Westward Independent

Bill 44 overrides local governments

by Adrienne Richards
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In November, the BC NDP swiftly advanced three pivotal bills: Bill 44, 46, and 47. These legislative measures marked a significant transfer of local powers to the province, superseding established Official Community Plans (OCP).


Among the sweeping changes, public input was eradicated, minimum building heights were mandated, maximum density was enforced, and strata powers dictating occupants were rescinded. The province, along with the Attorney General of B.C., now holds sway over these critical aspects. Notably, Bill 44 emerged as the focal point, encompassing the majority of these transformative alterations.


During the North Cowichan council meeting on January 17th, an application to amend a development bylaw came under discussion. One proposal sought a zoning change, enabling the owner to add a carriage house to the property in Chemainus. Councillor Istace voiced support for the growth, asserting its alignment with the Chemainus revitalization plan, targeted growth plan, and the Official Community Plan (OCP) that had “extensive public hearing and engagement”. Despite claims of extensive public hearing and engagement during the OCP’s creation, evidence suggests the contrary due to the pandemic’s distractions during the creation of it. Nevertheless, the relevance of such consultations diminishes, given the passage of bills, particularly Bill 44, mandating the first review and update of official community plans by December 31, 2025.


Councillor Findlay expressed agreement with the development but voiced dissatisfaction about the absence of a public hearing, stating he agreed with the development but was “ticked off about no public hearing.” Councillor Justice, aligning with the application’s adherence to the aforementioned bill that justified the lack of public input. In supporting the waiver of the public hearing process, Councillor Justice stated, “Following up on what Councillor Findlay said – I support the waiving of the public hearing process on this within the fact that the province is setting through this for the reasons we need to help people do their developments and move them on expeditiously.” He added, “Thank you for the latitude on the reasonings behind supporting the public hearing being omitted with these types of things from the new Bill from the province.”


While an additional carriage home may not seem significant, celebrating the absence of public input in development raises substantial concerns. To which bills was Councillor Istace referring? Bills 44, 46, and 47, forcefully enacted without local government engagement by the province in November 2023. These bills, fervently championed by the Urban Development Institute (UDI) with numerous conflicts of interest, being funded by both the BC and Federal Governments and boasting members such as BC Transit, BC Hydro, and Urban Systems (currently crafting the N.C. climate adaptation plan), are poised to profoundly reshape the appearance of your towns while eliminating both council and public input.


Within the Local Government Act (LGA), the council traditionally had the option to permit public input on developments in their respective areas. But after consulting with North Cowichan’s Legislative Department, it was revealed that the Province had quietly changed the Local Government Act to disallow public hearings for buildings within growth centres (See picture)


“The major package of housing bills was introduced at the beginning of November, giving opposition MLAs ‘only a matter of weeks to properly scrutinize them,’” B.C. United house leader Todd Stone said in the legislature Monday, objecting to the harried pace of debate in the final week before the fall session wraps up on Thursday. B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen said he has been stonewalled when asking Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon for the data and research that informed the housing legislation, particularly the upzoning bill for single-family lots, which he said will have the impact of inflating property values for existing homeowners while failing to add below-market housing for British Columbians who have been priced out. “These laws potentially hand intergenerational wealth to people who already have it and offer absolutely nothing to renters and non-homeowners,” Olsen said. – The Vancouver Sun, November 23rd.


Conveniently, the Province announced incentives to municipalities on Jan 18th amounting to over 51 million tax dollar handouts to implement these housing plans.

 

Some examples on the island of these handouts include:
City of Duncan: $173,943
City of Nanaimo: $619,936
City of Victoria: $582,582
Town of Ladysmith: $191,995
CVRD: $323,554


These bills mandate municipalities to endorse three to four units on a single-family lot, circumventing public hearings. The majority of North Cowichan residents meet the four-unit criteria, so will your property assessment now reflect what could potentially be placed on your property? These bills eliminate almost all parking requirements, asserting that active transport within the 15-minute city negates the need for cars.


The minimum parking requirements for off-street parking currently applicable to six-unit lots will be eradicated, enabling the construction of high-density buildings with zero parking, as per the government’s biking-centric vision. By June 30, 2024, Bill 44 compels local governments to amend zoning bylaws to accommodate “Secondary Suites and Missing Middle Unit Housing.” In Auckland, New Zealand, their “Missing Middle” housing campaign triggered a 12% surge in property taxes. While Bill 44 prevents municipalities from restricting the number of units on a Single Family Lot to less than permitted, a municipality may permit more units.


One bill strips local councils of the authority to dismantle “tent cities” unless they can provide housing. Stratas are no longer allowed restrictions for rentals, potentially diminishing property values. Additionally, age restrictions, except for 55+, are prohibited in stratas (i.e., 19+). The BC Vacancy Tax no longer grants exemptions based on rental restrictions in stratas, imposing a 0.5% vacancy tax on Canadian citizens with vacant properties and a 2% tax on non-Canadian citizens. Local governments, once obligated to provide a 5-year housing and growth plan, now must present a 20-year plan. The Attorney General of B.C. can override local plans if the Province disagrees with their density.


The Province now determines minimum height requirements, stripping local governments of power to set maximum height requirements. These decisions appear incongruent with our Official Community Plan (OCP), forecasting a minimal population increase by 2050 and a steep decline in youth, signaling a rise in aging residents. North Cowichan has already sanctioned sufficient housing for its projected 2050 population growth. With Canadian birth rates at an all-time low, questions arise: are these projects for new arrivals, or for those losing homes due to rising assessment values and increased taxes?


The province’s housing demands lack mandates for affordable housing. Local governments no longer have the authority to require builders to include affordable housing in new builds. Mass density is emphasized, exemplified by units as small as 360 sq ft in North Cowichan’s recent apartment building approval near the new RCMP building.

 

Duncan, aligning with UN Sustainability Goals mentioned in their OCP in the works, rushes to become a 15-minute city, implementing measures like “traffic calming,” scramble crosswalks, bike lane infrastructure, lowered speed limits, lane narrowing, and towering apartments. This prompts speculation about the fate of once-charming family neighbourhoods – could they transform into mass-density areas or, perhaps, ‘slums’? Former homeowners may be compelled to relocate under the 15-minute city agenda’s propositions, such as “You will own nothing and be happy,” and “you will share your small space with others who may use it as a business space when you are not in it.” The provincial agenda raises concerns about the future landscape of housing, affordability, and community well-being.

 

When the government cries “crises” and swoops in with the solution, it rarely turns out for the better. When phrases are introduced such as “Urban Sprawl” to replace “suburbs”, and “family neighbourhoods” to demonize a way of life so many strive to have for their families, there may be ulterior motives. We will look further into the conflicts of interest in this overstep of government in future articles.

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