Metro Vancouver residents don’t often hear splashy announcements about underground infrastructure, sewer and water systems, because it is not all that sexy and often taken for granted.
However, more than a century go, it was the talk of the town. The region’s population was booming and inadequate sewer systems resulted in typhoid outbreaks and beach pollution. This led several metro municipalities to come together to develop a long-term strategy to fund, build and maintain infrastructure we use all day, every day.
While we have more sophisticated infrastructure today, the challenges remain exactly the same as they did more than 100 years ago. We have a rapidly growing population, greatly influenced by federal immigration targets, that requires additional housing and an equally rapid expansion of water and sewer infrastructure.
The Metro Vancouver region is expected to grow by over 1 million people over the next 30 years and we anticipate $11.5 billion in growth-related sewer and water infrastructure.
Compounding the problem is a housing and overall affordability crisis – issues that capture headlines.
Federal and provincial governments, along with opposition parties, are desperately trying to address the solving crisis and are turning to local governments to deliver more housing, more quickly.
In British Columbia, the provincial government set housing targets for 10 municipalities (noting this is just the beginning with more municipalities to come). Something I agree with.
Nationally, the federal government launched the Housing Accelerator Fund to incent local governments to increase housing supply and deliver more affordable housing. As these applications are being approved, federal conditions include asks for increased density in traditionally low-density neighbourhoods.
I do not take issue with the greater engagement of provincial and federal governments – setting policy targets and including conditions on grants are not new tools. I have spoken to MPs and MLAs from all sides about this. Nor do I take issue with the fact that municipalities, including my own, need to enable greater density and approve new homes faster. We are working to do just that.
That said, municipalities manage more than 60 per cent of Canada’s public infrastructure. Much of that infrastructure is aging, must be replaced and greatly expanded to meet never before seen population growth and housing densification.
In recent weeks, Metro Vancouver, your regional government responsible for your sewer system, clean water supply, air quality monitoring, regional parks and affordable housing, has been the subject of much discussion and scrutiny over proposed development cost charges*. The guiding principle behind DCCs is that growth pays for growth; they are designed to recover capital costs associated with residential growth from developers so current residents don’t have to pay.
Metro Vancouver, along with Translink and all municipalities levy funds related to new development and forecasted infrastructure needs. The alternative is to fund these infrastructure needs by increasing ratepayers utilities bills or undertake longer-term borrowing to be paid by the next generation. In both scenarios – it is residents – working families and people that pay more. In the midst of an affordability crisis and an all-time inflationary environment, these costs add up and have a cumulative impact on households.
And all the while, municipal governments are reliant on a 19th century property tax system to fund 21st century infrastructure needs that far exceed the roads and sanitation of days past. Local governments are dealing with almost century old infrastructure that needs replacement and new infrastructure in the face of issues like climate change. You need only look at the King tides of 2022 that destroyed parts of the Stanley Park Seawall or the 2021 flooding of the Fraser Valley to appreciate the modern day issues facing cities.
Building new housing quickly is crucial in an environment where too many residents can’t find an affordable home. But municipalities can only approve new developments if new and existing infrastructure is built and maintained. Here’s the brass tacks: You can’t move into a new home without a working toilet or running water.
Local governments rely heavily on provincial and federal dollars for capital infrastructure, and we are grateful for what we receive. However, it is not enough and likely will never be enough. Other levels of government who have greater taxation and revenue powers also need to respect local government’s autonomy to address the gap through their own revenue tools.
Moreover, we need to continue the dialogue on municipal finance reform. Both the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) have called for new frameworks to address community infrastructure needs, including sharing in provincial/territorial sales tax revenues.
Let’s continue this work in a pragmatic, non-political way and advance a new approach so all levels of government can better work together to solve the challenges people elected us to do.
*** After writing this blog, the federal Housing minister requested Metro Vancouver delay implementation of the DCCs and consider additional waivers for non-market rental projects. I thought these were reasonable asks in the interest of housing affordability concerns and working together. I moved a motion at our November 27th board meeting to delay enactment of the DCCs by 12 months. This motion was defeated. However, Metro Vancouver has committed to continue economic analysis of the DCCs, report to the provincial and federal governments annually, and explore additional waivers for rental projects.
Lisa Dominato is a two-term Metro Vancouver Regional Director and Vancouver City Councillor with a background in public policy. She is also a Board Director with Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
I can be trusted to lead with integrity and common sense. I listen, bring people together and focus on getting results. I work directly with residents and businesses who reach out to me looking for help. I will continue to focus on cutting red tape and transforming city services so residents and businesses can thrive and make Vancouver home.
I represent the diverse interests of Vancouverites on critical issues like housing and homelessness, affordability, safe and inclusive neighbourhoods, public spaces, core services and resilient infrastructure.
I am committed to fostering a culture of service excellence at city hall where we put serving people and outcomes first.
Enabling Housing Options and Improving Affordability
- Pushed for missing middle housing to add gentle density to our neighbourhoods so families can stay in Vancouver and newcomers can make Vancouver home.
- Led transformation of the permit system to expedite permits to build and renovate homes.
- Secured support for expanded youth housing options so that young people who age out of ministry care transition into secure and affordable housing.
- Approved a range of housing options and policies from affordable home ownership and rental to non-market and co-op housing.
- Built on my experience serving in the non-profit housing sector to advocate for co-op housing lease renewals, security for residents of False Creek South, reducing red tape to ease pressure on our housing system, a faster laneway home permit process, and more.
Standing for Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability
- Supported efforts to create a independent Auditor General, and was part of the selection committee to choose Vancouver’s first Auditor General to increase transparency, accountability and efficiency in the City’s programs and services.
- Pushed for increased planning and transparency around the annual budget process.
- Consistently opposed exorbitant property tax increases that do not prioritize core services.
- Brought forward measures to improve accountability and transparency of Council.
Supporting Small Business and the Local Economy
- Approved a 3 year tax shift from commercial to residential properties to support small businesses.
- Transformed the permit and license system to expedite both permits and business licenses.
- Advocated for split assessment to address the ongoing pressure of highest and best development on small businesses.
- Supported policy to enable walkable neighbourhoods including retail space in new buildings, activation of public spaces, pop-up kitchens and retail, outdoor patios and BIAs.
- Advocated for a Night Economy strategy.
Amplifying Safe and Inclusive Neighbourhoods
- Consistently supported front line public safety including police, fire and Vancouver Emergency Management Services to ensure we have safe and inclusive neighborhoods.
- Pushed for safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists through a public facing portal for street improvements like pedestrian crossings and a more efficient reporting system for light outages.
- Approved new park acquisitions and investments, more outdoor eating and entertainment spaces, and more pedestrian-friendly streets.
- Collaborated to address proliferation of graffiti by awarding grants to BIAs and calling for a new enforcement system.
- Led the charge for a new PNE amphitheater that will create jobs and a wide range of fun festivals and events when it opens in 2026.
Prioritizing Reliable Services and Resilient Infrastructure
- Pushed for improved city services in the areas of permit and license applications, resident queries and navigation for services.
- Supported climate mitigation measures including green buildings policy, natural climate solutions, regional solutions to congestion, accelerated sewer separation, shifts to more renewable energy resources, and local EV infrastructure.
- Supported and advocated for increased investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure including maintenance of sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, lighting, and bridge upgrades like the Granville Street bridge.
- Consistently supported city services such as increased street cleaning and graffiti removal.
- Supported public transit expansion, including the Broadway Line to UBC.
My recent comments on public safety in and around downtown. Mike Smyth Show – 980 CKNW. October 5, 2021.
In recent months there have been growing concerns about public safety in downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods. Residents and businesses alike are asking – what can be done and what are we doing to ensure the city is safe and inclusive for all residents?
We’re writing this letter to tell you – we hear you, we share your concerns, and we are taking steps to address them. This means:
- Supporting and appropriately funding our police force so they can respond to emergencies as well as proactively address vandalism, crime and safety issues;
- Increasing police presence and patrols in affected neighbourhoods;
- Continuing to advocate strongly for Provincial support of:
- More wraparound services for people in need, including mental health and addiction treatment and recovery options
- A complex care housing system that provides services for people who are falling through the cracks in the current supportive housing model
- On site supportive services in dedicated social housing projects
- Ensuring police officers are trained in de-escalation, trauma informed response, conflict resolution and anti-racism;
- Supporting de-escalation information and resources.
