Government rushing through important housing legislation

More debate is needed

By the time you read this, B.C.’s newly sworn-in premier David Eby will have introduced two new housing bills, with one week left in the (legislative) session.

If that seems rushed it’s because it is.

I am not sure what is in the housing bills yet, although I have some ideas. I have a wealth of knowledge about housing, having been in the industry for the last 25 years.

Some of you will remember Kelowna’s housing industry was not always this robust.

In the 1990s, when our economy tanked, many people left the province looking for work. From the 1990s to the early 2000s, there were no increases in housing prices.

In 2001, (former premier) Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberals were elected on a platform that included cutting personal taxes to help stimulate the economy. BC came back to life, fiscal prudence was brought back to budgeting and a professionalism about the dates and times of elections, budgets and bills was brought into the Legislative Assembly of B.C.

With that positive economic growth, housing started to post modest gains. Those modest gains were decimated by the worldwide recession from 2008 to 2010. Thankfully, due to investments by B.C. Liberal governments in infrastructure, like the William R. Bennett bridge, the expansion of Kelowna General Hospital and the introduction of UBC Okanagan, we saw jobs come back to Kelowna, along with an increase in housing activity.

As things started to heat up to a point that was beginning to get uncomfortable, two things occurred.

First, the B.C. Liberal government of the day started to invest in rental and subsidized housing. Second, a foreign buyers’ tax was implemented.

That strategy worked and B.C. posted a moderation of housing escalation once again.

The last six years with an NDP government changed that.

Housing prices are skyrocketing under the NDP and the leadership of then Housing Minister David Eby attempted to quell housing pricing by lowering demand through taxation, without addressing supply. The speculation tax and school tax are examples of that.

Finally, the now-Premier David Eby, has seen the light and acknowledged increasing supply is the most effective way to address housing costs. So he intends to table these housing bills this week.

Unfortunately, instead of vigorous debate and thoughtful dialog on amendments to the housing bills being brought in, the government wants to slam them through in a week, with little democracy.

Housing is a complex issue and one that desperately needs to be solved. The best ideas and solutions come through dialog and debate.

My question to you this week is this:

Do you think that the government should rush these important housing bills through without time for debate?

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

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

Issue of food security needs to be dealt with now

Food insecurity growing

A recent survey showed 20% of all respondents are reducing meal sizes or skipping meals in order to save money. That is in addition to food bank use up 40% and the school breakfast program use surging.

People are having a hard time with the escalating cost of food.

This is no wonder with food inflation in B.C. skyrocketing. Grocery store pricing is up by 11.4%, more than 10% for two months in a row, which is the highest cost escalation in 40 years.

So, if it feels like everything is costing more, it is.

The high price of food affects women three times more than men and youth are also reporting disproportionately being impacted. UBC students staged a walkout last week to protest, in part, a lack of university action on food insecurity.

The percentage of British Columbians struggling with the cost of food was higher than the national average, because our food costs are higher than in other provinces. People are struggling to feed themselves.

This inflation is being fought through interest rate escalation. Unfortunately, economists are telling us that inflation-fighting tool disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic demographics, and will further the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

Food security is serious. In B.C., we are fortunate to have so many agricultural resources, but are we supporting them enough? Why isn’t farming as profitable as it would seem to be with the price escalations we are seeing? Why is the cost of food going up? Farmers are also suffering under inflation. The cost of their labour has gone up, they are paying new taxes on their labour called the Employer Health Tax, on top of paying for private health care for their employees.

The farming industry has also seen the cost of machinery and equipment go up in addition to taxes on their vehicles, like trucks. Then there is the cost of fuel.

One rancher I spoke to reported having normal fuel costs of $30,000 in the past but now it costs $140,000 for the same month.

So the input costs for food have risen exponentially, but the revenues have not gone up by that same percentage.

If farming isn’t sustainable, our food won’t be either and if our food isn’t secure, neither is our economy and our society. There is a direct link between all of these aspects of our community.

So what do we do?

The B.C. government needs to do more to curb cost escalation of food. Many of the taxes and costs I mentioned are directly related to taxes that have been added by the government in recent years.

The taxes the government has on our fuel is why we have the most expensive fuel costs in North America.

Yes, you read that correctly, the highest in North America.

Supports for farmers should be given and streamlined processes should be created. Direct sales and more farmers’ markets should be created. But while we wait for government to act, we can all support our local food organizations, agencies and those feeding those in need.

On example is the Gurdwara Guru Armadas Sikh Society and its application for a new site. The site would include a larger facility, as well as gardens to feed the need and train people going through difficult times. As many know, the Gurdwaras feed thousands in our community each year.

I recently heard of students eating daily at the Gurdwara as they struggled with the escalation of food costs. The generosity of the Sikh community is extraordinary.

Give to the food bank. Give to our school feeding programs, so they can give to the children in need in our communities.

My question to you this week is:

How are you coping with the inflated cost of food?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call me at 250-712-3620.

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

Growing wait times for cancer treatment are a matter of life and death

Cancer care crisis

Cancer is a ticking time bomb.

