The Mount Pleasant by-election candidates on rising rents and legalized pot

It’s voting day for Mount Pleasant’s next MLA, so we asked the front runners a few key questions about their riding

On Tuesday, voters in the provincial riding of Mount Pleasant will head to the polls to elect their next MLA. Their last one, the NDP’s Jenny Kwan, vacated the seat when she resigned last July to run for the federal seat in Vancouver East—one that she would go on to win on October 19. More than 2,000 voters have already cast their ballots at advance polls held last week, but with three strong candidates in the race it’s still a wide open contest. And for those who still haven’t made up their mind who they’re going to support, we asked each of them a few questions that might help you with your decision. 

Pete Fry, BC Green Party (pictured left)

What can we do about the impact of rising rental rates in a neighbourhood whose incomes are increasingly unable to support them? We need to be ensuring that we are not relying entirely on the market to supply affordable rental housing. I have long advocated that we need to extract more value from the property transfer tax system and the commodification of our local real estate and start investing that. Right now, $1.4 billion in property taxes from last year alone is going into general revenue, but I would like to see it going into housing. I’d like to see property transfer taxes tweaked to address speculators, foreign corporate investors, luxury properties and enhance that revenue by putting it into building new housing and subsidize the building of new public housing and rental housing.I would also like to see us start looking towards the model that we see in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba with the renters tax credit. In those provinces, and increasingly in the U.S., renters who are paying high rents can actually declare their rents on their income tax and receive some kind of credit or rebate at tax time. What we see in Vancouver Mount-Pleasant where we have three-quarters of the riding in rent is that an extremely high proportion of them are paying more than 50 percent of their income when the benchmark is supposed to be 30 percent. Obviously there is a disconnect, and we need to insure that housing affordability is made available to the people that live and work here because it is vital to our quality of life and local economy. Vancouverites need to actually be able to afford to live where they work.Marijuana Dispensaries abound in the riding. What can be done to integrate them more successfully into the community? I’m not sure what you mean by “integrate them more successfully into the community.” I mean, they are what they are, and in the end it’s a business model. I don’t think we can look at how we necessarily integrate businesses like pharmacies or any kind of special dispensaries; they are just a very specialized market. I think that we should enhance and protect bubble zones around vulnerable populations, so I don’t think we should have dispensaries too close to schools or community centers. Of course they should be operating within the scope of the law, and I know that there have been some really top-drawer operations and some that are a little bit shady and we need to regulate, tax and monitor these with the utmost discretion. It is a controlled substance and there is the risk of criminality or whatever might come with it, so I think we need to be on top of that. Otherwise, I would not want to see them more integrated into normal society. I think it is probably fine the way it is, as far as integration goes.What is the one policy change you would push for as the MLA for the riding?Aggressive movement on housing affordability. That is 100 percent the biggest issue for me. We have a lot of pressure coming on to this riding in particular, a lot of big projects happening, and these things combined bring about a lot of change that risks a lot of displacement. We have the viaducts removal, we have the new St. Paul’s Hospital, we have the Broadway Subway, and all three of those projects are massive game changers for this riding that are going to bring a lot of development and money. We really need to be on top of this housing affordability issue as we embrace these new changes, because if we don’t we are going to displace a lot of people. We will only see our homeless numbers go up, we will see more stress and family dysfunction, and it will compromise the health and well being of Vancouverites. It’s important that we have communities where everybody can live and thrive and socioeconomic diversity is a big part of that, which housing is at the root of. 

