police have been proactive in tackling criminal activity. The strategies implemented have shown promise in curbing certain types of crime, indicating a positive direction in law enforcement efforts. Moreover, the mayor's task force has been instrumental in bringing various stakeholders together. Their collaborative approach towards understanding and addressing the root causes of crime in Rutland has been a crucial step forward.

The multi-faceted approach, combining law enforcement with community engagement, has been a beacon of hope in these challenging times.

I note that in downtown, the Downtown On Call service run by the Downtown Kelowna Association (DKA) receives a huge number of calls on a monthly basis and serves the core well. In the last month alone, it received more than 575 calls, with only 31 needing referrals to the RCMP.

So, why this shift? I believe, despite these valiant efforts, the issue of rising crime in Rutland is symptomatic of a larger, more deep-rooted problem— inadequate handling of mental health and substance use issues.

For too long, these critical health concerns have been downloaded onto the community with minimal focus on effective treatment and recovery. The escalating crime situation in Rutland can be viewed as a failure of the B.C. government's policies over the last six years. There has been a noticeable lack of effective strategies to combat the root causes of crime, particularly in addressing mental health and substance abuse issues.

The government's oversight in this area has led to an environment where these societal problems have worsened, contributing significantly to the rise in criminal activities. That trend reflects a concerning detachment from the realities faced by communities like Rutland, where the absence of adequate support systems and preventive measures have allowed crime to proliferate. The increase in crime rates has also placed an undue burden on local authorities and communities, who are left grappling with the consequences of these unaddressed challenges.

The correlation between mental health, substance abuse, and crime rates cannot be overlooked.

Individuals struggling with these issues often find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system, both out of desperation and because of being preyed upon - a cycle that is both tragic and preventable.

This is not just a law enforcement issue, it's a societal one that demands a comprehensive solution.

It is imperative we shift our focus towards creating robust support systems for mental health and substance use. That includes increasing access to treatment and recovery programs, which are essential in addressing the cause of many criminal behaviours.

Without that shift in approach, our community will continue to grapple with the consequences of these unaddressed issues.

I heard from residents of Rutland at a town hall this year about their concerns with crime in the community. It was because of that concern that I met with the DKA and Uptown Rutland Business Association (URBA) boards to ask if we could see the Downtown on Call program duplicated in Rutland.

I met with Kelowna’s mayor to solicit support and the idea has been (proposed) to the task force for support as well. I hope a pilot project will be successful, and we will see these supports come to Rutland.

I commend the effort of our local authorities and elected officials in their ongoing battle against crime in Rutland. Their dedication and hard work have not gone unnoticed. However, it is crucial to recognize that law enforcement alone cannot bear the brunt of this challenge.

Until something changes provincially, the city will have to continue efforts on the ground to deal with the symptoms, rather than the causes.

My question to you is this:

What do you think the province should do to help with the growing crime in Rutland?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at Re[email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Opposition MLA pans government housing legislation

Adding to 'housing chaos'

“I don’t care about your policy. I’m mad, and you need to fix it.”

That statement hit me hard. The retort came as I was talking to a young university student about BC United’s first (proposed) affordability measures. Yes, affordability measures are important, but this student’s fears were far greater than one tank of gasoline.

Salaries, jobs, affordability are all important. But most concerning is housing. We have a housing crisis. The highest rents in Canada and the worst housing affordability in North America (can be found in B.C.). That’s where we are today.

The (provincial) government has come out with a significant suite of bills, specifically designed to address this crisis. I would argue the recent legislative actions of the government, including Bills 35, 42, 44, 46, and 47, paint a picture of a government more inclined towards creating chaos in the housing sector than offering immediate, pragmatic solutions.

Each bill, while cloaked in the promise of addressing the housing crisis, falls short in providing effective short-term relief for those struggling in the current market.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Bill 35, the Short Term Accommodations Act, is a superficial response to a deeper issue. It attempts to balance the tourism sector's benefits with residents' housing needs in Kelowna.

However, the bill's limited scope and lack of immediate measures fail to address the urgent housing needs of residents, doing little to alleviate the current market pressures. Instead of a reasonable attempt to provide enforcement for bad actors, the bill takes the vast majority of short-term rentals out of the market.

Bill 42, which proposes changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, illustrates the government's preference for bureaucratic expansion over practical solutions. The bill's intent, to expedite the Residential Tenancy Branch processes through facilitated settlements, is overshadowed by the ongoing inefficiencies and backlog within the system. The legislative changes, far from providing immediate relief, are likely to prolong the existing chaos, exacerbating the struggles of both landlords and tenants.

Anyone in the rental sector knows that there are huge issues with the Residential Tenancy Act, and this is one of the reasons short-term rentals were chosen by some owners over long-term (rentals), despite the additional workload created by the shorter duration.

Rather than fix the system, this is more tinkering around the edges, which could result in more disruption rather than progress.

Bill 44's approach to increasing housing density is a classic example of misguided planning. The bill's lack of detailed implementation strategies and failure to address crucial barriers, such as high development cost charges (DCCs) demonstrates a disconnection from the real housing needs. All single-family lots will now be (allowed) three, four or six units.

