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British Columbia B.C. Premier Horgan gets tough on municipalities over transit, housing

B.C. Premier John Horgan, seen during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria on May 29, 2018, called on the province's municipalities on Thursday to make 'sensible choices' about housing if they seek funding for transit projects.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

A tough-talking Premier John Horgan warned B.C. civic politicians Thursday that if they want expensive transit lines in their cities, they need to be ready to zone for significant amounts of housing along those lines.

And, he added, if they want their homelessness problems addressed, they need to be willing to accept what the province is ready to do for them.

“The challenge is some municipal councils want to have it both ways. They want to demand provincial participation, provincial dollars, to meet their objectives, whether it be on transit – SkyTrain or other forms of transit – but not make the same choices about how do we take advantage of those significant transit investments to building housing around that transportation corridor,” Mr. Horgan said.

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He also said he expects cities to make sensible choices about housing their homeless people.

“Mayor [Mike] Morden in Maple Ridge, it seems, has adopted the position that he would prefer to have a homeless camp than modular housing. In that case, we are taking the initiative, we are taking provincial land, we are building modular housing. We want to close down the tent city in Maple Ridge as we did in Nanaimo, as we did in Surrey.”

His comments come in the wake of two recent incidents. One was a statement from Vancouver’s chief planner, Gil Kelley, that the city does not need to accommodate massive amounts of density along the planned Broadway subway line because it is already packed with apartments. As well, Mr. Kelley said the city doesn’t need the density to generate money for the line’s construction because Vancouver is already contributing $100-million in land and other needed services for the line.

The Premier’s comments also come amid a standoff between the province and Maple Ridge politicians over the province’s plan to build temporary modular housing for that city’s homeless, whose camp in the middle of the city has caused public uproar.

Mr. Morden and his council have objected to the province’s announcement that it is simply building new housing for the homeless, whatever council says.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said, however, that his city does want to increase the amount of low-cost housing along the Broadway line and staff are exploring how that can be done without leading to the demolition of the thousands of cheap apartment units already along the line. However, it’s not going to consider the type of dense clusters of towers that Burnaby has allowed or any project that requires the removal of existing affordable apartments.

“Displacement is a no-go for this council,” he said.

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The tussle over density around transit is likely to heat up over the next several years, with Surrey’s new mayor, Doug McCallum, fighting to get a $2.9-billion 16-kilometre SkyTrain line from the central city to Langley, instead of the light rail that had been planned there for years. At the same time, Mr. Stewart has started lobbying to see the Broadway subway, which already has an extension approved and funded that will go partway across the city, get money to go all the way to the University of British Columbia on the far western edge.

The early projection is that it would cost almost $4-billion for that second extension.

In both cities, local politicians have to deal with residents who are wary about massive amounts of new development being unleashed along the new transit corridors.

But other mayors, along with the Premier, are concerned that Vancouver seems to be indicating it doesn’t have to do anything more. And they will also be demanding that Surrey and Langley prove that there will be enough housing built along the line to justify spending billions for that SkyTrain line.

“I think the Vancouver approach would be unacceptable,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, whose city has been transformed since the Canada Line opened there in 2009, with thousands of new apartments all along the route.

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