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Category "Politics"

15Oct

North Vancouver woman says some disabled Canadians feeling left out of discussion during election campaign

by admin

Amy Amantea tuned in to the English-language federal leaders’ debate with modest hope there would be at least some discussion of issues relevant to disabled Canadians.

The first half of the campaign had passed with barely a reference, even from the party that had delivered a historic achievement in national disability policy. Earlier this year, the Liberals made good on a 2015 campaign promise when the Accessible Canada Act received royal assent, marking the first time any government had enacted accessibility legislation at the federal level.

The government estimates one in five Canadians over the age of 15 is disabled, and Amantea, who is legally blind, hoped leaders would use the Oct. 7 debate to address some of the many issues they face. But those hopes faded as the debate progressed, giving way instead to doubts about how Canada’s disabled residents would fare after the Oct. 21 election.

“We have a lot of very unique needs and circumstances in our community that don’t get addressed,” Amantea said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. “Just a nod, just a mention would have been kind of nice, but it was not to be.”

Amantea said that relative silence has persisted into the final week of the campaign, giving rise to concerns throughout Canada’s disabled community. Many fear that parties who fail to make mention of key issues facing disabled Canadians while courting votes may prove even more dismissive once those votes have been cast.

They point to party platforms and public pledges, most of which make scant mention of either the Accessible Canada Act or disability-specific measures on issues such as infrastructure, health and affordable housing.

The Liberals response to questions on disability policy largely focused on past achievements. Spokesman Joe Pickerill did offer some future plans, including doubling the disability child benefit, establishing a $40-million-per-year national fund meant to help disabled Canadians find work, and simplifying the process veterans use to access disability benefits.

The Green party did not respond to request for comment, and the People’s Party of Canada said its platform contained “no policy related to disabled persons.”

The NDP did not provide comment to The Canadian Press, but made several commitments to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act in a letter sent to an Ontario-based disability advocacy group.

The act, while widely acknowledged as a significant milestone, was also broadly criticized by nearly a hundred grass-roots organizations across the country as too weak to be truly effective. Such critiques continued even after the government agreed to adopt some Senate amendments sought by the disability groups, who hoped future governments would continue to build on the new law.

Only the NDP agreed to do so when approached by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which contacted all major parties in July.

“The Liberals hailed this bill as a historical piece of legislation. But without substantial amendments, it is yet another in a long line of Liberal half-measures,” reads the NDP’s response. “New Democrats are committed to ensuring that C-81 actually lives up to Liberal party rhetoric.”

The Conservatives, too, pledged to “work closely with the disability community to ensure that our laws reflect their lived realities.” Spokesman Simon Jefferies also noted party members pushed to strengthen the act but saw their amendments voted down by the government.

The vagueness of these commitments troubles Gabrielle Peters, a wheelchair-user and writer.

“Canada’s approach to accessibility has been to grant it as a gift they give us rather than a right we deserve,” Peters said. “Now that we have the ACA, the concern is that the broader public and the government think the issue is resolved when this law is, at best, a beginning.”

Other disabled voters expressed concerns about the handful of relevant promises that have been put forward on the campaign trail. In addition to pledging expanded eligibility for the disability tax credit, the Conservatives have said they would implement a $50-million national autism strategy focusing on research and services for children. The NDP and Greens have followed suit with similar proposals and larger pots of cash.

While widely lauded among parent-led advocacy groups, some autistic adults view the proposals with skepticism.

Alex Haagaard, who is autistic and uses a wheelchair, said that while much modern disability policy including the ACA tends to apply a social lens, discussion of autism is still framed through the outmoded medical model that positions the disability as an ailment to be cured rather than a part of a person’s identity.

Haagaard said action is clearly needed to help parents seeking supports for their children and teachers working to integrate autistic students into their classrooms, but said current attitudes at the heart of the campaign rhetoric are troubling.

A national strategy, Haagaard said, also risks undermining the goal of broader inclusion for other disabled populations.

“That is counter to the goals of disability justice to silo autism as this individual condition that warrants this level of attention compared to other disabilities,” Haagaard said.

Like Amantea, Peters felt let down by the leaders debates, citing the prevalence of discussion around medical assistance in dying over other issues that affect disabled people. The subject is polarizing, with many advocacy groups and individuals asserting such legislation devalues the lives of disabled people and places them at greater risk.

Such a narrow focus, Peters said, shows all parties’ failure to reckon with or address the diverse, complex needs of an overlooked demographic.

“What strikes me as missing in policy and in this election is us,” she said. “Disabled people. The not inspirational, not motivational, not middle class, not white, disabled people of this country. In other words — most of us.”

7Oct

Daphne Bramham: Elizabeth May looking ahead to how Greens might influence a minority government

by admin

Elizabeth May is surprisingly cheerful for an environmental crusader worried that the civilization may be on the brink of collapse by the time her 43-year-old daughter reaches May’s own age of 65.

It’s because after being a party of one for eight years in Parliament and only graduating to a party of two earlier this year, the Green party leader says this federal election — her fourth — feels different.

Support is coming in unexpected places, she says forcing her to run something closer to a truly national campaign and visit ridings that weren’t previously on her itinerary.

The polls reflect some of that. May has the highest approval rating of the leaders on the CBC’s Leader Meter.

Her party’s support has nearly doubled in the past year to close to 10 per cent, which would translate into anywhere from one to eight seats with four seats being the consensus prediction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5XFIb8P_Do?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

But the Greens have been here before. They polled at close to 10 per cent in 2010 long before the prospect of a dystopian future drove tens of thousands of Canadians into the streets last month.

Many of those marchers, like the climate strike’s founder Greta Thunberg, are too young to vote and are too young to be surveyed about voting intentions in Canada’s upcoming federal election.

As a politician, May laughingly told The Vancouver Sun’s editorial board that she should be talking about measuring for new curtains in the prime minister’s resident in anticipation of moving in.

But she’s a pragmatist and what is within reach in 2019 is holding the balance of power — or the balance of responsibility, as she describes it — in a minority government.

Unlike the B.C. Green party, May would make no deals to support either the Conservatives or the Liberals.

She’d use her few seats as a club to force the prime minister to either bend policies — especially on the environment — to something closer to the Greens’ platform or she’d bring down the government.

For many, the Greens’ plan is scary, requiring radical and fundamental changes to retool the Canadian economy, its social programs and even individuals’ expectations and habits.

May admits that.

By 2030, her plan would cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent from the 2005 levels, limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above global pre-industrial averages. Within a decade, a Green Canada would be fully powered by renewable energy.

Quoting an October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, May says it’s all do-able and that the needed technology already exists to avoid going above 1.5 degrees C.

