MLA touts BC United housing plan

Plan to address housing

Lately we have read headlines about how many housing units are required to house all of the people calling Kelowna home. But we are not seeing the corresponding housing starts required.

Last week, HM Commercial Real Estate hosted its “Crystal Ball” event to a packed house and we heard about why developers aren’t moving forward on projects.

The current real estate climate, as detailed in a recent Castanet article, underscores the critical challenges facing our housing market. High finance costs, restrictive regulations, and rising construction prices have significantly dampened the spirits of developers and investors alike.

Simply put, pre-sales involve people willing to put deposits down for two to three years while the project is being built, which banks require to finance the projects.

While our premier singles out these people as “speculators”, without pre-sales, a project cannot move forward, and we don’t have enough housing.

There has been a flurry of changes over the last year with provincial legislation under the NDP including changing the zoning of all single-family homes to multi-family, changing strata rules so there are no rental restrictions except no short-term rentals, adding the speculation tax to Lake Country (as of 2025), intensifying density around transit stops and taking away public hearings for conforming zoning changes and development permits.

But none of these measures made home ownership more affordable, which means none of these measures made rent costs less. None of these measures stimulated growth and building, instead all were focused on quelling demand and restricting uses for home owners.

The government came out last week with its new BC Builds plan, and it landed with a thud. Rather than stimulating new building, it chastised the private sector as not being able to deliver and the government is now going to become the developer on government lands.

But this isn’t what British Columbians want. They want to afford rent, and have the dream of owning a home at some point.

In a dynamic move, poised to reshape the housing landscape, BC United led by Kevin Falcon responded to the NDP’s plan by unveiling a comprehensive housing plan that directly addresses the pressing issues plaguing Kelowna's market.

The plan is a response to the complexities woven from the fabric of the community's needs and market realities. The plan comprises four cornerstone policies designed to inject vitality into the housing market and make homeownership more accessible to Kelowna residents.

1. Rent to own for all first-time homebuyers—This innovative program promises a bridge for those caught in the chasm between renting and homeownership. By offering a rent-to-own option, the plan ia not only facilitating a smoother transition for first-time buyers but instilling confidence in their financial planning for the future. All new developments will hold 15% of their units for a rent-to-own option for new homebuyers.

2. Elimination of PST on housing—Recognizing the financial burden placed on new developments, BC United proposes to abolish the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) on housing. This move is expected to lower the costs associated with new housing projects, encouraging developers to embark on more ventures.

3. Utilization of government-owned lands for subsidized affordable housing—By leveraging government-owned lands, we can fast-track the development of affordable housing projects, offering relief to those most in need and supporting our workforce.

4. Raising the Property Transfer Tax threshold to $1 million for first-time homebuyers—This policy is tailored to lessen the financial strain on first-time buyers, making homeownership more attainable. By increasing the threshold, we're acknowledging the current market conditions and providing a much-needed cushion for new entrants into the housing market.

Each of these measures are aimed at making home ownership a reality again, by making it more affordable. If we want it to be more affordable, then it has to cost less to build.

The residential housing market has lagged as interest rates have risen, stifled by regulations and a lack of innovative solutions. BC United's housing plan addresses these issues head-on, fostering an environment where development is encouraged, affordability is addressed and the dream of homeownership is within reach for more Kelowna residents.

My question to you is this:

Do you think that it is time for the dream of home ownership to be a reality again for the next generation?

I love reading your emails, and I look forward to reading every one. Please email me at [email protected] or call my 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 needs to step up and help Okanagan agriculture and wine industries says MLA

Support needed now

I used to think Kelowna’s economy was diversified enough to be resilient in the face of difficulties.

But no one could have predicted the different headwinds facing businesses in Kelowna currently. Our economy is certainly more varied than it was 20 years ago, adding aerospace, digital technology and healthcare. But agriculture and our wine industry still remain key drivers of our economy, bolstered by the two million visitors who come here every year.

The intricate weave of part of our economy, the twin pillars of tourism and agriculture, are currently facing unprecedented challenges.

Some of them are caused by government. The introduction of new short-term rental regulations in British Columbia, aimed at mitigating housing shortages, inadvertently casts a long shadow over our tourism sector.

While most municipalities, including Kelowna, were looking for a way to bring short-term rentals into better alignment with neighbourhoods and zoning, the provincial NDP government changed the game for all by prohibiting short-term rentals for all but a few.

