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

Secure housing with a heart

heart-home.jpgWith the need for non-market housing becoming more and more urgent, I’m very excited about the new development at the corner of Kerr St and 55th Avenue in Vancouver. The new firehall No. 5 for Champlain Heights will be built there. Four floors of the new building will be housing for mothers and children, with a priority for those leaving abusive relationships. The lower levels will be staffed 24/7, increasing security, support, and comfort for people in urgent need of safe living situations.

Combining neighbourhood amenities and social housing fosters supportive, inclusive communities.

When I was on the Vancity credit union board, we redeveloped one of our East Side branches and built social housing in the air space above it. No credit union is staffed 24/7 but, in this case, Vancity, with its positive social and environmental policies, also carries with it an intrinsic value of community well-being and fairness. As such, it imbues the associated housing with an aura of security and caring.

There is nothing preventing us, as a society, from building social housing in the air space above all kinds of community-based services like library branches or firehalls throughout the city. Two obvious benefits arise.

First off, by using the air space above these improvements, you’re able to build much-needed social housing with zero costs for the land. This means new social housing becomes possible even with a limited budget. Equally important, by building housing above community-based services like libraries, you help provide security to vulnerable people through proximity to keystones of the community. This helps demonstrate that abused women, and others facing marginalisation and/or violence are valued and welcome participants in community life.

Posted in affordable housing, equality, feminism, homelessness, Planning, social justice, solidarity, Vancouver | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Good news for Vancouver renters

apartment-159414_640There’s been a lot in the news lately about issues that impact renters, and I’m happy to say most of it is good news.

First up is the announcement of a new resource at city hall — the creation of a Renters Office. This office, with its newly dedicated staff person and phone line, will provide a badly needed service to renters in Vancouver on issues ranging from renovictions to rental rates in new developments. It can be reached at 604-673-8291 or renteroffice@vancouver.ca. Since the majority of Vancouver’s citizens are renters, this addition is a welcome one. Hats off to Pete Fry for his motion, and everyone else who helped made it happen!

Congratulations are also in order to Green Councillor Adriane Carr for her motion asking staff to review all housing programs Vancouver city hall now has, with a view to rewriting them so that affordable housing actually aligns with the incomes of the people who need it. Currently, far too often the rental housing produced as a result of existing city hall policies is far out of reach of the ordinary renter. According to Councillor Carr, more than half of Vancouver households couldn’t afford the rent in city-subsidized rental projects.

Given the fact that developers frequently avoid paying significant amounts of money in development cost levies in return for delivering so-called “affordable” rental housing, this review is very welcome news.

A perfect example of the type of development Councillor Carr’s motion will address is the new, subsidized development planned for East 1 Ave. and Clark Drive. A one-bedroom rental unit in this proposed development would require an income of $48,000 a year or just over $23 an hour, hardly affordable in my books and definitely not geared to low-income renters. A person earning $15/hour has an annual income of just over $31,000 net — making those suites impossible to afford. (And that’s not close to minimum wage, which is currently $12.65, meaning $26,000 annually. Minimum wage won’t hit $15 until 2021!).

All in all, last week was a good one for Vancouver’s renters. Let’s hope that this new city council will continue to address the needs of renters.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, developers, gentrification, Green Party, homelessness, Planning, renoviction, social justice, Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment