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New Westminster tries a do-over

City Council forced to back down from a controversial attempt to forcibly convert condos to rental units.
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A residential neighbourhood in New Westminster

On Monday evening New Westminster City Council will be attempting a ‘do-over’ at their public hearing. After grudgingly having to admit they botched their Multi-Family Residential Rental Tenure Zoning by-law, they now need to reset the clock and start all over again.

You can learn more about the by-law in question by clicking here or here.

In short, council is attempting to strip away the private property rights – without compensation – of owners of stratified condo units.

They are essentially converting a number of condos into rental units by being the first municipality in BC to use new powers recently handed over to them by the provincial government.

One can only imagine the discussions that took place in the backroom District Labour Council Caucus meetings after they found out their rush job with the flawed by-law forced city staff to publicly admit they got it wrong from the outset.

In fact, the city is currently being sued by several of the owners and the entire sordid affair is being reviewed by a Supreme Court judge to see who is on the right side of the law. But yes, the city actually had to issue a media release in the middle of this court case indicating that “oops, we got this one wrong” and we will need to hold an entirely new public hearing to set the ship back on course.

Not only did city council mess up the by-law and put the city in legal jeopardy by attempting to “be the first out of the gate”…even the New West Record newspaper – which regularly gushes over the current crew governing the city – took the time to write an online finger wagging piece admonishing our civic politicians for goofing this up.

The DLC caucus surely must know it’s messed up when even the Record editorial team is distancing itself. On a side note – while the critical newspaper opinion piece made it online…to date, nothing has gone in their print edition – but this week’s paper has yet to hit doorsteps.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, New West Council Watch has obtained a copy of a confidential briefing note to NDP Housing Minister Selina Robinson that was very clear any attempt to trample on the rights of stratified property owners was a big No-No. Note the briefing note document has been heavily redacted so only a portion of the memo will ever be made public.

According to a memo prepared by the Minister’s staff discussing the new provincial legislation and how it could and should be used, they state:

“A guiding principle in drafting the amendments was to ensure that there was as little intrusion as possible into the property rights of individuals. To achieve this objective, the amendments set out that a rental zoning bylaw would not apply to an existing building that was stratified…” – Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing – September 17, 2018

I’m not sure if in their rush to get glowing news headlines about how they are champions for rental housing city council wasn’t aware their by-law was going against the spirit of the enabling provincial legislation…or if they simply chose to roll the dice and ignore the potential legal pitfalls. Regardless, this latest revelation from the briefing note prepared for Minister Robinson is yet another clear indication council is likely going to lose their court case.

If Mayor and council do end up on the losing side, this will not only be a big embarrassment for New West civic officials, it will also be a huge setback to the NDP government who thought they were handing their municipal brothers and sisters a no-cost tool to protect rental housing.

If the BC Supreme Court ends up determining the Royal City went too far in implementing the by-law and rule it null and void, rest assured that this new ‘tool in the toolbox’ will effectively be dead in the water throughout the Metro Vancouver region. Then it will all be up to Victoria to pick up the pieces and have a do-over of their own.

As for the public hearing next week, expect council – once again – to vote unanimously in support.

Download and read the briefing note here. 

Daniel Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer for a non-profit seniors care organization based in Burnaby. A former weekly civic affairs columnist for 24 Hours Newspaper, Fontaine has been a political commentator on Global TV and CKNW radio. In 2008 he co-founded one of Canada’s most popular civic affairs blogs. In 2012, Fontaine was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for public service.