'Walk back' of provincial government legislation

Changing course

As the legislative session draws to a close, I wanted to draw attention to some of the legislative changes that will impact us, and reflect on the works done by the Opposition.

Representing Kelowna-Mission as a member of the BC United, I have had the opportunity to advocate for the needs and concerns of our community and to hold the government accountable for its actions. One of the key accomplishments during this session was the “walk-back” of two controversial government bills and partial "walk back" of a third.

Those bills, which would have had far-reaching negative impacts on our communities, were halted thanks to the persistent efforts of the opposition and concerned British Columbians. This demonstrated the power of a strong, engaged opposition in ensuring legislation truly serves the best interests of British Columbians.

The first bill was the Land Amendment Act. That bill would have made substantive changes to the Land Act and eroded our democratic interests over our public lands. This bill saw so much push back, the government eventually “paused” the bill. While it did not come forward at this time, it may be brought back if the NDP win another term in government.

The second bill was deemed for social media company accountability, but was not as it was named. The proposed legislation put huge liability on all companies that would have done business in, or for, B.C., with only a minister’s certificate needed as proof. That would have essentially ended the business community in B.C. The bill was introduced, but was pushed back by the opposition during second reading.

Another significant development was the “walk-back” of (part of) the decriminalization of illicit drugs. Public pressure and the Opposition’s questions brought changes that were necessary. While the step (to decriminalize illicit drug use in public places) partially addressed open drug use, the government did not bring solutions for the issue. We need comprehensive policies that include robust prevention programs, accessible treatment options and effective recovery services. This multi-faceted approach is essential to truly tackling the complex issue of substance abuse and ensuring those who need it receive the support they deserve.

Despite these achievements on these three issues, there are still major issues facing British Columbians that have not been adequately addressed.

The affordability crisis continues to place immense pressure on families and individuals. The cost of housing, everyday expenses and the overall cost of living are making it increasingly difficult for people to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the bills introduced in this session do not effectively tackle these pressing concerns. We need policies that will significantly increase housing supply, streamline approval processes, and make homeownership more attainable for young families and first-time buyers.

The recent provincial budget claimed to offer relief, but in reality, it gave mere pennies while taking dollars from people and businesses. The approach places an additional burden on those who are already struggling, stifles economic growth, and discourages investment. Small businesses, the backbone of our economy, are particularly hard hit. They need a budget that supports innovation, reduces regulatory burdens, and provides meaningful tax relief. Instead, we see policies that hinder their growth and sustainability.

Despite all of the new taxes (32 in the last four years), the budget posed an $8 billion deficit. The government is now spending $4 billion of tax money a year on the interest on the debt it has accumulated.

While the legislative session saw some important achievements, it also highlighted the ongoing challenges and shortcomings in addressing the needs of British Columbians.

As a member of the opposition BC United, I am committed to continuing the fight for policies that genuinely benefit our province and to holding the government accountable for its actions.

My question to you is this:

What outstanding provincial issues would you like to see action on from government?

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-Kelowna. She has announced she will not seek re-election in the next provincial election, scheduled for October.

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

MLA concerned about B.C's economy

Economic worries in B.C.

The B.C. economy, once a top performer among Canadian provinces, has plummeted to second last in the past three years.

From 2010 to 2018, B.C. boasted one of the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or economic output, but now we face a bleak economic future with flat growth at the bottom of Canadian provinces.

Recently, Amazon representatives came to do a presentation in Victoria on what they see in the future. At the forefront of consumer spending, they certainly feel the headwinds early.

While they noted the cost of living, cost of housing and public safety as some of their concerns, they ended on an ominous note about the economy. They believe we will be at flat to declining growth by the end of the summer in B.C.

This is deeply concerning as we see the signs of economic slowdown across British Columbia. Recent statistics and forecasts paint a troubling picture, highlighting the pressing need to address the root causes of this downturn. The industries that once fuelled our growth, like forestry, construction, and small businesses, are now grappling with significant challenges, and it is clear government policies, excessive taxation and lack of strategic planning have played a significant role in this decline.

The forestry sector, once a cornerstone of our economy, has been hit hard. The recent shutdown of Canfor’s operations in the central Interior, attributed to NDP government policies, underscores the challenges.

Canfor CEO Don Kayne cited a shortage of timber and fibre, exacerbated by increased regulatory complexity, leading to job losses and mill closures. These structural issues, amplified by poor government policy, have devastated rural communities dependent on forestry.

The construction sector is also bracing for a slowdown as projects like pipeline expansions and Site C wind down. Those projects provided thousands of jobs and stimulated local economies. With no comparable initiatives in sight, we face significant job losses and reduced economic activity. The lack of foresight and planning by the government has left many workers and businesses in uncertainty.

Small businesses, the backbone of our economy, are facing unprecedented challenges. Insolvency numbers are rising, with many businesses struggling to survive. High taxation, increased operating costs, and lack of support have created a hostile environment for small businesses. The government’s short-sighted approach to taxation has further strained these businesses, prioritizing immediate revenue over long-term economic health.

A report by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade highlights that businesses in B.C. have faced more than $6.5 billion in extra costs since 2021. Those costs include the Employer Health Tax, paid sick days, additional statutory holidays and carbon tax. Coupled with decreased consumer spending, those costs have severely impacted many businesses’ ability to survive.

Broader economic indicators are equally concerning. Unemployment rates, while still relatively low, are creeping upward, reflecting the struggles of key industries and small businesses. The jobs numbers conceal the bleakness of the future. The province is losing private sector jobs that contribute to economic growth while adding public sector jobs.

The policies of the government have not only failed to address these issues but have exacerbated them. We need a shift back to a government that understands how to build and expand an economy, with a balanced and forward-thinking approach to economic policy.

The economic slowdown in B.C. is a direct result of government policies. It’s time for a change in that approach—one that prioritizes the long-term health of our economy and the prosperity of our communities. By addressing these issues head-on, we can pave the way for a robust and resilient economic future for all British Columbians.

My question to you this week is this: Are you concerned about B.C.’s economy?

I love hearing 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 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.

Pressure growing to end drug decriminalization in B.C.

Decriminalization's impact

As the dust settles on the recent Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) conference, one issue looms large for municipal leaders across British Columbia—drug decriminalization.

Merritt sponsored a resolution that would have the Union of B.C. Municipalities ask the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to create a statistic dashboard to provide data on the impact of decriminalization, to “demonstrate whether the continuation of the pilot program is of benefit to communities.”

Currently, no such dashboard, or other data delivery system, exists for municipalities in B.C.

The move sheds light on the uncomfortable truth—the burden of addressing the fallout of decriminalization is being unfairly downloaded onto municipalities, placing strain on already stretched resources.

Just last week, the RCMP superintendent in Fort St. John, alongside Mayor Lilia Hansen—taking the request one step further than SILGA—asked for the failed decriminalization policy of the NDP to end.

Decriminalization, once hailed as a progressive step forward, now reveals its complexities as municipalities grapple with the unintended consequences.

While the intention was to shift the approach towards addiction from punishment to rehabilitation, the reality on the ground paints a different picture. Municipalities are left to contend with the fallout, facing a surge in addiction-related issues without the necessary treatment, justice system, housing, support or funding.

One cannot ignore the harsh reality that municipalities simply do not have the financial means to provide adequate support for the growing number of people addicted to drugs and associated problems.

There is only one taxpayer. The burden of addiction services, healthcare and social support falls heavily on local governments, who are left scrambling to allocate funds amidst competing priorities. This strain on resources inevitably translates into compromised services and diminished quality of life for residents.

The call by the leaders at SILGA for data on the impacts of decriminalization is not merely a bureaucratic request, it is a desperate plea for transparency and accountability.

Municipalities are being asked to navigate uncharted territory without access to vital information that could inform policy decisions and resource allocation. The lack of comprehensive data underscores a broader failure on the part of the B.C. government to adequately assess and address the repercussions of their policies. The data collection and distribution was to be done as a condition the federal government imposed when granting decriminalization.

Last week, the provincial government agreed in a standing vote on first reading of a private member's bill put forward by BC United’s leader, Kevin Falcon, that would end decriminalization. That agreement by the NDP speaks volumes about the shortcomings of the current approach.

The government’s strategy deployed for those addicted to drugs is fatally flawed. Society at large is desperate for a fundamental reassessment of the decriminalization strategy.

It is time for the B.C. government to take responsibility for the unintended consequences of decriminalization and provide the necessary support and resources to municipalities. That means more than just passing the buck or offering lip service—it requires concrete action and meaningful investment in addiction treatment, mental health services, and social support programs.

The difficulty comes from a lack of an alternative solution, as the government does not have a “Plan B.”

The resolution adopted by SILGA delegates serves as a wake-up call to policymakers at both the provincial and municipal levels. Decriminalization may have been well-intentioned but its implementation left a trail of challenges in its wake.

My question to you is this:

Do you support Kevin Falcon’s private member’s bill to end decriminalization in B.C.? Why or why not?

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 Kelowna-Mission 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 opposed to dangerous offenders changing their names

Limiting name changes

Five horns blew across the city this past Sunday, just before a moment of silence. With each horn blast, I got more goosebumps.

I thought about each of their lives and said each of their names—Eric, Patrick, Jared, Cailen, and Brad.

As I said their names, the lump grew in my throat, the tears welled in my eyes, and the mama’s heart in me broke for each of them. Sunday was the National Day of Mourning. A day to come together to honour the memory of workers who have lost their lives or have been injured on the job.

The July 12, 2021 crane accident in Kelowna claimed the lives of five men and has become a somber reminder of the risks faced in the construction industry.

On that tragic day, workers Eric and Patrick Stemmer, Jared Zook, Cailen Vilness, and Brad Zawislak lost their lives. The impact of their loss is felt deeply by their families, colleagues, and by the community as a whole.

For me it is personal. My private sector office faces the crane that fell. My employees were some of the first on site after it happened. Workers in the city that day were shocked and went home and hugged their loved ones just a little tighter and a little longer.

While we remembered the tragic event on the National Day of Mourning, we also thought of all those in all industries who have lost their lives or had them altered forever by work-place accidents. As a business owner, an MLA and a proud caucus member of BC United, I am deeply committed to advocating for the safety and well-being of every worker. I am committed to pushing for policies that ensure such tragedies are never repeated.

BC United will continue to stand up for all workers and their safety and for better policies on training and prevention and safety protocols. It is also committed to the safety of our workers, our children, and our residents. We have pressed the government hard on safety measures for workers, as well as for an end to Premier David Eby’s “catch-and-release” justice system.

BC United Leader, Kevin Falcon recently tabled private member’s legislation to automatically stop people convicted of dangerous offences from legally changing their names. He tabled it after learning child-killer Allan Schoenborn was recently allowed to legally change his name. A simple change to the Name Act could protect our communities.

Schoenborn was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his children, aged five, eight and 10, whose bodies were found in the family's Merritt, B.C., home in 2008 but not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder. His name change came to light when he asked the B.C. Review Board, that determines his custody status every year, to restrict publication of his new legal name. The board denied the application and Schoenborn may legally challenge the decision.

His new identity has not been made public.

Currently, Vital Statistics, under the Ministry of Health, has complete authority to deny any change of name application that is sought for an “improper purpose or is on any other ground objectionable” but the B.C. government failed to use that authority to prevent Schoenborn’s name change.

In Falcon’s words, “The NDP government had every opportunity to prevent this monster’s application for a name change with provincial powers under the Name Act, but they didn’t do anything. Since British Columbians cannot rely on David Eby and the NDP to exercise their authority to protect our communities from dangerous criminals like Schoenborn, the legislation I’ve tabled today will force government to reject them by default.”

My question to you is this:

Do you agree that convicted dangerous offenders should not be permitted to change their legal name? Why or why not?

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 Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education 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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