This legislative change, coupled with the severe weather events that battered our agriculture—particularly the wine and tree fruit industries—presents a dual challenge that could significantly alter the economic landscape of our region.

Allow me to explain.

The essence of Kelowna's allure to visitors lies not just in its scenic landscapes but in the unique accommodations and agri-tourism experiences it offers.

The current legislative framework, by restricting short-term rentals, threatens to diminish this appeal, potentially leading to a decrease in tourist arrivals. Visitors no longer want to stay in hotels exclusively. In fact, hotel rooms can be very restrictive when it comes to how people want to travel today.

Short-term rentals provide families with children, or multi-generations, ways to stay together, cook together and properly enjoy all that a vacation in Kelowna can offer.

That is no longer possible, and the rates are already skyrocketing because of it.

The inevitable decline in tourism is not merely a matter of fewer visitors enjoying our lakes and vineyards. It represents a potential loss of income for local businesses and workers whose livelihoods depend on a thriving tourism industry.

Moreover, the environmental adversities faced by our agriculture sector require some immediate response from government, or they will risk complete devastation.

The recent spate of wildfires, floods and climate irregularities have not only reduced yields but have also heightened the economic vulnerability of our farmers and producers.

And government has yet to respond. This lack of response is nothing less than disheartening, highlighting a gap between policy and the on-ground realities of agricultural resilience.

It is imperative government policies consider the long-term economic health of sectors pivotal to Kelowna's prosperity. For example, nuanced legislation regarding short-term rentals could preserve the vibrancy of our tourism sector, ensuring Kelowna remains a premier destination for visitors.

In parallel, a robust support system for our agriculture sector—encompassing financial aid, technological innovation, and climate adaptation strategies—can mitigate the impacts of environmental challenges.

By fostering resilience in our agriculture, we not only secure the livelihoods of those directly involved but also ensure the continued appeal of Kelowna as a destination rich in culinary and natural experiences.

As we navigate these turbulent times, we need government response in a thoughtful and localized way. But sadly, government is sitting silent on the help that is desperately needed to keep our wine and tree fruits industries alive, all while enforcing its one-size-fits-all approach to short-term rentals and shutting down the City of Kelowna’s modest request for specific zones to be allowed.

My question to you is this:

How important do you feel the accommodations and agriculture industry is to our local economy?

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

Renee Merrifield is the BCUnited 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 concerned about government secrecy

'Gatekeepers' of information

In an era where transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of democratic governance, the NDP government in British Columbia appears to be backtracking, undermining the public's trust and the principles of open government.

This critique is not rooted in partisan bias but is a reflection of a troubling pattern highlighted by the Information and Privacy commissioner and exacerbated by recent controversies such as the public land veto consultation.

The commissioner recently released a report that found the (government) failed to respond within the legislated timelines more than 5,000 times over three years.

The 85-day average lag time for this government was the longest since the commissioner’s office began recording response times 13 years ago. The worst offender was the premier.

As the citizen services critic (as well as critic for environment and climate change strategy, innovation and technology) this particular issue falls under my critic role.

The NDP brought in a $10 fee for each request under the Freedom of Information Act, with the specific purpose of speeding up the timeframes of response. That has not happened.

In the recent report by the Information and Privacy commissioner, he noted there has been a disregard for the law that mandates timely response to public inquiries.

The commissioner pointed out the government is "routinely breaking" laws designed to ensure citizens have access to the information that impacts their lives, their communities and their environment.

That is not a minor bureaucratic hiccup, it is a flagrant violation of the principles of transparency and accountability. The government's approach to access to information is not just about delays, it reflects a broader strategy of obstruction.

Whether it's through the excessive redaction of documents, the imposition of prohibitive fees or the outright denial of access, the (government’s) tactics serve to keep the public and opposition parties in the dark about critical policy decisions and governmental operations.

This obfuscation has real consequences, stifling public debate and eroding trust in our democratic institutions.

The most recent example of the government’s secretive practices is the contentious issue of public land “veto” consultation.

That matter, which holds significant implications for land use and Indigenous rights, has been shrouded in a lack of clear information, leaving stakeholders and the public alike grappling for clarity.

This is a massive change that could result in less access to publicly owned lands – which is 95% of the land base of B.C.

The timeframes publicized would indicate the consultation process for a change in governance on public lands is not yet finished but the legislation is already being drafted.

The NDP's reluctance to openly consult and provide accessible information on such a critical issue is a governance style that prioritizes control over collaboration. British Columbians deserve a transparent, accountable government.

The government’s current trajectory not only undermines the public's right to know but also diminishes the quality of our democracy. It needs to uphold the laws governing access to information, ensuring requests are met with timely, complete responses.

Moreover, on issues of significant public interest, like the public land “veto” consultation, open, inclusive dialogue should be the rule, not the exception.

All governments must remember they are stewards of the public trust, not gatekeepers of information. A vibrant democracy thrives on the free flow of information, empowering citizens to make informed decisions and hold their leaders accountable.

It is time for the government to lift the veil of secrecy and recommit to the principles of transparency and openness. Anything less is a disservice to the people of British Columbia and the democratic values we all cherish.

My question this week:

Are you aware of the consultation process on access to all public lands?

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.

MLA claims BC United credit for recent government moves

Party first with ideas

In school, you get in trouble for peeking over and copying the work of your classmate. In politics, that happens all the time.

The premier just pulled a fast one in his recent announcement that cellphones will be banned from schools in B.C., starting next school year.

A cellphone ban was an important part of the BC United education policy that (Leader) Kevin Falcon released last September, before kids went back to school.

At that time, the education minister rejected a ban on cellphones and stated, “I would definitely leave it to the teachers and the individuals to make that decision.”

So, as the BC United opposition, we went to work and through a series of strategic moves – including public speeches, interviews, articles and policy suggestions – we highlighted the need for a more nuanced approach to technology in education. Finally after leading the way in educational policy, the government finally reversed course.

Now, its announcement shows while it was copying our homework, it missed some important details.

For example, recognizing the need for consistent implementation of the classroom cellphone ban, we called for strong provincial leadership and advocated for measures such as providing lockers for phone storage. These elements are missing from the NDP government’s announcement, which could lead to fragmented and ineffective rollout of this new policy.

Over the past 3 1/2 years, as part of the BC United caucus and the MLA for Kelowna-Mission, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of an effective opposition in shaping government policies for the betterment of our society.

In recent times, our province has seen a series of notable policy reversals by the government under (Premier) David Eby's leadership. These changes, while welcome, highlight a concerning trend of initial policy missteps, necessitating robust opposition to steer the course correctly.

As the official Opposition, our job is to draw attention to the missteps or gaps, and give ways to correct them.

Here are a couple of other examples of how the BC United opposition was able to force a stubborn government to reverse course.

Autism funding and local support services

One of the most heartening reversals was regarding autism funding, particularly impacting local entities like Starbright. Initially, the government's approach lacked the nuanced understanding and support needed for those with autism, causing distress in our communities and a threat to the funding that families were receiving to support their children’s needs.

We recognized the shortfall, relentlessly pursued the matter in the legislative assembly, challenging the ministers directly and advocating tirelessly for a policy overhaul.

Through questioning, speeches, attending rallies and writing articles, we highlighted the importance of tailored support for autism, eventually leading to a policy turnaround, including funding for our local Starbright.

That change was a victory for our advocacy but raised questions about why such crucial support was overlooked initially.

Protection of public spaces

Another policy that faced significant opposition was related to the protection of public spaces, such as parks, bus stops and children's play structures, from open drug use under the poorly planned drug decriminalization legislation.

That issue struck a chord with many British Columbians who were concerned about the safety and sanctity of their community spaces.

The BC United caucus was at the forefront, engaging with the public, listening to the RCMP,and voicing concern in every available forum. We emphasized the need for a balanced approach that respects both the needs of the community and those struggling with addiction – one that focuses on treatment and recovery, not long-term drug addiction.

The eventual policy shift, albeit slow and reluctant, was a testament to the relentless pressure and constructive criticism from the opposition.

While it is true the media and public narratives do not always acknowledge the opposition's role in these policy shifts, it is crucial to understand the essence of what a good opposition party can achieve.

We are a government in waiting. We are here, with great ideas and when the next election is called, it will be our job to convince British Columbians that we are best choice to lead this wonderful province we call home.

Until that time, we continue to fulfill our role as His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the legislative assembly. We remain committed to advocating for the best interests of British Columbians, ensuring that our voices lead to meaningful and positive policy changes.

We start a spring session of the Legislature soon and as always, I want to hear from you. What ideas would you like to see pursued in this next legislative session?

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.

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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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