B.C. has a number of issues that need to be addressed says MLA

MLA voices her concerns

In British Columbia, a province once celebrated for its robust public services and quality of life, a crisis looms large, rooted in governmental mismanagement, short-sighted policies, and a lack of collaborative leadership.

The current state of affairs paints a grim picture—a healthcare system on the brink of collapse, an unprecedented surge in homelessness, skyrocketing housing costs and a cost of living crisis fuelled by enormous debt.

Every day, I receive emails and calls from constituents asking why the services they depend on in B.C. aren’t working anymore.

The NDP government has broken B.C. with its inadequate strategies and policies. In cities like Vancouver, Victoria, and Kelowna, the homelessness crisis is visibly worsening. The government's response has been largely reactive, failing to address the root causes of homelessness, such as mental health issues and the lack of affordable housing.

I have written extensively about the healthcare system, that used to be held in high regard, now on the brink of collapse.

The housing market is experiencing an unprecedented surge in costs. Limited supply and high demand have pushed the dream of homeownership out of reach for many, exacerbating the gap between the rich and the poor.

The cost of living in B.C. is escalating at an alarming rate, further burdened by the province's increasing debt. The NDP's approach to spending focuses on short-term solutions rather than long-term sustainability. This has resulted in higher taxes and an increase in public servants, but these measures have not translated into better services. Instead, they have contributed to a deepening affordability crisis that affects the average citizen.

And these are only four of the areas of decline, but the ones that I hear about the most.

A healthy democracy thrives on the opposition's role in offering suggestions, amendments, and critiques. However, the current government in B.C. has adopted a worrying pattern of suppressing debate, dismissing amendments, and demonstrating a lack of willingness to collaborate.

This approach extends to the government's interactions with local municipalities, where it often employs a heavy-handed approach, undermining the principles of democracy and hindering the development of comprehensive solutions to these complex issues.

The current state of B.C. is a stark reminder of a government that has lost sight of its responsibility to its citizens. The failures in healthcare, housing, and economic management are clear indicators of a governance style lacking in foresight, collaboration, and responsiveness.

The province's future now hinges on the willingness of the government to acknowledge its mistakes, engage in meaningful dialogue, and adopt a more inclusive and visionary approach.

In response to these challenges, BC United presents a hopeful vision for the province's future. Committed to addressing the failings of the current government, BC United proposes a renewed focus on improving healthcare through a better system of care.

This includes addressing the critical shortage of healthcare professionals and reducing wait times for essential medical procedures.

In tackling the homelessness and housing crisis, BC United emphasizes the importance of treatment and recovery programs for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues. Furthermore, it advocates for an acceleration of housing supply to make homes more accessible and affordable for all.

And BC United is committed to rebooting our economy, not with more public sector jobs, but with the resource sector, private sector, and innovation we so desperately need.

BC United's approach represents a shift towards a more responsive and responsible governance model. By prioritizing long-term solutions over short-term fixes, and by fostering a spirit of collaboration and inclusivity,

BC United aims to restore trust in government and lead British Columbia towards a brighter, more sustainable future. The party's commitment to revitalizing the province offers a glimmer of hope in these challenging times, presenting practical and impactful solutions to mend what has been broken and to build a stronger, more resilient British Columbia.

My question to you is this:

What public service would you like fixed first?

I love hearing from you and 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.

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 [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.

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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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