Melanie Mark, BC NDP

What can we do about the impact of rising rental rates in a neighbourhood whose incomes are increasingly unable to support them? It is a huge concern. There is no question about that in Vancouver Mount Pleasant, housing affordability comes to us from every doorstep more than anything else in the riding. Renters are not seeing enough things done by the BC Liberal government in terms of even minor things like settling disputes between landlords and tenants; for instance, the BC Liberals have cut the resources for the accessible regional tenancy offices while at the same time doubling the filing dispute fees from $50 to $100, which affects low-income residents.Renters and residents aspiring to own a home are feeling squeezed by Vancouver’s hot real estate market. Although many of the solutions and jurisdictions to this fall to the City do Vancouver, as the MLA if I have the honour of being elected I will be advocating for future city planning to include affordable housing. There is no doubt that for far too long the city has been working alone to create new housing. The federal government abandoned their housing program in 1993, and the BC Liberals have not pursued a housing strategy to meet the needs of people living Vancouver. We need to bring all levels of government together as partners in building new affordable housing.To add to that, this includes more social housing provided at the rate for income assistance, more support of housing for people with disabilities, and those with acute mental health and mental illness, of course affordable housing for seniors and for families. One of the last co-ops built in B.C. was right here in Mount Pleasant, the Lore Krill Housing Co-op, where one third of the units are rented at income assistance rates, one third at 30 percent of the individual’s income and one third at market rate. It was an excellent model that was built by the NDP, but we have not seen any of this community building since the BC Liberals formed government 15 years ago.Marijuana Dispensaries abound in the riding. What can be done to integrate them more successfully into the community? Well, the city of Vancouver is working on this issue, we’ve got the new Trudeau Liberal promise of ending the prohibition of marijuana, and it’s going to be ongoing work that the Government of B.C. cannot ignore. I support moving away from prohibition of marijuana and we need to abide by the initial intention of doing so, which is protecting minors from access to pot. Under prohibition, anyone can get pot anywhere, and so with ending prohibition we can add new regulations that take the needs of impressionable young people to heart. Like with alcohol regulations, marijuana regulations must include identification and age verification of buyers. As the city is working on this process we need to make sure that dispensaries are not located near places such as schools. We cannot have a piecemeal strategy. We need to have a plan, and right now the city is in a bit of a crisis trying to manage the plan; they are working with the federal government but the B.C. government has a role as well and we need a better strategy. There is a saying in martial arts: “a failure to plan is a plan to fail.”What is the one policy change you would push for as the MLA for the riding?Ultimately we are trying to address systemic injustice and systemic failures. In light of the recent historic human rights decision recognizing First Nations children’s rights to equal funding, there is long overdue action that is needed to address the issue of child welfare and equitable funding. Of course, the federal government must play a role in all of this because of their mandate for First Nation’s people but as we have seen in BC—I used to work at B.C.’s Children and Youth representatives officethe tragic circumstances facing youth in care in B.C. is devastating and there is a lot of work to do. Since it is a big systemic issue, we need robust policies protecting the rights and interests of children and youth in this province. We are the only province that does not have a poverty reduction policy, which we need to work on. 

Gavin Dew, BC Liberal Party (pictured right)

What can we do about the impact of rising rental rates in a neighbourhood whose incomes are increasingly unable to support them? When we talk about accessible housing, there are a lot of different layers to it. We have to recognize that affordability is a function of housing price and income, so it is very important that we have a strong economy that is supporting jobs and gives people the opportunity to stay ahead. We also need to make sure that we have other measures around affordability in place, so when we get the Broadway line built and improve transit in the riding it will improve affordability. If the NDP gets elected and jacks your taxes up, that is going to negatively affect affordbility. We have to look at an overall approach to affordability.In the next up budget that is coming out in February, I anticipate there will be some significant measures around affordability, especially for first-time home buyers, so we will see more there. There are also, for folks who are the low end of the income spectrum, programs we put in place like the rental assistance program that help top up peoples ability to pay rent so they can live in a the communities that they are familiar with and comfortable in rather than feeling ghettoized in dedicated social housing.Marijuana Dispensaries abound in the riding. What can be done to integrate them more successfully into the community?  The Federal Government has made the decision that marijuana will be legalized, but it is up to the provinces to make decisions around distribution; the minister of health for example has talked about distribution through liquor stores. I think that as we start to see some decisions and some implementations on that front, it will normalize the market. As a result of that, I think we will see a number of dispensaries closing shop as that happens. I have definitely heard concerns from people about dispensaries in close proximity to schools or adjacent to stores, so there are concerns there, but ultimately I think that there will be more clarity in the next year or so as both the Federal and Provincial governments move ahead with defining policy.What is the one policy change you would push for as the MLA for the riding?I’m not sure of a specific policy change, but I would like to see the Broadway line built and I will push hard to get it done. The other one would be to take an ecosystem approach to arts policy, and I’ve got an Opinion article on the Georgia straight as of January 27th that covers off my thoughts on that.  My main stance behind this new arts policy is that we use tax and investment incentives to stimulate tech and help get new ventures off the ground, and I believe we should be doing the same for the arts. In the tech world, accelerators and incubators help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Similarly, we should be working to stimulate Vancouver’s arts sector from the ground up. If elected to the Legislature on Tuesday, I will use the resources at my disposal to eliminate barriers that are preventing artists from becoming more self-sustaining. By making changes to the way the government funds and supports the creative ecosystem, we can set course for the day when the arts in B.C. are thriving, groundbreaking, and truly independent.Some of these answers were edited for clarity.