Renters, transit users, overdose victims left in B.C. political limbo

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By: Metro Published on Thu Jun 15 2017 

Opioid overdoses, transit, the housing crisis: advocates for all those issues say they need immediate attention from a B.C. government still caught up in uncertainty over who will govern, and whether the province will soon head back to the polls.

“Every day that the Liberals delay allowing a new government to be formed, is a day that more people lose their homes,” said Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End. Herbert said he fields between five and 15 queries a week from constituents who are facing massive rent hikes or eviction because of loopholes in B.C.’s residential tenancy law that his party has promised to fix.

Following B.C.’s May 9 election, the B.C. Liberals ended up with the most seats, at 43. The B.C. NDP made a deal to bring down the government with the help of the Greens, an alliance the Liberals have been working hard to cast doubt on. If Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon does not believe the NDP and Greens can provide a stable government, she can call another election.

The Liberals are determined to go through the process of reconvening the legislature, naming a speaker, giving a throne speech and having up to six days of debate on that throne speech.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Finance Minister and house leader Mike de Jong said the Liberals are operating based on the “norms and conventions” set out in parliamentary guides (he carried with him three thick tomes to emphasize this).

“Our first priority is to present the throne speech and lay out an agenda for what we’d like to do,” De Jong said.

De Jong said the Liberals will appoint a speaker from their own caucus, but if they do lose a vote of confidence and the Lieutenant Governor allows the NDP to form government with the support of the Greens, the Liberals will not provide a speaker, a role that normally doesn’t vote unless there is a tie.

As to the complaints that government isn’t reconvening fast enough, De Jong said the legislature is not meeting any later than it normally does after other May elections.

De Jong said the government does have the resources necessary to respond to situations like the fentanyl overdose crisis, which is now killing over 100 people every month in steadily increasing numbers.

The B.C. NDP, in their four-year co-operation pact with Greens, agreed to task a “dedicated minister responsible” for a mental health and addiction strategy, vowing the ministry would have “sufficient funding to provide frontline services, including … supervised injection sites.” They also promised an “immediate response” to the overdose crisis based on “successful programs” for on-demand addictions treatment, drug substitution therapy and more “early-warning” monitoring systems in health care.

Those promises align closely with what health authorities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Vancouver Police Department have all called for.

While no such bold policy shifts will happen under the current “caretaker” government, “on issues of critical importance, there is a government in place and those issues do get…operational attention,” de Jong said.

And the budget money is in place so that, if necessary, services can expand, de Jong added.