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"Making your life more affordable" was the BC NDP mantra during the election campaign and remains an oft-repeated talking-point now that the party has formed the government.

Key to affordability is the cost of housing across the province but especially in the Lower Mainland. The NDP is convinced increasing supply is the best way to make housing more affordable. To that end, it has promised to build 114,000 affordable rental housing units over the next 10 years.

It's a promise that Housing Minister Selina Robinson says her government "is plugging away at."

But beyond her rhetoric of "levers," "partnerships" and "moving forward," Ms. Robinson has been at a loss to explain how her government will reach that goal or how it will pay for it.

In an interview last week that followed her address to the Union of BC Municipalities Convention, Ms. Robinson mentioned several times her government's budget-update commitment to build 1,700 units of affordable housing, and a new pledge to build 2,000 modular housing units for those in dire need.

When asked about who the province might partner with, Ms. Robinson replied: "Everyone is welcome to the table: the private sector, the non-profit sector, the faith-based sector, First Nations, the federal government – everybody is in this.

"None of us can get this done alone. We have fresh eyes on this, we recognize that this is a problem throughout British Columbia and we are prepared to work with whoever wants to come and join us and bring together some ideas, some resources and some opportunities."

When asked specifically about the impact of speculation and investors snapping up condo units, Ms. Robinson said: "I'm very grateful that there's a lot of great ideas that are coming forward."

"I'm looking at all the pieces and making sure that we can tackle each piece from all different sides, and part of our comprehensive housing strategy is to pay attention to all the different levers, all the different mechanisms so that when we move forward we can tackle this issue from all directions," Ms. Robinson said.


The lack of specificity dogged Ms. Robinson into this week and surfaced in Question Period on Tuesday with interim Liberal Leader Rich Coleman questioning the numbers.

Mr. Coleman said that, to stay on track with its commitment, the government would need to build nearly 42,000 housing units over the next three years at a cost of $10.5-billion – not including operating costs, which he pegged at an additional $350-million annually.

His question was simple: "Where's the money?" he asked.

Again, more talk of "partnerships" and "opportunities" from the Minister, but not a word about money. "There are opportunities before us to deliver on 114,000. We've started, we've got more to do and I'm really excited to get to work," Ms. Robinson said.

Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan asked about what happened to the $400 rebate for renters promised by the NDP.

"The renters of British Columbia, I think, are very excited about our promise to increase funding for the residential tenancy branch because that's going to make life better for them," Ms. Robinson said. No mention of the promised rebate.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver piled on, asking why the government hadn't moved on its promise of a speculation tax or closed the loopholes that incentivize speculation.

From the Minister, not a mention of the tax, just more levers. "It's really important that when we talk about putting together a comprehensive, affordable housing strategy that addresses all of the pieces – the supply side and the demand side – that we take a look at all those levers and all the tools at our disposal – that we make sure they work together."

And then finally: "It's really important. This is too important to really mess up, so we need to make sure we've got it right," she said.

Ms. Robinson is right about that.

But it's also too important to be buried in incomprehensible rhetoric. It's too important to be deflecting specific questions when they are asked.

There's no question the housing is needed.

But the government needs to show us a detailed plan and explain how it intends to pay for 114,000 housing units over the next 10 years.

Is there a lever a I can pull to make that happen?

Stephen Quinn is the host of On The Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

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