Specialists are warning about the tsunami of cancer that is about to ensue. They are also warning they are seeing later stage cancers in greater numbers and sounding the alarm bell that the list of those waiting to get into see a specialist is now in the millions.

Is it really that serious? It is.

The difference between life and death for cancer patients can be the time it takes for diagnosis and treatment. In a 2020 British Medical Journal article, it was shown that for every week of delay after diagnosis, survival is shortened by 1.2 to 3.2% per week of delay.

Imagine waiting three months. That is what British Columbians are doing right now. They are waiting months for treatment, which is why our outcomes are getting worse and our wait lists longer.

I have spoken to constituents who are being given these wait times. One patient was given six months to live if not treated, and then told that the first meeting with a specialist was going to be three months away.

A woman in her 40s waited months for “minor” surgery to remove cancerous tissue in her cervix, only to have it grow and need a full hysterectomy. Another, was told she had to wait two months for radiation.

We need better cancer care. B.C. is experiencing the longest waits in Canada and that is unacceptable.

What can be done? We need system-wide changes, not about tweaking the edges or giving minor amounts of money. This is about radical overhaul.

B.C. Cancer delivered a 10-year cancer plan, but it has yet to be accepted or funded. Meanwhile, people die on waiting lists.

Our oncologists are burning out because of the lack of resources and massive underfunding. A study recently done shows B.C. is the worst for burnout in Canada.

The same study showed (doctors) are not being consulted enough on policy decisions.

While the health minister has talked about of new positions being funded, 18 oncologists have left B.C. because of the working conditions.

We aren’t supporting our B.C. Cancer medical team.

Things also have to change with the B.C. Cancer leadership structure and how cancer treatment administered. We need proactive, funded, predictive planning that will accommodate the capacity necessary to treat cancer.

The health minister was asked repeatedly about this, and his answer is (the government) might have one. But it is not public.

Clearly this is not working. B.C. has fallen from first place in cancer outcomes in Canada to last place in wait times (the longest) in Canada, according the the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

What we can’t see in their numbers are the layered effects of waiting—waiting to see a family doctor, waiting for imaging studies, waiting for a biopsy booking, waiting for results to be reported, waiting to see an oncologist for consultation and waiting to have treatment once a decision has been made to treat.

Last week in Question Period, (Liberals) stood up and asked the question, why are British Columbians at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to outcomes and waiting?

This has to stop.

My question to you this week is this:

How much priority should be given to cancer treatment in our healthcare spending?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

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


MLA calls for government to scrap new autism funding plan

Fix existing system

Why would the government change something that is working well? Parents of children with autism have been asking this question.

As we know, they forge an incredibly difficult path. First, there is the diagnosis. Often, parents wait between 18 months and two years to have a diagnosis rendered. Sometimes, it has even been longer.

Once the official diagnosis is given, parents will try different therapies and activities to try to find the right combination to help their children. The current provincial funding can be used, at the discretion of the parents, for behaviour interventionists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists or physical therapists, out-of-school support and family counselling.

All those therapies are covered by the current model and are used by the parents in the best interests of their children.

That’s all about to change.

The provincial government is ending the direct funding to families with autism in 2025 as it transitions to a new service system.

One of the goals of the change is to include all neurodiverse children, and this is a great aim.

Having said that, doing so without adding money to the entirety of the system will detrimentally affect children with autism and the therapies their families depend on for them. Essentially, adding more children to the system without adding dollars means less is available for everyone.

So far, despite this concern being raised repeatedly by the official Opposition in the Legislature, and by parents and their advocates, Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean, has not committed to any additional funding for the changes.

This fundamental transition is to a “one-size-fits-all” hub model. It has been used unsuccessfully in Ontario, with that province’s waitlist for diagnosis increasing by more than 200%.

The decision to move from individualized care to the hub model was made without broad consultation with parents or care providers. Also, future service locations of the hub model are expressing concerns about being able to deliver the care necessary, without significant increase to funding, as well having more care providers.

Childhood and Youth Advocate Jennifer Charlesworth, noted the hub model brings about some positives, as well as some negatives,

“What I am worried about is we are talking 2024-25 and a very fundamental shift and what can be done for those experiencing a current crisis,” she said. “What are the planks that can be in place now? I am mindful we have huge challenges, including the workforce shortage. I do think the hubs will eventually be helpful. Even if they have individual funding, this will help coordinate.”

As it stands now, the individual funding looks like it won’t be there once the hubs are up and running. That means parents, instead of being able to book treatment themselves with the provider of their choice, will have to access all treatment through hub centres.

For the families of autistic children I know, this is not a welcome shift. Threatening their funding and independence is akin to re-traumatizing these families all over again.

That is why I have, along my B.C. Liberal colleagues, continued to press government to move away from the hub model change and improve the current system the way it is.

For example, there is agreement that the diagnosis process should be made faster, as this is the pinch point to accessing care. So add more diagnostic behavioural specialists to expedite diagnosis but keep the care in an individualized way.

My question this week is:

How should funding be allocated for the families of autistic and neurodiverse children?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

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

More MLA Minute articles

About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC Liberal MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for the 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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