Citing a National Research Council projection, the Greens’ platform says four million jobs would be created in energy efficiency retrofits compared with the 62,000 Canadians working in oil and gas in 2018.

But May admits some will disappear and talks about a “just transition” for workers that would include more education spending, bridging of some workers to early retirement and a guaranteed livable income, which would replace and build on disability payments, social assistance and income supplements.

“It’s a tough choice and I’m not saying that people will never sacrifice,” May said. “But we’re talking about whether our children are able to have anything above a deteriorating human civilization all around them …

“A functioning human civilization is at risk within the lifetime of my daughter to be able to have basic elements of a functioning human society.”

But if the Greens hold the balance of power in a post-Oct. 21 Parliament, it’s not just the environmental agenda that may influence new legislation.

May frequently references the 1960s minority government of Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson that with support of the NDP (then named the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation), which resulted in universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, unemployment insurance and the flag (which, bizarrely, was the most controversial).

So beyond an improved climate plan, what do the Greens want? Proportional representation rather than a first-past-the-post voting system has always been high on its list both federally and provincially. The Liberals promised it in 2015 and reneged. A Liberal minority government might be willing to rethink that.

The Greens’ platform calls for decriminalization of drug possession and access to “a safe, screened supply.” The Conservatives have resolutely said no, while the Liberals have said no for now.

May is actively supporting Wilson-Raybould’s bid to win re-election as an Independent in Vancouver-Granville. Wilson-Raybould was forced out of the Liberal Party after she publicly accused Justin Trudeau and his staff of inappropriately pressuring her to stop the prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The only reason there is a Green candidate in that riding is because running the party’s constitution requires one in every federal riding.

But would May be willing to bring down the new government — Liberal or Conservative — if it agreed to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement?

May could play a pivotal role in forging a better response to the climate emergency and even help return Canada to a leadership role if she can muster the kind of patience, diplomacy and intelligence that NDP leader Tommy Douglas exercised in the 1960s.

And if she can’t? Well, we’ll have another election sooner rather than later and by then, at least some of those climate-striking kids will have reached voting age.

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3Oct

Election 2019: Where the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens stand on 12 key issues for B.C.

by admin

A federal election 2019 platform primer: Brief summaries of where the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens stand on 12 major issues, and highlights of what they are promising Canadians.


Tens of thousands of people concerned about the state of the Earth’s climate converged on Vancouver City Hall on Sept. 27.

Jason Payne /

Postmedia News

Climate change/carbon tax/fossil fuels

Liberals

The Liberals commit to planting two billion trees in a $3 billion plan to conserve forests, agricultural lands, wetlands and coastal areas. They promise carbon neutrality — balancing emissions against carbon offsets —  by 2050 and to halve taxes for companies that develop or manufacture products with zero emissions. They propose interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to make homes more energy efficient and a grant for people who buy carbon neutral homes. They plan to send disadvantaged kids to camp so they’ll learn to love the outdoors.

Conservatives

The Conservatives promise to meet Canada’s Paris commitment to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but provide few specifics. They would scrap the carbon tax. They believe Canada would make little impact on climate change by reducing emissions at home, so would make Canadian oil and gas cleaner to replace dirtier products from other countries. The parliamentary budget office says the party’s green homes tax credit for energy-saving renovations would cost $1.8 billion over three years.

NDP

The NDP promises to help stabilize the global temperature rise to 1.5 C. It would continue carbon pricing and will clamp down on big polluters. It would move government vehicles to electric by 2025. It would retrofit all housing stock in Canada by 2050, giving low-interest loans to homeowners. It says all new buildings would have net-zero emissions by 2030. It would power Canada with net carbon-free electricity by 2030. To pay for these steps, it would redirect the billions spent on oil and gas subsidies.

Greens

The Greens pledge $3.2 billion over five years to help keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 C. They would go beyond the Paris targets, promising a 60 per cent cut in carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, and to set emission limits and penalties for industries. By 2030, all of Canada’s electricity would come from renewable sources. The party would fund building retrofits and ensure new construction meets carbon neutral standards by 2030. It would reduce nitrogen fertilizers and support farmers to shift to regenerative farming.


Pipes destined for the Trans Mountain pipeline are moved by rail through Kamloops in June.

Gerry Kahrmann /

PNG

Trans Mountain pipeline

Liberals

Leader Justin Trudeau made a bargain on the environment and the economy: Cancel the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, approve the Trans Mountain expansion, create a national carbon tax and get concessions from Alberta, including phasing out coal energy and capping oilsands emissions. In 2018, Trudeau bought Trans Mountain for $4.5 billion. A second approval for pipeline expansion was given in June. Said Trudeau: “We need to create wealth today so we can invest in the future.”

Conservatives

Leader Andrew Scheer supports the Trans Mountain expansion. But more is needed to encourage oil and gas projects, say Conservatives. That includes repealing the carbon tax and Bill C-69, which overhauled federal environmental assessments of major construction projects, and ending the ban on shipping oil on the B.C. north coast. Scheer would use federal powers to declare a major project in the national interest. Criticizing the Liberal approach, Scheer said: “Not a single inch of new pipeline has been laid.”

NDP

Leader Jagmeet Singh wants the Trans Mountain expansion abandoned, saying it will undermine efforts to fight climate change. The NDP also worry about ocean spill risks. Approval of the project ignores violations of Indigenous rights, says the party. In criticizing Liberal approval of the project, Singh said: “While they’re great with symbolic gestures like voting for a climate change emergency, they do the opposite of helping the environment the very next day with the approval of this pipeline expansion.”

Greens

Green leader Elizabeth May was arrested in Burnaby in 2018 for protesting the Trans Mountain expansion. “The commitment to build a pipeline in 2018, when we are in climate crisis, is a crime against future generations and I will not be part of it,” said May. The Greens would cancel the project. The party would cut subsidies to fossil fuel industries of several billion dollars a year and would redirect the money toward a transition to renewable energy.


Redevelopment work at Heather Place, an affordable housing project in Vancouver, in September.

Gerry Kahrmann /

Postmedia News

Affordable housing 

Liberals

The Liberals promise to help people with annual incomes below $120,000 (and up to $150,000 in high-cost areas such as Vancouver) by taking up to 10 per cent off the price of a home with the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, budgeted at $1.25 billion over three years. This applies to homes up to $789,000 in expensive regions such as Vancouver. The party promises a national anti-speculation tax of one per cent on non-resident, foreign owners; it’s estimated to create revenue of $940 million over four years.

Conservatives

The party promises to change the Liberals’ mortgage stress test to ensure first-time homebuyers aren’t unnecessarily prevented from getting mortgages, and to work toward removing the stress test from mortgage renewals. It would increase amortization periods on insured mortgages to 30 years for first-time homebuyers to lower monthly payments, make surplus federal real estate available for development to increase the supply of housing, and hold a $20-million inquiry into money laundering in the real estate sector.

NDP

The NDP promises to create 500,000 units of affordable rental housing in the next 10 years, financed by $5 billion in the first 18 months of government, and also to create “fast-start funds” to help communities build co-ops, social, and non-profit housing. It would waive the federal GST on construction of new rentals; reintroduce 30-year terms to CMHC-insured mortgages on entry-level homes; double the homebuyer’s tax credit to $1,500; put a foreign buyer’s tax on sales to non-Canadians.

Greens

The Greens would make housing a fundamental human right, and work with provinces to build 25,000 new rental homes and 15,000 rehabilitated units annually for the next 10 years. They promise to: boost funding for new builds by $750 million and for rent assistance by $750 million to help 125,000 rental households; better support provincial and municipal housing projects; provide financing to non-profits to expand housing for seniors, people with special needs and low-income families; restore tax incentives for building rental housing.


Children at the Novaco Daycare in North Vancouver- Ma visit Novaco Daycare in North Vancouver in May.

Jason Payne /

Postmedia News

Child care 

Liberals

Liberals promise to improve the accessibility to and affordability of before- and after-school care for kids in elementary school. The party says it has created thousands of new preschool child care spaces and would create up to 250,000 more for kids ages five to 10. It would improve child care hours for people who work overtime or late shifts. It promises to reduce fees 10 per cent, which could save a family of four around $800 annually. The party has promised new funding of $535 million a year.

Conservatives

The party has not made any campaign announcements about child care. It has promised to make maternity benefits tax-free, which could save an average Canadian $4,000 a year. It would reintroduce a children’s fitness tax credit, allowing parents to claim up to $1,000 a child annually for sports, and a children’s arts and learning tax credit, allowing parents to claim up to $500. The budget office says this would cost $616 million in its first year, increasing annually.

NDP

The NDP would enshrine in law a commitment to high-quality public child care. The party notes provinces such as Quebec, B.C. and Alberta have made investments in child care and it promises to “build on that work” by investing $1 billion in 2020 and growing that investment annually, in conjunction with provinces and territories. It gave no specifics for the number of spaces planned, but said affordable child care helps the economy by allowing parents to work.

Greens

The Greens say universal child care is crucial for women’s equality and promise to increase funding to at least one per cent of GDP annually, adding an additional $1 billion each year until this level is reached. The party did not say the number of new spaces it would create. It would eliminate GST on construction of new child care spaces. The party plans to boost early educator jobs, locate new facilities along transit routes and strengthen parental leave benefits.


B.C. launched a review of money laundering controls at casinos in 2017.

Francis Georgian /

Postmedia News

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Money laundering

Liberals

In this year’s budget, the Liberals promised $70 million over five years to create a money-laundering task force and support financial intelligence gathering. Another $68.9 million over the next five years was earmarked to strengthen policing. The Liberals also amended the Criminal Code this year to make it easier to prove money laundering. “This is a real problem we are taking seriously,” Trudeau said following a B.C. report that estimated laundering at $46.7 billion in Canada.

Conservatives

Scheer announced that his party would launch a national money-laundering inquiry to “root out” corrupt practices that inflate housing prices. About $20 million would be budgeted for the two-year inquiry, meant to produce recommendations for regulatory and legislative changes and extra enforcement. The inquiry would be able to compel testimony and order disclosure. “We believe this will get to the bottom of the shadowy practices that are going on,” said Scheer.

NDP

The NDP announced it would launch a national inquiry to determine why there hasn’t been sufficient investigation into a criminal activity that is “so widespread.” The NDP would create an RCMP anti-money-laundering unit supported with $20 million a year, with $10 million of that earmarked for B.C. The NDP would work with provinces to create a registry to increase transparency about who owns properties. “This is a direct issue the federal government can play a massive role in flagging, identifying and in ending,” said Singh.

Greens

The Greens are calling for a public inquiry into what the RCMP and other agencies knew about money laundering in B.C. casinos and why they did not expose the corruption. In the House of Commons this year, May said: “What did the RCMP know, why did they turn a blind eye and are we looking into it?” The party says a crackdown is needed on financial crime, suggesting a special RCMP unit and more resources for investigations and prosecutions.


Pro-China protesters at a counter-rally outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver in August during a protest against allegations of police brutality in Hong Kong.

NICK PROCAYLO /

PNG

Canada-China relations

Liberals

The Liberals recently named Dominic Barton, a businessman with extensive experience in Asia, as Canada’s ambassador to China. They hope he will reset a relationship that collapsed following Canada’s detaining last December of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S., the arrest of two Canadian citizens in China a few days later and China’s blocking of important Canadian exports. Organizers of an election debate on foreign policy in September cancelled the event after Trudeau dropped out.

Conservatives

In response to China blocking Canadian exports, the Conservatives pledge to pull $250 million in funding from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is headquartered in Beijing. Scheer said he is against using Canadian tax dollars to build infrastructure in countries that China influences. He said the focus of the relationship between Canada and China should be on the two Canadians detained there, and that a reset in that relationship begins with a prime minister who stands up to China.

NDP

Jagmeet Singh is calling for the focus of the Canada-China relationship to be on the Canadians detained in China. He said trade with China has focused on free trade that doesn’t benefit workers. He described the Chinese ban on canola, pork and beef exports as being “unfairly targeted by China despite a lack of scientific evidence” and said China is punishing Canadian producers over a diplomatic disagreement. He has called for the Liberals to protect Canadian workers.

Greens

May has been critical of the Canada-China Investment Treaty brought in by the Conservatives in 2014. She has said it allows discriminatory practices towards Canadian enterprises and allows for “secret” government-to-government wrangling “in which China’s larger economic weight is likely to lead to all manner of concessions by our government.” The relationship “is imperilled by some rather large forces that are outside of our control. Donald Trump is poking China with a stick and creating a trade war. We’re caught in the middle.”


A treatment room in the emergency department at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Arlen Redekop /

PNG

Health care

Liberals

The Liberals promise to spend $6 billion over four years to ensure every Canadian has access to a family doctor or primary health care team. They would also set national standards for access to mental health services, expand access to home care and “take the critical next steps” toward universal pharmacare to include prescription drug coverage. They would increase funding for pediatric cancer research by $30 million in 2020 and create a national Institute for women’s health research to tackle gaps in care.

Conservatives

The Conservatives would continue the health care transfer to provinces and maintain the funding increase of at least three per cent a year. The party would spend $1.5 billion on MRI and CT machines. It would reduce the number of hours required per week on therapy to qualify for the disability tax credit to 10 from 14. The Conservatives have not pledged to introduce universal pharmacare and Scheer has said he doesn’t trust the Liberals to implement it.

