— By Riley Donovan

 

On Nov. 29, Bill 44 passed the legislature 45-29, after the NDP limited debate to just 30 minutes by invoking closure.

MLAs from BC United, BC Greens, the Conservative Party of BC, and independent Adam Walker found rare common cause in voting together against the NDP legislation.

For those unfamiliar, Bill 44 mandates that all municipalities with more than 5,000 residents (which covers 90 per cent of the provincial population) allow four-six housing units on single-family lots.

Municipalities will also be prohibited from holding public rezoning hearings, instead being required to write official community plans that line up with an as yet unpublished “policy manual” created by the province. 

All rezoning that falls into the official community plans – which will just be local reflections of the NDP’s policy manual – will be automatically approved.

Towns will no longer have the power to tailor zoning to the particularities of their local community’s character, environment, projected population growth, and infrastructure capabilities.

This may be the single largest seizure of power from municipalities since British Columbia became a province in 1871.

The unprecedented scale of Bill 44 has elicited criticism from many prominent figures.

In a Vancouver Sun op-ed on Nov. 29, former NDP Premier Mike Harcourt and former B.C. MLA Darlene Marzari condemned “arbitrary, top-down changes in local zoning.”

In a video statement released on the same day, President of the Union of BC Municipalities Trish Mandewo warned that the bill could “undo careful planning in many communities to ensure neighbourhoods are properly set up to handle growth.”

Judy Dueck, the longest serving city councillor in Maple Ridge, voiced concern over how municipalities would be able to provide the infrastructure for all the new density unleashed by Bill 44.

Dueck described how the hard work put into area plans for different neighbourhoods would be swept aside by a “one-size-fits-all” model.

Few would dispute that our province is experiencing a housing crisis which is making it extremely difficult to afford rent, for young families to buy homes, and for homeowners to keep up with mortgage payments.

Stripping zoning control from local communities, however, will only result in chaotic, random patterns of density which municipalities will have to race around providing infrastructure for.

A more reasonable way to solve the housing crisis would be to provide more funding to municipalities to create the type of housing they need, and to address the root of the problem: demand.

While the NDP promises that Bill 44 will create 130,000 housing units in 10 years, the province had an international migration rate of 103,000 from July 2021 to July 2022 alone.

In other words, any housing supply created by this bill will be shortly cancelled out by a high level of population growth, driven by high immigration levels.

Prominent left-wing immigration analyst Anne Michèle Meggs argues that Ontario and B.C., which receive two thirds of immigrants to Canada, should have more say over immigration levels.

Pressuring the federal government to give B.C. more control over immigration, as was granted to Quebec under the Canada-Québec Accord in 1991, would allow our province to tie immigration levels to our housing capability and labour needs.

This approach would be a more productive way to address the housing crisis than scrapping public hearings and mandating that communities allow four-six housing units on single-family lots.

B.C. residents, mayors and councils should demand that the NDP halt its seizure of local zoning control, and pursue a more sensible and harmonious path that works with communities, not against them.