Housing and child care have been hot topics in the North Coast region as reported on recently in The Northern View. With no end in close sight to the housing crisis which has left countless tenants in the region searching for a roof over their heads, and with lack of child care spaces for parents to place their tots in while they work, The Northern View asked MLA incumbent and NDP candidate Jennifer Rice and BC Liberal Party candidate Roy Jones Jr. what can be done.
What are your thoughts on the housing crises and what can be done to alleviate the pressure on the North Coast?
“So I know you want me to stay local, but I just have to say the housing crisis is a provincial wide problem. And I have to say that this was a festering problem over a number of years under the BC Liberals watch, and they chose to do nothing. Childcare and housing were our two key platform planks in 2017, and we have been working steadily to deliver on that.
“So there are 25,000 homes that are now built or in the process of being built, which is quite an accomplishment in three and a half years to get that many people housed.
“In the last three and a half years, as I’ve served as MLA here, we’ve been able to open up the Crow’s Nest Lodge. There’s 44 people that were on the streets that are now housed.
“We also opened up the seniors housing in Port Edward of eight units. We supported the Anchor Inn, we’ve supported Kitkatla with their homes. We were involved with Metlakatla with Cedar Village and we’re also part of Lax Kw’alaams housing, both on and off-reserve.”
“We’re going to see 80 units of housing in Prince Rupert. Under that agreement we’ve made with Lax Kw’alaams, it’s in the process in various developmental stages right now.”
“It’s also worth noting that we’re the first government in Canada, to ever fund housing on reserve, which I think … is an act of reconciliation. Typically, the federal government is responsible for housing on reservations. We’ve not been satisfied with the slow action that the federal government has towards the housing crisis.
“Part of our philosophy is that we need housing for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you live, whether you’re on or off the reserve. We need housing everywhere for everyone and that impacts Prince Rupert.”
“Housing that’s available in Lax Kw’alaams frees up housing in Prince Rupert. There are people that can’t find housing in outlying communities that are in Prince Rupert. A lot of them want to go home and be in their home communities, but they don’t have enough housing on reserve. So, by building on reserve, we’re balancing out the housing stock, but we’re also allowing people to be where they want to be — in their own communities.”
Roy Jones Jr.
“Prince Rupert in the last 20 years has lost 518 rental units. Elizabeth Apartments are down and a number of other little ones have been destroyed. I was researching, digging and probing, We did a count of all the apartments that were gone. I’m talking about rental housing units. Some of them aged out. They are so dilapidated that they had to tear them down.
“Some of our rough hotels like The Inlander were torn down, or burnt in fire and torn down. Empress Hotel is gone. The Royal Hotel is gone. You know. I can go way back to the Fraser house. You know, that’s gone. That was kind of a homeless shelter back in the ‘60s.”
“We can bring investors in. Right now, I’m working on a program where we could probably bring $300-$400 million into the city here to develop housing structure. Where the government will mostly get involved in this would be probably with the development of the homes and low-cost housing associated with it. You’d be able to do rental units and condominiums. So we’re still talking about that, we’re still sourcing out the money, and that’s without even getting into government.”
“The other thing – I just got off the street from talking to the homeless people today … Some of them are friends. They’re having difficult social problems. The other thing that Prince Rupert doesn’t have to mitigate (homelessness) is any kind of treatment centre. Winter’s coming and it’s alright to say that we’ve got a homeless shelter, but when you’re flushing them out at eight or nine in the morning they have to go out all day and forage for warmth — they need homes. They need a place to call home.”
“There are models in Seattle that are absolutely successful. They are saving the Seattle economy a lot of money. They built these nice apartment blocks, and they bring the homeless people in there and house them. And you know what, they even give them six to 12 bottles of beer a day. You know what? The crime in the area went down to nothing. Some people even quit drinking after that. So you know, there are success stories. It’s not about enabling, it’s letting people know that you’ve got a purpose, you could do this.”
What about housing for working middle-class families in Prince Rupert?
I know that we don’t need just social housing, we need housing for people with disabilities, we need housing for students, we need housing for middle class working people.
We even need some higher-end housing for the physicians and other job vacancies that we need to fill in this in this community. So we created a program called the housing hub. The purpose of the housing hub is to encourage developers to build housing, So they’re able to get things like low-interest-rate loans through us. We have incentives for them to build.
The housing hub hasn’t been oversubscribed in Prince Rupert … The government can only do so much. We can’t build everyone a home. We need to incentivize the private sector to build homes. Part of that is in partnership with the municipalities … we all need to work together to make it a place where developers want to build.
We have a housing hub project that is going to be announced. What I am hoping is that it will demonstrate to other developers, and we have people in Prince Rupert that may very well be interested in building housing stock for renters.
Roy Jones Jr.
Well, there’s properties in the city here, like where the Elizabeth apartments have been, they burned down. It’s still possible to redevelop those properties, whether you use it for rental units or condominiums for people to live in. Those things are really doable. You know, it’s just a matter of getting the right people in the room to make it happen and working with government, we can make that happen. Without even being in government, I’ve accessed a lot of money to do it. So, we’re still working on the program.
“We have invested billions of dollars in new childcare spaces and in housing projects, which are two things that are important to people in Prince Rupert, as well as the rest of British Columbia. We know that through the pandemic, that a disproportionate number of women were impacted by job losses. Part of the challenge is that families need affordable and accessible childcare. If you don’t have that, then you can’t go to work. And so we know people here who have chosen not to work because they don’t have accessible or affordable childcare.
“So while childcare may be thought of as a social policy, it really is an economic policy. We’ve (NDP) made recent announcements of expanding of childcare spaces. Prince Rupert has done their childcare study and is exploring options to improve the number of spaces, but one thing we have done is we’ve made it much more affordable. So we have the affordable childcare benefit.
“For example, I spoke to a childcare provider locally in Prince Rupert, who said, normally her childcare space is $800 a month, but because of our contribution as a provincial government, parents are only paying $600 a month.”
Roy Jones Jr.
“I met with a lady this morning who has a child and is trying to work and she scrambles moving her daughter around to the programs that they go to for care. The liberal party will support anyone who wants the opportunity with daycare education and operation. They will support number one the certification and number two, they’ll come through with a business plan because there has to be a development process. So, it’s not going to be an overnight solution, but the BC Liberal in government will make sure that expansion is done, not only in Prince Rupert, but wherever else it’s needed. This is because most of the people that are in need of daycare don’t have extended family like grandparents to look after the kids while they go to work.
Where does the $10 child care promise stand?
“So this is a keystone policy plank for us. So what $10 a day is all about is what’s called “Universal childcare”. We know that childcare is an economic challenge for many, so universal childcare is to make sure anyone who wants or needs childcare has access to it at an affordable rate. We have some pilot projects throughout the province (there are not any in Prince Rupert) where we have subsidized childcare for families, to the point where they only pay $10 a day for childcare. (Recently) I participated on a roundtable with the Premier, childcare providers and those that are receiving the benefit. We heard transformational stories of people. (We heard of) a woman who had been couchsurfing who now has stable housing because she could actually keep her job. This is what we’re striving for.
Roy Jones Jr.
“The BC Liberals said they want to put up a billion dollars. Out of that billion dollars, there will be $10 per day for childcare for families who earn up to $65,000 a year and $20 a day for families earning up to $90,000 a year. That will cost $200 a month and $400 a month. Then $30 a day for families who earn up to $125,000 a year. Now, there will be probably be a ceiling to that if somebody’s making hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
“The thing about this is the NDP likes to make people think that the BC Liberals only look after the rich. Unlike the NDP, the BC Liberal Party reaches out to all British Columbians.
“The BC Liberals will implement this childcare program right away after the election. This is going to be good for Prince Rupert and the North Coast because we have many residents earning a wide range of incomes. Many are on the poverty line and others are minimum wage to high-end earners. Flexibility spawns fairness and affordable costs for daycares should be for all those who need it.”
What is the position on reconciliation?
“I spoke about the housing on the reserve as an act of reconciliation.
I think it would be remiss to not acknowledge that we are the first government in Canada to fully adoptand legislate or in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People -DRIPA. So that’s critical. We have a lens to ‘how does this impact’ and ‘have we consulted with Indigenous People in all our of Ministries and all aspects’ in all the work that we do, which I think is critical in this time. We want to treat Indigenous people as true partners. So for example, something that we have demonstrated is that we have shared gaming revenue with Indigenous Governments, which is a lot, it’s a big number …
So, $100 million a year roughly for the next 23 years and we have done that for the last two years on a 25 year agreement. That’s finally inked. We’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s … It’s 7 per cent of the gaming revenue.”
“We have, historically, supported local governments, so non-indigenous governments have received gaming revenue for some time, and now we’re finally acknowledging Indigenous Governments and treating them as partners as well.”
My thoughts on reconciliation are … Every First Nation group is going to have to look at their own values to reconciliation. Our demands on reconciliation on Haida Gwaii are much different than the ones in the Tsimshian Nation. Where it comes to fishing, we’ve got a common goal, but there’s a lot of other things, and those things all have to be sorted out. I think the government, whether it be federal or provincial has to be fully engaged in the process of that to ensure that there’s satisfaction because with the last reconciliation deal that the Haida have signed, there’s a big rift in the community over it.