NDP

The NDP would create a universal pharmacare program starting in late 2020 at a cost of $10 billion. The party would expand public dental care coverage to households making under $70,000, starting in 2020, and copayments for households earning $70,000-$90,000, at a cost of $560 million in the first year, $1.9 billion in the second year and up to $850 million after that. The NDP would fight efforts to privatize health care.

Greens

The Greens would change the federal-provincial Health Accord to base health transfer payments on demographics and needs in each province, rather than on GDP growth. The party would Introduce universal pharmacare and free dental care for low-income Canadians and would reduce drug patent protection periods. It would expand mental health and rehabilitation services and access to safe abortion services. It would improve health care for Indigenous Peoples by implementing calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Clients and workers at the Career Zone Youth Employment Centre in Vancouver in June.

Nick Procaylo /

Postmedia News

Jobs

Liberals

The Liberal’s platform on job creation focuses on supports to workers and supports for business. The promises to workers include guaranteed training for apprentices and $100 million in funding for skills upgrading, specifically for work in conducting energy audits, building retrofits and carbon-neutral home construction. To business, the party promises to cut in half corporate taxes for businesses in zero-emission industries, including renewable energy and zero-emission vehicles. It also plans to cut the cost of incorporating a small business.

Conservatives

The Conservatives’ platform includes creating a national energy corridor to carry oil, natural gas and electricity as a means to “create wealth, prosperity and opportunity” for Canadians. The party’s platform also plans support for small business by exempting spouses from new taxes on dividend payments from small businesses, reducing “red tape” in federal regulations by 25 per cent, and enforcing a rule to cut two old regulations for every new regulation introduced on business.

NDP

The NDP ties its goal to reduce carbon emissions to its promise to create jobs, estimating that clean energy, sustainable infrastructure and energy-efficient buildings will create 300,000 new jobs. Forestry is singled out, both for the role of forests in climate health and the source of jobs that support rural communities. The party promises to support innovation in value-added manufacturing of forest products and reforestation. It would allow workers to qualify for employment insurance after quitting work to return to school.

Greens

Acknowledging job losses in oil and gas production while phasing out fossil fuels, the Greens vow a “just transition” for workers from those sectors into renewable energy and in construction for energy-efficiency retrofits of buildings. The plan includes a fund to support training and a community benefit strategy to maximize local hiring and purchasing. May has also proposed a “robot tax” that employers would pay when they replace workers with artificial intelligence, with the revenue used to retrain workers.


Marchers in the Parade of Action on the Overdose Crisis in Vancouver in April.

Jason Payne /

PNG

Drug policy/opioid overdose epidemic

Liberals

The Liberals pledge $700 million in additional funding between 2020 and 2014 to expand access to drug treatment and to combat opioid and meth addictions. The party will help provinces expand community-based services, build more in-patient rehab beds, and “scale up the most effective programs” — such as extending hours for Vancouver’s Insite and other safe consumption sites. It will also make drug treatment court the default option for first-time non-violent offenders charged exclusively with simple possession, to help drug users get quick access to treatment.

Conservatives

A spokeswoman said the party has not yet released its policy, but will “in the coming weeks.” On the campaign trail, leader Andrew Scheer has criticized the Liberals for expanding supervised-injection sites without properly consulting communities. He has told reporters that a Conservative drug policy would focus on getting people off drugs, not “maintaining” a life of addiction. The former Conservative government tried unsuccessfully to have Vancouver’s Insite shut down.

NDP

The NDP promises to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency and to work with governments and experts to end “the criminalization and stigma of drug addiction” so people can get help without fear of arrest. The party supports overdose-prevention sites. It would expand access to treatment on demand, launch an investigation into the role of drug companies in opioid overdoses and seek financial compensation for the public costs of the crisis, and “get tough” on traffickers. The platform provides no cost estimates.

Greens

The Greens promise $100 million annually to respond to the opioid crisis, plus $1 billion annually for treatment that includes mental health and addictions. The party’s platform promises to declare a national health emergency, plus “Recognize that fentanyl contamination is why deaths are more accurately described as poisonings than overdoses. Drug possession should be decriminalized, ensuring people have access to a screened supply and the medical support they need. … Increase funding to community-based organizations to test drugs and make naloxone kits widely available.”


Renderings for the proposed Surrey Langley SkyTrain extension.

Submitted /

Postmedia News

Transportation/infrastructure

Liberals

The Liberals say they will create a national infrastructure fund to support yet-to-be-determined “major nation-building projects.” They would make permanent the federal commitment to fund public transit, and put in an additional $3 billion a year in stable funding on top of gas tax transfers, and require that new federal investments in public transit are used to support zero-emission buses and rail starting in 2023. They would also support the transition to zero-emission fleets for school and transit buses, and encourage businesses to convert their fleets.

Conservatives

The Conservatives have committed to ensuring promised infrastructure projects will proceed, with top priority to infrastructure projects that shorten commute times, like the George Massey Tunnel replacement. They would scrap the $35-billion Canada Infrastructure Bank. They would reintroduce a transit tax credit similar to the one ended in 2017, which will apply to monthly and weekly passes, and some electronic fare cards. It’s estimated that over 10 years, the tax credit will cost the government $2.2 billion.

NDP

The NDP would introduce a permanent funding mechanism for public transit. It wants to electrify transit and municipal vehicles by 2030, expand rail service, work with provinces and municipalities toward “fare-free transit” and re-establish rural bus routes formerly covered by Greyhound and expand bus service in rural regions. It would use community benefit agreements for infrastructure projects. To encourage zero-emission vehicle adoption, it would extend federal incentives for vehicles and chargers, waive federal taxes on purchases and expand charging networks.

Greens

The Greens would develop a national transportation strategy with the goal of reaching zero-carbon public transportation — rail, light rail and electric buses — across Canada by 2040, and revamp the Canada Infrastructure Bank. They would ban the sale of internal combustion engine passenger vehicles by 2030, require all passenger ferries to convert to electric or hybrid by 2030, exempt new and used zero-emission vehicles from federal sales tax, expand charging stations, implement a passenger rail transportation policy, create a cycling and walking infrastructure fund, and develop “green freight transport program.”


Gas and auto insurance are among many living expenses on a steep rise in B.C.

Nick Procaylo /

Postmedia News

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Cost of living

Liberals

The Liberal plan is to reduce personal income taxes by raising the personal exemption to $15,000 from $12,069, saving the average Canadian $292 and the average middle-class family $585. The party takes aim at cellphone bills, promising that increased competition would reduce them 25 per cent and threatening regulation if that doesn’t happen. The party would increase student grants by $1,200, to reach $4,200 a year. The party’s promises to seniors include increasing old-age-security payments by 10 per cent.

Conservatives

The Conservatives’ tax plan aims straight at cutting the lowest-bracket tax rate to 13.75 per cent from 15 per cent, which the party bills as its “universal tax cut,” saying it will save as much as $440 for individuals or $850 for a two-income family. The party’s plan also includes increasing Registered Education Savings Plan grants to $750 a year from $500 and reviving tax credits for expenses on children’s arts and sports programs and commuter transit passes.

NDP

The NDP platform doesn’t include promises to cut taxes but it does seek to reduce cellphone and internet bills and to make post-secondary education more affordable. The party would require carriers to introduce basic internet and cellphone plans, and would order caps on phone and internet bills. The NDP would cap and reduce post-secondary tuition and would eliminate interest on student loans and increase access to student grants. It would work toward making post-secondary education part of the public system.

Greens

The Greens call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and a “guaranteed livable income” to replace supports such as disability and social assistance payments. The party’s affordability plan also promises universal access to post-secondary education. That means free tuition for Canadian students and forgiving existing student debts held by the federal government. For seniors, the party would increase the Canada Pension Plan’s target for income replacement to 50 per cent of pre-retirement income from 25 per cent.


Seven-year-old Kenji Kirby waves the flag as she attends a Canada Day citizenship ceremony with her mom and dad in Vancouver on July 1.

Arlen Redekop /

PNG

Immigration policy

Liberals

The Liberals would work with the U.S. to “modernize” the Safe Third Country Agreement. They would increase immigration to 350,000 a year by 2021 — up from 310,000 in 2018 — and would create a program to allow communities, chambers of commerce and labour councils to directly sponsor immigrants, with a minimum of 5,000 spaces. The party would make applying for Canadian citizenship free for permanent residents. 

Conservatives

The Conservatives would renegotiate the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugee claimants to request protection in the first safe country where they arrive. They would stop border crossings at unofficial points of entry. The Conservatives would improve language training and credential recognition so it is easier for immigrants to use their skills in Canada. The party would promote private sponsorships of refugees and prioritize “people facing true persecution.” They would set immigration levels “consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests.”

NDP

The NDP would suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. It would work with provinces to address gaps in settlement services and improve foreign credentials recognition. The NDP would end the cap on applications to sponsor parents and grandparents, and address backlogs that delay reunification. The party would regulate immigration consultants, give status to caregivers brought to Canada and expedite their reuniting with families. They would set immigration levels to “meet Canada’s labour force needs and recognize people’s experiences, contributions and ties to Canada.”

Greens

The Greens would terminate the Safe Third Country Agreement. The party would include “environmental refugee” as a refugee category. It would create a system to evaluate immigrants’ education to help them get accreditation and jobs. It would also eliminate the temporary foreign workers program, increase immigration to address labour shortages, process the estimated 200,000 people in Canada who don’t have official status, and regulate immigration consultants. The Greens have not announced immigration levels but would “attract immigrants and establish a system that is fair.”

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30Sep

B.C. teen vaping plan coming within the month, says minister

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B.C. will get an action plan to curb teen vape use within a month, says Health Minister Adrian Dix.


VICTORIA — B.C.’s plan to tackle the alarming increase in teen vaping and e-cigarette use will come within a month and likely include a new licensing system similar to tobacco sales, says the province’s health minister.

Adrian Dix said he is concerned by the rising number of cases across North America of youth who have suffered lung damage and other health problems after using e-cigarettes.

“We’re going to act soon,” Dix said Monday. “I think it’s a serious situation. We’re disappointed, despite our considerable efforts, that the federal government didn’t act before the election. But we remain optimistic they will (act). People expect us to act very soon and we will lay out our plan certainly within the next month.”

Although B.C.’s fall legislative session begins next week, the government does not necessarily need a new law, said Dix.

Instead, cabinet could change regulations under a 2015 law that made it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 19, he said. That could be accompanied by public health advertising campaign.

“We need to restrict certain kinds of vaping products, that’s pretty clear,” he said. “We need to raise the standard of vaping products, we need to address issues collectively, the federal and provincial government around advertising, because we need to ensure people understand the risks of vaping — that harm reduction may still mean harm, and if you aren’t a smoker, you shouldn’t vaping.”

There are roughly 90,000 businesses in B.C. currently selling e-cigarettes and vape products, including local corner stores, convenience stores and gas stations. They do not require a license, and health inspectors are stretched thin to catch anyone selling illegally to minors.

A government licensing program would bring the number of retailers down closer to the 6,000 B.C. stores licensed to sell tobacco, with the addition of extra licenses available for dedicated legal vaping stores and cannabis outlets, said Dix.

Governments across Canada and the U.S. are wrestling with the rise of teen vaping, as well as the wide variety of flavoured vape juices that appear designed to appeal to young children.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that usually contain nicotine-infused liquid, which is combined with vapour when the user inhales. They have been marketed as a way to reduce cigarette addiction, but an increase in lung problems recently has caused some states, like Michigan and most recently Washington State, to ban flavoured vape juice.

Dix said the federal government has draft regulations on e-cigarette standards and flavours, and he hopes Ottawa will enact a national standard quickly.

Opposition Liberal critic Todd Stone, who brought in a private member’s bill earlier this year on flavoured e-cigarettes, said he is frustrated that B.C. is taking so long.

“The strongest action we could take is to ban that flavoured juice,” he said. Stone suggested limiting sales to vape shops, tobacco stores and pharmacies.

“This is a public health crisis that has really only emerged in the last 18 to 24 months,” he said. “It’s really come on fast and it’s getting worse by the day. I don’t take much comfort at all in waiting for Ottawa to act.”

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27Sep

Climate top-of-agenda on last day of Union of B.C. Municipalities conference

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Premier John Horgan on the Rural Dividend Fund: “I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid I always wanted everything right now too and I ended up turning out OK even though I didn’t get everything I wanted at the time I wanted.”


Jason Payne / PNG

Climate change was top-of-mind for delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference, who passed a series of resolutions calling for everything from more government action on the climate emergency and stopping subsidies to fossil-fuel companies, to investments in low-emission transportation.

“The work that UBCM has been doing when it comes to climate change is really, really provocative, and I think at this time when we see tens-of-thousands — in fact millions — of people coming together, mostly young people, it’s great to see leadership like that at the local government level,” Premier John Horgan said after his closing address at the convention Friday.

However, delegates decided not to urge the province to come up with legislation that holds fossil-fuel companies financially liable for climate-related harms, with some calling it divisive and asking instead for politicians to work together.

A resolution asking the UBCM to look at a class-action lawsuit on behalf of members to recover costs arising from climate-change from fossil-fuel companies was withdrawn because a Vancouver lawyer is preparing a legal opinion with options for local governments free-of-charge.

With ride-hailing vehicles expected to hit the road before the end of the year delegates decided against urging the UBCM to oppose the Passenger Transportation Board’s ride-hailing policies and ask for consultation about licensing requirements. The resolution was narrowly defeated, with 51.7 per cent opposed.

White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, whose city put forward the late resolution, said they’re not opposed to ride-hailing.

“It has to be a level playing field,” he said. “The taxi industry has been around a long, long time and done a wonderful service to communities throughout the province.”

However, a resolution that asks the province to come up with rules that make it easier to establish ride-hailing in small rural and remote communities — as well as other communities outside of the Lower Mainland — passed.

Enderby Coun. Brian Schreiner said his small city and others like it that don’t have taxis or transit would benefit from ride-hailing, but restrictions like the requirement for drivers to have a Class 4 licence will get in the way.

“We’re just looking for a level playing field for small communities to get involved with ride-sharing,” Schreiner said. “Yes, we do want it to be safe … but we just want to be able to get into the process.”

A last-minute resolution asked the UBCM to have the province reconsider its decision to divert $25 million from the Rural Dividend Fund to help communities affected by the mill closures and curtailments. It asked for the government to find another source of funding.

“We polled and talked to people right straight across B.C. and this was identified over-and-over again because small rural and remote and Indigenous communities cannot get dollars for their projects,” said Grace McGregor, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary director.

After the conference, Horgan said the money was reallocated because it was available and there was an urgent need. He reiterated that the program will continue at a later date.

“I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid I always wanted everything right now too and I ended up turning out OK even though I didn’t get everything I wanted at the time I wanted,” he said.

Delegates decided against asking the province to consider eliminating or reducing fines for those under age 18, and looking at restorative justice or community service for settling fare infractions by low-income people. However, they did endorse a call for free or further subsidized transit passes for those on income or disability assistance.

A late resolution from the City of Port Coquitlam asking the UBCM to end its practice of accepting sponsorship and facilitating receptions from foreign governments was referred to the union executive.

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13Sep

Municipalities back Vancouver motion to push Ottawa for safer drugs

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Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart joined Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service’s Capt. Jonathan Gormick to discuss the epidemic of drug-related deaths, at a press conference in Vancouver on Friday, September 6, 2019.


Jason Payne / PNG

Local governments across Canada will press the federal government to increase access to safer drugs, and declare a national health emergency in response to the fentanyl-driven overdose crisis, after a motion by Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was passed Friday.

Stewart’s motion, drafted with his overdose emergency task force, was approved by city council in July. Coun. Rebecca Bligh brought it to a Federation of Canadian Municipalities executive meeting this week.

The motion requires the federation to call on Ottawa to support health authorities, doctors, their professional colleges and provinces to “safely provide regulated opioids and other substances through a free and federally available Pharmacare program.”

The federation will also demand that the federal government declares a national public health emergency and provides exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so that cities and towns can run pilot programs which prioritize a move toward a “safe” drug supply.

Stewart said Friday that there was some division among the federation’s membership over the motion but it passed following an effective speech by Bligh. He hopes it will “shift the national dialogue toward a safe supply” during the federal election.

He wants the substances act exemptions to allow health professionals with a non-profit organization to distribute diacetylmorphine, which local research has shown can be an effective treatment for chronic, relapsing opioid dependence.

Stewart met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau two weeks ago and told him what Vancouver needs in order to replace fentanyl-tainted street drugs with a safer, regulated supply, he said.

“It was a private conversation but I can say that I left the conversation in good spirits,” Stewart said. “I was definitely heard and that was very important.”

Stewart said front line responders are fatigued, people are experiencing multiple overdoses and suffering brain injuries, and the city and province desperately need the federal government to step up.

“We’re going to have to take it to the next level here. We’re reducing overdose deaths but overdoses are increasing. Just not dying isn’t good enough,” he said.

“It’s got to be life and hope for people.”

Karen Ward, a drug user and advocate for others who use drugs, helped with the motion and was pleased the municipalities passed it.

“If a province is a bit hesitant, the idea is that this will give a city the power to take rapid action — and individual doctors, in fact,” she said.

“It’s a necessity to have safe supply at this point because the supply has become so contaminated everywhere.”

Ward said the federation can now send a clear message to Ottawa that municipalities want the power to treat the overdose crisis “like a real” public health emergency.

“This is one way to get them to talk about it, face it squarely and acknowledge this massive disaster, and say look, we need to change our (approach),” she said.

“We need to take it as seriously as possible. It’s a health issue. It’s also a justice issue.”

According to the federal government, there have been more than 9,000 apparent opioid-related deaths across the country since 2016.

Illicit drugs killed 1,533 people in B.C. in 2018 and 538 in the first half of 2019, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

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13Sep

Ian Mulgrew: Utah legal reform an example for B.C.

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The Law Society of B.C. could do well to look to Utah for advice on how to address the province’s access-to-justice crisis caused by legal services that are too pricey and the inequity that perpetuates.

The state has embarked on an ambitious, radical restructuring of its legal regulatory system to provide more affordable services and a regulator that protects the public rather than lawyers.

The promising initiative was the product of a recent blue-ribbon working-group report — Narrowing the Access-to-Justice Gap by Re-imagining Regulation — that maintained the delivery of legal services must be dramatically changed “to harness the power of entrepreneurship, capital, and machine learning in the legal arena.”

Gillian Hadfield, the Toronto-based legal guru, was part of the high-powered committee that made the ground-breaking recommendations, considered by those in the field as perhaps the most significant action to address the access gap in years.

The top-flight academic, who was in Vancouver proselytizing earlier this year, has long argued it’s time to end the monopoly enjoyed by lawyers and dismantle regulatory barriers to provide legal help that is affordable and accessible.

The Utah Supreme Court is putting those ideas into practice — shifting the paradigm from a system regulating for lawyers to one regulating to increase access to and affordability of legal services.

Utah has established state-wide pro bono efforts, made forms and filings more easily accessible online, established Licensed Paralegal Practitioners, and piloted an online dispute resolution model for small claims.

B.C. has done the same — although it is dragging its heels on giving paralegals any real scope — and each of these initiatives takes a step toward narrowing the access-to-justice gap.

Still, they have been not anywhere near enough.

Expanding pro bono, improving legal aid and making minor regulatory reforms have been inadequate while technological disruption has exacerbated and widened the gap.

Millions experience problems with domestic violence, veterans’ benefits, disability access, housing conditions, health care, debt collection, and other civil justice issues cannot afford legal services and are not eligible for assistance from the civil legal aid system.

In the 71-page report, the experts proposed a two-tracked remedy — loosen restrictions on how legal firms are financed so lawyers can compete and innovate but also provide room for people other than lawyers to provide legal services.

That means, for instance, getting rid of bans on lawyers fee-sharing with non-lawyers (say accountants) or allowing non-lawyers to own or invest in law firms.

At the moment, mixed business models are prohibited in most jurisdictions hindering lawyers from partnering with entrepreneurs.

Within days of receiving the report at the end of last month, the Utah Supreme Court — which has constitutional responsibility for the administration of justice — unanimously adopted its recommendations.

Other states, such as Arizona, California and Illinois are mulling similar proposals. California in July published proposals to allow fee-sharing, non-lawyer ownership and the greater use of non-lawyers.

Utah, however, is blazing the trail.

Since the turn of the century, the U.K. and North America have been dealing with sadly similar crises in their legal systems — an access-to-justice gap that threatens civil society.

All of the data confirm the legal system isn’t meeting the needs of the middle-class and poor.

The courts are clogged with confused litigants who can’t afford a lawyer and have no access to any other source of legal services because of the regulated monopoly the legal profession enjoys.

In 2007, the U.K. redesigned its regulatory apparatus to increase legal competition in the marketplace, which was already far more liberal than here.

It did not have prohibitions against the unauthorized practice of law and the legal monopoly was restricted to a half-dozen services; advertising restrictions and referral fees were lifted years ago; wills, representation at tribunals and the provision of other low-level legal services were not regulated.

The U.K. was focused on increasing competition, in North America the paramount concern is access to justice.

Medicine has become a team sport: doctors, nurses, radiologic technologists, pharmacists all play. The law should be similar.

In Utah, the new system will be driven by data, monitoring, assessment and analysis “to ensure consumers access to a well-developed, high-quality, innovative, and competitive market for legal sevices.”

The first phase will see the formation of a task force to propose rule changes, establish a “Phase 1 regulator” to oversee a “sandbox” of non-traditional legal services and prepare a final report for the structure of the “Phase 2 regulator.”

In the sandbox, lawyers, law firms and proposed businesses will work with the regulator to pilot new services or new ways of working that might break current rules but appear to be safe.

These trial-and-error experiments with the baby-step process to remove regulatory restrictions and ease the historic persistent inhibition on innovation, hopefully, will lead to the right way to regulate new services.

The state hopes that phase 2 will see “some form of an independent, non-profit regulator with delegated regulatory authority over some or all legal services.”

It will be independent of lawyers but answerable to the Supreme Court.

That will be a real transformation — a regulatory system designed to not maintain the status quo but to provide affordable legal services while protecting the public from unacceptable risk and harm.

Seems like a no-brainer.

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23Aug

Daphne Bramham: B.C. addictions minister targets province’s ‘wild, wild West’ recovery houses

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B.C. Addictions Minister Judy Darcy has no illusions about the current state of British Columbia’s recovery houses and the risk that the bad ones pose to anyone seeking safe, quality care.

Nor is she alone when she calls it “the wild, wild West.”

Anyone able to build a website and rent a house can operate a so-called recovery house. Like a game of whack-a-mole, even when inspectors try to shut down the worst ones, they spring up somewhere else.

That said, the regulations they’re supposed to enforce are so vaguely worded that it’s easier for bylaw inspectors to shut places down for garbage infractions than for failure to provide the most basic of services like food and a clean bed to people desperate for help.

Even the most deplorable ones have never been taken to court by the province, let alone fined or convicted which makes the penalties of up to $10,000 moot.

It’s taken two years, but this week Darcy — along with Health Minister Adrian Dix and Social Development Minister Shane Simpson — took the first steps toward bringing some order to the chaos and overturning years of neglect.

In two separate announcements, what they’re offering is both the stick of tighter regulations and enforcement as well as the carrot of more money for operations and training staff.

The carrots announced Friday include $4,000 grants available immediately to registered and licensed recovery home operators to offset the costs of training for staff before tougher regulations come into force on Dec. 1.

On Oct. 1, the per-diem rate paid for the treatment of people on social assistance will be raised after more than a decade without an increase. Recovery houses on the provincial registry will get a 17-per-cent increase to $35.90, while recovery houses licensed by the regional health authorities will jump to $45 from $40.

The sticks are new regulations that for the first time require things like qualified staff, which common sense should have dictated years ago as essential. Recovery houses will have to provide detailed information about what programs and services they offer. Again, this seems a no-brainer, as does requiring operators to develop personal service plans for each resident and support them as they transition out of residential care.

As for enforcement, the “incremental, remedial approach” to complaints has been scrapped and replaced with the power to take immediate action rather than waiting for a month and giving written notice to the operators.

Darcy is also among the first to admit that much, much more needs to be done to rein in bad operators whose purported treatment houses are flophouses and to provide addicts and their families with the resources they need to discern the good from the bad.

More than most, the minister knows the toll that poor funding and lack of regulation is taking both on addicts who seek help and on their loved ones. She’s haunted by meetings she’s had with the loved ones of those who have died in care and those who couldn’t get the services they needed.

“It’s the most difficult thing that I have to do and, of course, it moves me to my core,” she said in an interview following the announcement. “People say, ‘Do you ever get used to it?’ Of course I don’t. If you ever get used to it, you’re doing the wrong job.

“But I try and take that to drive me and to drive our government to do more and to move quickly and act on all fronts and having said that, there’s a lot to do. There’s really, really a lot to do.”

Among those she’s met are the two mothers of men who died within days of each other in December under deplorable conditions in two provincially registered recovery houses run by Step By Step.


B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy shares a laugh with Scott Kolodychuk, operations manager of Surrey’s Trilogy House One recovery home where Friday’s news conference was held.

Mike Bell /

PNG

It was four to six hours before 22-year-old Zach Plett’s body was found after he overdosed and died. On Christmas Eve, a 35-year-old man died at a different Step by Step house. It was two days before his body was found by other residents.

Two years before those men died, the provincial registrar had received dozens of complaints and issued dozens of non-compliances orders. Both houses remained on the registry until this summer when owner/operator Debbie Johnson voluntarily closed them.

After years of relentless advocacy Susan Sanderson, executive director of Realistic Recovery Society, was happy to host the ministers’ Friday announcement at one of its houses. She wants to believe Darcy that these are just first steps since the per-diem rate is still short of the $40 she and others lobbied for and remains a small fraction of what people who aren’t on welfare are charged — charges that can run up to $350 a day.

Having taken these long overdue and much-needed initial steps, maybe Darcy and her colleagues can take another logical next step to support working people getting access recovery who — without access to employee benefit plans — can’t afford the cost of treatment.

They shouldn’t have to wait until they’re destitute to get care, any more than someone on welfare should be deprived of help.

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9Aug

Committee recommends money for HandyDART, affordable transit fares in 2020 B.C. budget

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The HandyDART service made 1.3 million trips last year.


RICHARD LAM / PNG

Public transit could receive a boost in the next B.C. budget, if the provincial government heeds the advice of an all-party finance committee.

The select standing committee on finance and government, which conducted public consultations across B.C., released a report this week with more than 100 recommendations for the 2020 budget, including six for transit and transportation.

In the interest of making transit more accessible for people with disabilities, the committee said the province should increase funding to expand HandyDART, a door-to-door shared ride service.

“(The committee) acknowledged the importance of HandyDART for increasing accessibility and supporting inclusion,” the report said.

Beth McKellar, co-chair of the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance, said the recommendation is important because the service is in high demand and desperately needs more funding, despite Metro Vancouver’s regional transit authority having added more service.

HandyDART’s ridership has been on the rise for the past five years, and delivered 1.3 million trips in 2018.

“We’re just a wee tiny blip on the radar, but I’m pleased this all came out and I’m hoping that they do the right thing. I always have that little bit of hope,” McKellar said.

The committee made a similar recommendation for the 2019 budget, calling for “increased and sustained” funding for HandyDART services.

Although funding was allocated in the last budget to B.C. Transit to expand bus and HandyDART services in four communities over three years, Metro Vancouver was left out, to the dismay of advocates and the region’s mayors.

“It was good that the Island got it, that B.C. Transit got it, but we need it a lot more over here,” said McKellar.

In recent years, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council has argued that the province should help pay for HandyDART because the majority of trips are related to health services, such as dialysis, and said there should be a long-term, sustainable funding model for the service.

The committee also recommended that the province work with local governments and transit authorities “to explore new pricing mechanisms to help make public transit more accessible for youth and low-income families.”

“We think this is an excellent recommendation and we urge the government to follow through on it,” said Viveca Ellis, a community organizer for #AllOnBoard.

#AllOnBoard has advocated for free transit for all children and youth up to and including 18 years old, and a sliding-scale monthly pass system based on income for all transit systems in B.C.

“We know that affordability is an important part of our current government’s mandate, and as communities and many, many community members have brought forward to us transit is not affordable for many British Columbians,”

The Mayors’ Council has also discussed free transit for youths, but believes the province needs to be involved on the funding side to offset fare revenue losses. Victoria will offer free transit to all youths who live in the city in a pilot project starting in September.

On the transit side the committee also recommended working with public and private operators to address gaps in regional transportation services — particularly in rural and remote areas — and prioritizing faster deployment of electric buses in cities, including expensive charging infrastructure.

In the area of active transportation, the committee said the province should invest in walking and biking infrastructure, education and promotion, as well as eliminate provincial sales tax on electric bicycles.

In a statement the Ministry of Finance said it is “in the process of reviewing the report in detail and considers all proposals, including recommendations brought forward by this committee, during the yearly budget process.”

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26Jul

Daphne Bramham: Recovery homes’ dilemma: Trying to comply with regulations that have yet to be written

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After three years of operating two registered recovery houses, in January 2016 Cole Izsak found what he believed — and still believes — is the perfect place.

But before taking possession, the owner and executive-director of Back on Track Recovery applied to the provincial health ministry to essentially grandfather his operation and transfer the registration of one of his houses to the new site.

Because Back on Track has never had any substantiated complaints, he didn’t expect any problems and, a month later, shut the registered house and opened a four-plex now called The Fortress.

The next month, Izsak closed one of the two houses that were registered by the provincial government and moved to the new compound with internal, off-street parking at 9889-140th Street in Surrey.

He still wasn’t concerned when in May, the ministry said it was putting a hold on his application while both the province and Surrey were formulating new regulations.

Since then, it is rare that any of the 40 beds — two per bedroom in each of the five-bedroom houses — are empty.

While Back on Track continues to operate the one registered house, The Fortress remains unregistered, with only two of four business licenses that it needs.

For the last 2½ years, Surrey’s bylaw inspectors have been telling Izsak that unless all four houses at The Fortress get their provincial registry, the city can’t license the houses until the registration from the health ministry comes through, certifying that services offered meet its standards of care.

In mid-May, Back on Track and its residents were told that the licenses were being revoked and the four houses would have to close at the end of July. It has since been given a reprieve, pending a decision from the provincial registrar.

“If Mr. Izsak’s registration comes through, we’ll be prepared to do our own inspections for renewal or issuance of the licenses,” bylaw services manager Kim Marosevich said this week.

In late May, after Maggie Plett first spoke publicly about her son Zachary’s death at another Surrey recovery house called Step by Step, Addictions Minister Judy Darcy told News 1130, “We’re trying to make up for lost time over the past many, many years since the scandal started to break.

“But I would expect that we will have new, stronger regulations and enforcement in place by the end of the year.”

Throughout all of this, the government has paid Back on Track the $30.90 per diem that covers the cost of room, board and recovery services for each welfare recipient living there — a rate that has remained unchanged for 16 years.

Izsak doesn’t know why the ministry has yet to make a decision on his application. The mental health and addictions ministry has not yet responded to my questions about it.

On Tuesday, Izsak gave me a tour of the four neatly kept houses. He showed me the well-supplied pantry where residents are free to take whatever food they want and as much as they want. There is also an open-air gym and smoking lounge. Every room has a naloxone kit in case of an opioid overdose, and every few weeks, residents are given training on how to use them.

The half-dozen residents that I spoke to privately — including one who said he had been in at least 20 such facilities — said The Fortress is the best. They talked about feeling safe, well-cared for, and even loved.

Izsak makes no apology for not having more set programming in the houses.

“People who are coming off the street or out of prison are not going to surrender to eight hours of programs per day,” he said. “But what they will surrender to is coming to a place like this where they are fed well, have a clean bed, a TV, and programming from 9 a.m. until noon.”

He acknowledged that there are no certified counsellors or therapists working there. He devised a recovery program called MECCA based on his own experiences in recovery that is delivered by others who are in recovery.

Izsak also said he cannot afford to hire certified addictions counsellors and specialized therapists, as they do at recovery houses where monthly rates are anywhere from $3,000 to $9,000 a month.

Right now, registered facilities don’t require that, according to the registry’s website.

What’s required is that all staff and volunteers “must have the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities and training to perform their tasks and meet the health and safety of residents.”

Far from bridling at more regulations, Izsak has a long list of his own that he would like the province to enact to weed out bad operators.

It includes random site inspections, manager-on-duty logbooks documenting what happens every two hours from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., and a requirement that all operators provide their expense receipts.

After three recent deaths in recovery houses, Izsak is now a man on a mission.

“I want to close operations that are bad so that I’m not treated almost like a criminal because they acted unscrupulously.”

Of course, he first needs to save his own.

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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