Lots of problems with Rental 100, not city councillors!

condominium-2903520_640Carlito Pablo, who has been doing a great job covering Vancouver’s Rental 100 program and its shortfalls for a while, recently reported in the Georgia Straight that city manager Sadhu Johnstone is concerned that Vancouver city councillors are “causing a lot of problems” by pushing for more affordability in the program.

But the problems are with the Rental 100 program, not the other way around.

Under Rental 100, as it currently stands, developers are entitled to a number of financial “rewards” including the complete exemption of all development cost levies (or DCLs) if, in return, they build rentals as opposed to condominiums. The problem is these rental units are very unaffordable. For instance, based on last year’s Rental 100 guidelines, starting rents are $3,700 for a 3-bedroom unit. To make matters worse, the developer can raise rents as much as she or he wishes each time a tenant moves out.

A number of councillors have taken very good positions against the Rental 100 program. COPE’s Jean Swanson has been voting consistently against these market-rate rentals since she was elected to council last fall.

The Green Party’s Pete Fry, also newly elected last November, has consistently questioned the way the city uses subsidies from taxpayers to support Rental 100 projects, and has been voting against them, too. And last June, the Green’s Adriane Carr asked for an audit of the Rental 100 program due to affordability concerns. She will also be putting a motion forward to freeze all new applications under the Rental 100 program until it can be reassessed.

Note that the waiver of DCLs alone typically saves the developer — and costs city taxpayers —hundreds of thousands of dollars on each project. For one Rental 100 development at 1906 West 4th Ave., the developer saved nearly $800,000 on the DCLs for the residential part of the building. For another project on Commercial Drive, the DCL savings were about $644,000.

This is not a wise use of city funds if the net result is unaffordable rentals. Much better would be a policy that ties rents in the new development in perpetuity to the income of the tenant. CMHC guidelines recommend that rents for affordable housing be calculated at 30% of a tenant’s income.

It’s time the rest of city council supported councillors Swanson, Fry and Carr in their efforts to rethink Rental 100, and create a truly affordable rental program in the city.

As a former city councillor and current lawyer, I also think that the city manager’s comments were out of line. This is a city council where 9 of the 11 members are brand new to the job. Mr. Johnstone, whom I will point out was a Vision Vancouver appointee, needs to recognize that it is not his job to go to bat for developers.

Voters elected the city councillors they did to do the thinking in such situations.


Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, developers, economy, Green Party, homelessness, NPA, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

March 15 student strikes for climate action — join the rally as an ally!


I am very inspired by Greta Thunberg. She’s the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist who sat, alone, on the cobblestones of the Swedish parliament one Friday last August, demanding action on climate change. She’s sat there almost every Friday since — in rain, sun, ice and snow — inspiring a worldwide movement of student action.

Last December saw the first such student action here in Vancouver. We’re about to see more. This coming Friday, March 15, is the Global Student Strike for Climate. This will be an international event with students around the world and their supporters striking from school and taking action to demand that governments address the crisis of climate change. Students in Victoria, Vancouver and even Whistler are joining the action.

March 15, Sustainabiliteens Vancouver is hosting the local action at Jack Poole Plaza starting at 12 Noon. Victoria’s rally also starts at Noon at the Legislative Buildings. At Whistler, meet at 9:30 a.m. at Olympic Plaza, then march to municipal hall. (Connect with #schoolstrike4climate, #ClimateStrike, #FridaysForFuture or the Wilderness Committee for more info.)

It’s so inspiring to witness young people taking action. Scientists from the 195 member-countries on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued a dire warning telling us the clock is ticking: We only have 12 years left to take very dramatic steps to reduce greenhouse gases if we are to keep global temperature rise to 1.5–2 degrees C. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, an international research institute, along with its allies issued a report two weeks ago concluding that if we are to keep to the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement, people in developed countries like ours will have to reduce their individual carbon emissions by 80-90 percent!

This means tinkering at the edges won’t do. Even the province of BC’s new Clean BC plan, with targets of a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2007 levels by 2030, and bigger cuts by 2040 and 2050, is woefully inadequate. I was therefore quite disappointed to witness Andrew Weaver’s Green Party giving it such strong support.

Let’s hope that with young people leading the way, the rest of society will follow and immediately recognize the dire crisis we are facing and take very significant steps now to avert what looks like a pending disaster. I hope to see you on the streets on Friday!


Read the full report here

Press release and key findings

Student Strike for Climate statement for adult allies: “How can you help us?”

Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, civil disobedience, climate change, economy, education, events, Green Party, NDP, People Power, pipelines, press release, solidarity, sustainability, UBC, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNC-Lavalin and the conflicting federal justice roles

justiceThe SNC-Lavalin affair has highlighted the urgent need for a fresh look at the pros and cons of separating the current dual roles of attorney general and minister of justice at the federal level in Canada.

Currently, the two responsibilities rest with one person. This creates a very awkward situation, as the attorney general is the chief law officer of the Crown and is supposed to make decisions absent from cabinet as a whole. In Britain, the AG’s office is separate from the justice ministry. In fact, the office of the attorney general has been a stand-alone since 1243!

So I was pleased to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commit to having a look at separating the AG and justice minister roles. I would predict that if there is any good to come out of all this, it will be that Mr. Trudeau does separate these conflicting responsibilities. This debacle might never have arisen in the first place had the two roles been separate.

One even wonders why they were combined in the first place. A former holder of this dual role, Irwin Cotler, former MP for Mount Royal, laid out this very recommendation many years ago as he retired. A former AG/minister of justice from 2003-06, during the Jean Chrétien era, Mr. Cotler recently reiterated the same idea, pointing out how the dual portfolio creates an avoidable conflict of interest.

As an aside, I was so pleased to see my former law school professor, the now-retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin, considered as an example of the kind of person to provide Jody Wilson-Raybould with a second opinion when the latter was still the justice minister and AG.

Ms. McLachlin is such a well-respected individual she has been retained by all three political parties to conduct the inquiry into the recent alleged spending abuses in our provincial legislature. Wouldn’t she also be the perfect candidate to provide the prime minister with advice regarding finally separating these two conflicting roles at the federal level?

Posted in Canadian politics, justice system | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment