Housing and transportation top of mind in B.C. as new year dawns

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Townhouses in Vancouver/Shutterstock

Conversations related to public policy in British Columbia were dominated by housing and pipelines in 2018. But other issues, such as marijuana legalization, the opioid crisis and transportation, will go through major developments in the next few months. Here is a look at what British Columbians told us about some of these issues.

Housing was consistently the most important topic for most Metro Vancouver residents before last October’s municipal elections. No group is affected more by housing affordability than British Columbians aged 18 to 34, who are having a hard time getting into the real estate market and could start to feel dismay at the centre-left parties that they have voted for in order to find a solution.

In Metro Vancouver, Research Co. found strong support for increasing the rental stock, but a more subdued view from residents when it comes to new construction projects. The key for the provincial government will be to show what is being done with the funds collected by the new housing taxes – which continue to be very popular among residents – and how these actions will benefit residents.

While conversations about pipelines are no longer as overriding as they were at the start of 2018, the issue is not about to go away quietly.

Back in May, 76% of British Columbians were “uncomfortable” with the idea of the federal government using taxpayer money to subsidize a foreign company. Just days later, Ottawa announced it was buying the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and its expansion project for $4.5 billion.

The gesture did not appease Albertans, who are deeply upset by how long this process is taking. This has not led to a rise in separatism, as some would have us believe, but it presents a challenge for politicians in British Columbia. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley will seek re-election in May and will face Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party. The vote splits between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party that benefited the Alberta New Democratic Party in 2015 will no longer be accessible. Neither of the two main leaders in Alberta is particularly pleased with how Victoria has behaved on the pipeline issue.

On a local level, British Columbians continue to wait for a solution on the impasse related to ride-hailing legislation. Our survey from November showed that two-thirds of Metro Vancouverites favoured a cap on drivers to ensure that congestion does not increase, and that a majority wanted ride-hailing services to employ drivers who hold a commercial Class 4 licence, instead of the standard Class 5 licence that most motorists rely on.

It would appear that the province is leaning toward a made-in-B.C. solution, which would not mean a blanket opportunity for existing firms to charge people by taking them from Point A to Point B. This issue will be particularly important in ridings located south of the Fraser, where many residents participate in or have relatives involved in the taxi industry. And, in a scenario where the government is barely ahead of the opposition when it comes to seats in the legislative assembly, every area is important.

The federally mandated rollout of legal marijuana in Canada has been, at times, desperately slow. In October, British Columbians told us about their unease with having pot shops located close to their home.

It is too early to analyze the full impact of legal marijuana, but too late to continue to ignore the impact of the opioid crisis. British Columbians told us that this is a problem that is no longer confined to some people in some areas. We can expect municipal governments to be more active on this file than the provincial administration or the federal government. We can only hope that the number of victims is reduced over the next 12 months.

National media outlets have devoted plenty of time to the public safety problems in Toronto, where 95 homicides were registered in 2018. Still, B.C.’s Lower Mainland was not immune to crime. Our survey in June showed that two in five British Columbians perceived public safety in their neighbourhood was deteriorating. The notion of a handgun ban, similar to the one passed in Montreal, was backed by 79% of British Columbians in September – almost at the same level as satisfaction with banning the grizzly hunt (82%).

Last but not least, this will be a banner year for transportation projects. Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has signalled his preference for a SkyTrain instead of the long-awaited light-rail transit (LRT) project that has been in the docket for years. Before the election, 62% of Surrey residents said they supported the LRT project. But that pales in comparison with the extremely high level of support for extending the SkyTrain Millennium Line underneath Broadway to Arbutus (82%) and taking it all the way to the Point Grey campus of the University of British Columbia (87%).

Politicians of all levels love cutting ribbons. But with a federal election in October, and a young electorate that is taking a long, hard look at the prime minister’s performance, it will be crucial for the federal Liberal Party to get these transportation projects going.