One thing that we’ve done right away in response to the pandemic, which I think is really important for people to know, is that we, we were at a point where we had health care workers who had worked in privatized institutions caring for our elderly working at low wages. This was an an explicit policy direction that was implemented by the BC liberals. And that was the privatization of a lot of our health care services, particularly for seniors. What happened was people would have to work not not 40 hours week but they were working 60 and 80 hour a week at multiple institutions to just make ends meet to pay their rent, or to pay for the necessities of life – and these used to be good paying, union jobs where people could make a decent living to pay for their bills.
One of the things that we did, and this is one of the reasons why we have one of the lowest death rates in North America, was that we raised the salaries of those workers so that they didn’t have to work in multiple institutions which we knew was causing the spread of COVID-19 – healthcare working in one and then going to another facility and spreading it. Now we have people working at a decent wage in one institution. It has dramatically limited the spread of COVID-19 and reduced the number of deaths that we had.
So I think that’s really key. That’s a very obvious difference between us as the BC NDP and the BC liberals. We don’t believe people should be working full-time and still struggling to pay their bills or to make a choice between eating or paying for their prescriptions.
“One of the decisions that we’ve made as far as healthcare goes that will benefit us locally is that we have implemented a framework for rural, remote, and indigenous communities. We’ve secured more fixed wing and rotary aircraft in the case that someone needs to be medivaced. There’s often a lot of complaints that the medivac system is not there for people when they need it. So, we’ve secured more aircraft so that if someone over on Haida Gwaii needs to go to a COVID-19 designated hospital that we can medivac them and get them to Terrace. The same thing for a rural community in the Bella Coola Valley or in Clearwater. That is something that directly impacts the people of North Coast.
“We’ve also increased numerous online options for people to get medical, the virtual doctor of the day, for example. We know, we’re not a big city that has all the services that a large urban hospital might have. But we’ve upped the options for people to get health care online or by phone.”
“Medical travel is a horrible nightmare. Medical travel is critical especially in the horrible economy we are in.”
“With Northern Health, they made Prince George the northern health hub. From Haida Gwaii they are sending people there. We have have no access to them. We are a small population there. Where as in Prince Rupert and in Vancouver there is family for just about everyone. So Prince George is just not an option. Even Terrace is a little bit difficult, but at the same it’s still accessible – not like Prince George – especially in the winter.
Economy and Infrastructure:
We are the fastest growing port in North America. We need workers. I think typically we make infrastructure investments and we hope the labour will follow. For Prince Rupert we absolutely need to make infrastructure investments but we also need to invest in the labour aspect. We are growing. We are going to see an increased population, so we need a holistic way of supporting communities – having the health care services people need, having the housing they can count on, having the childcare services they will need to actually work here.
One of our answers to that was the Northern Planning and Capital Grant, which was $100 million in 2019 and $75 million in 2020 to Northwest communities. That is a record financial investment that these communities have ever seen. It worked out that in 2019 the city of Prince Rupert received $8 million. To put hat in perspective – the city’s operating budget is about $30 to 35 million. So, we are talking about almost a quarter of their entire budget we gave them in one lump sum.
We provided a grant for the necessary water treatment upgrades that we so need. This frees up money for the municipality to provide services that people come to count on in this town and community.
Roy Jones Jr.
“For the economy Prince Rupert is in a new economic boom. The port pays out $100 million dollars a year in wages. The trouble is with that kind of money these guys are making the landlords are raising the rates and the families are suffering. It’s a serious problem. My daughter’s in it. You’re in it. The gouging that goes along with landlords wanting to get the most out of their property is you know, it’s human nature. I can respect that but at the same time, we need affordable housing through out Prince Rupert.”
“When we reach our outlining communities – I’ll use the term First Nations communities or non First Nations communities, we’re suffering the same fate. On Haida Gwaii, if you’re not working for the government, there’s no real promise of jobs. Our young people are leaving and not coming back.”
“Some of the things that are going on right now with the infrastructure in Prince Rupert – because of the Port expansion and with the Ridley Island development going on out there, we’re finding out that Prince Rupert’s running out of power. They need another power line into the community. We can source out funding for that as well. But there are other power projects that are being pursued especially in the Kenny Dam water release programme.”
“Right now they are talking about putting in generators or turbines so that they can generate power for the market. We have got Site C coming up soon. No matter how those things are developed and put into play, we still need the power lines to run into Prince Rupert. It doesn’t matter where they’re coming from. So, there are major projects going on that have to be developed for the future of Prince Rupert.”
“I went down to McLean shipyard and it has changed hands. But you know, we got tugboats, and we got some big ships coming into our harbour here but we have no maintenance facilities for any of these ships when they have a problem. Those are things that have to be looked at … So there’s a lot of opportunity on the coast system here. It’s just about working with the people to make it happen. You know, I’m tired of the low level fight.”
Libertarian candidate Jody Craven did not respond to requests for comment