That may result in higher property taxes, as property is taxed at the “highest and best use”, and most assuredly will result in higher land values. New Zealand shows us that property values increased by 12% after implementing this exact same zoning.

The bill’s promise of 130,000 new homes over the next decade is a drop in the ocean compared to the actual requirement, doing little to resolve the affordability crisis in the short-term.

Bill 46 exacerbates the affordability crisis by introducing amenity cost charges (ACCs) and expanding DCCs, further burdening new homebuyers and renters. The legislation, instead of offering relief, adds financial strain to an already overburdened housing market.

The inclusion of costs like policing in DCCs is a particularly alarming move, revealing a hidden agenda to finance other initiatives at the expense of new homeowners. It fails to realize that while development paying for growth is necessary, adding additional costs to development only increases the prices of homes.

In summary, the B.C. government's recent legislative actions, while portraying an image of addressing the housing crisis, are more likely to contribute to its escalation. There are no solutions that will have a positive impact before the next election.

These bills, with their lengthy implementation timelines and lack of immediate impact, fail to offer the short-term solutions desperately needed by British Columbians.

The government's approach seems to be adding layers of complexity and cost, rather than simplifying and easing the housing market for those in need.

What British Columbia needs is a government willing to implement effective, immediate measures that can provide tangible relief to those caught in the throes of the housing crisis.

We need solutions to the housing crisis, not housing chaos.

My question to you is this:

What do you think of these latest changes to housing?

I love to hear from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the B.C. United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


MLA touts her party's plan for the B.C. carbon tax

Politics of carbon pricing

I have heard from so many of you about escalating costs in B.C.

I hear you, and I am working hard to change the trajectory we are on. If it feels worse in B.C. than in the rest of Canada, it’s because it is. B.C.’s inflation has outpaced Canada’s average 10 out of the last 15 months.

When the federal government took action last week by eliminating the carbon tax on heating oil in the eastern provinces, (particularly the Atlantic provinces, where oil is used the most to heat homes) many other provincial leaders asked for the same tax treatment (on home heating fuels) in their provinces.

As many know, BC has it’s own carbon tax and has full jurisdiction to make decisions on how it is applied. I should also note that while former B.C. premiers, such as B.C. Liberals Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark chose to hold carbon tax increases in tough times, former NDP premier John Horgan and current NDP premier David Eby declared they will work in unison with the federal government to increase the carbon tax every year.

B.C.’s current carbon tax is $65 per tonne and it will triple to $170 per tonne by 2030. The annual carbon tax increases will raise the price of a litre of gasoline by 26 cents by the end of the decade.

The government claims it offsets the financial burden to British Columbians but the Climate Action Rebates are the lowest in the country, when compared to the federal rebates available in other provinces.

In this context, BC United Leader Kevin Falcon announced his plan last week that focused on alleviating cost-of-living pressures felt by residents across British Columbia. It is a comprehensive strategy designed to provide immediate relief and a much-needed economic respite to the province.

BC United’s vision is simple—make life more affordable by making it less expensive.

So, what is this plan all about?

First, it would end the pain at the pumps. British Columbians need to get where they are going. We also need to move goods and services across our vast province by truck.

A BC United government would permanently eliminate the provincial fuel ta, a move that would provide an immediate saving of up to 15 cents per litre on gasoline and diesel, putting money back into the pockets of drivers.

Secondly, it would cancel any planned carbon tax hikes. The proposal acknowledges that during a cost-of-living crisis, the additional financial load is unsustainable for many.

The next important step would be to remove the carbon tax from all home heating fuels. I have had many residents tell me they often choose to skip a meal in order to afford to heat their homes. Removing the carbon tax from all home heating fuels would provide immediate and much-needed relief to those who need it most.

The BC United plan will also focus on lowering food costs. The escalating price of groceries is a universal concern, and Falcon's strategy targets a root cause by removing the carbon tax from on-farm fuel use.

In only makes sense that reducing operational costs for farmers will lead to lower prices at the checkout. Furthermore, removal of the provincial fuel tax would complement this approach, aiming to make a tangible difference in the cost of daily essentials.

Lastly, if the federal government eliminated all federal carbon tax while Falcon was premier, he has promised to follow suit. A BC United government would not put B.C. at a competitive disadvantage as the only jurisdiction in Canada with a carbon tax.

These initiatives are not isolated economic moves but part of a thoughtful strategy to combat the cost-of-living crisis head-on. By focusing on areas of significant financial outflow such as transportation, home heating and food, Falcon is directly targeting the pain points of British Columbians.

BC United's commitment under Falcon’s leadership is to turn the tide on the affordability crisis. It is a commitment to ensure that living in B.C. is not just viable but also financially sustainable for its residents.

Interestingly, most of these initiatives could happen tomorrow if the provincial government chose to.

As the Opposition, we have asked for the premier to take action on affordability and in light of the federal government’s removal of carbon tax on home heating oil, we expect him to follow suit for British Columbians. So far, he as stubbornly refused.

As the province looks to the future, it's time for a government that doesn't just acknowledge the hardships but takes decisive action to alleviate them, ensuring the beautiful province of British Columbia is a place where affordability is a reality, not a struggle.

My question to you this week is this:

Do you agree with the BC United announced plans on making your life more affordable?

I love hearing from you and I read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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