During last year’s budget debate, we opposed deep cuts to the police budget, and fought to support the Vancouver Police Board endorsed budget, which would have made some of these actions possible.
Police and fire are critical services – services that have changed with the times and need to continue to evolve to effectively serve our communities.
The Province has recognized this, and is currently undertaking an important review of the Police Act. Recommendations from the review are expected next Spring. We can expect those recommendations to consider a more health-centered response to mental health and addiction crises. And we need to be open to exploring new approaches to an opioid crisis that takes more lives daily and annually than the Covid-19 pandemic has.
Meanwhile the fact remains that we do not have an alternative framework for effectively or safely responding to the myriad of issues that are playing out on our streets. We need to concurrently support and fund our police force so they can serve our collective interest in a city where everyone feels safe to live and work.
Like many organizations, police forces need to look inwards and address systemic racism and biases. Knee jerk moves to defund the police are not the answer. Thoughtful and planned systems change is the only way to address public safety, and to adapt services to respond to the mental health and addiction related crises playing out on our streets and in our neighbourhoods.
Through the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) Conference this week, we are actively meeting with Provincial Ministers including the Ministers of Public Safety, Housing, and Mental Health. These issues are top priorities for our discussions, and will continue to be our focus to bring solutions forward working with the different levels of government to address these critical and complex challenges.
We encourage the Mayor and Council to come together and have a real discussion about the critical issue of public safety in the city. While the Province continues its cross-ministry work on issues related to mental health, addictions, and complex care housing, we cannot simply sit and wait. Our mandate as local government is to work effectively with police and ensure public safety.
Like many cities around the world, the city is striving to reduce GHG emissions from buildings and vehicles to address our changing climate. There is no denying the science that points to climate change and at a city level buildings and combustion vehicles are the biggest emitters. To this end, last fall Vancouver City Council passed a series of recommendations to help reduce these emissions. As a mom of two young daughters, I care about their future and the world they will inherit. This is why I supported many of the recommendations to reduce our carbon emissions; however, I took issue with the approach to mobility pricing and citywide parking.
The issue that dominated the discussions was the proposed Metro Core transport pricing framework. And while congestion pricing is likely the way of the future for the lower mainland due to our growing population, I was opposed to a Vancouver only approach that red-circled our downtown core. The independent commission on mobility pricing was clear that a regional approach is essential to a successful transport pricing framework and that revenues should be reinvested in public transit to enable people to make different choices. Neither of these ingredients were part of the transport pricing framework proposed by city staff. There was no economic impact analysis to look at the implications for small businesses in and around the downtown core, nor to consider the current pandemic. While this issue will be studied further by city staff as a result of a last minute amendment, we would be wise to wait and see the results of Translink’s Transport 2050 report due later this year and focus on a regional approach.
Two issues that got little or no attention in last fall’s staff report were a proposed citywide parking permit program and the proposed expansion of electric vehicle charging stations.
The proposed citywide parking permit would impose not only a parking permit system, but also a non-market rate fee for drivers who park their cars on residential streets. This parking program would include market rate fees in later years, such as the West End currently has in place to manage curbside use ($400/year). The rationale for the proposal was that it would help reduce the number of vehicles in the city and allow us to use the curbside differently.
Staff presented a technical briefing today of what such a program could look like: a citywide street parking permit of $45/year, plus a carbon surcharge for newer, combustion vehicles ($500 – $1,000/year) and an overnight parking fee for visitors (10pm to 7am). The proposal is now positioned as a pollution charge.
While I believe we need to do our part to reduce carbon emissions, I opposed this proposal last fall because I don’t believe it is the right tool in the toolbox.
This proposal makes the city less affordable for both renters and homeowners who have been struggling through the current pandemic. Now is not the time to add more taxes and fees to already beleaguered residents, particularly in neighbourhoods where parking is not a problem, public transit is limited, and there has not been adequate consideration for social equity issues.
This proposal is also inequitable. It imposes a base permit fee on 50% of vehicle owners in the city (if you are lucky enough to have a driveway, parking pad or underground parkade, guess what – you don’t pay because the city can only manage and charge for street use.). If you’re not lucky enough to have private parking and need a vehicle for work or family reasons, then you may be a resident who can least afford the new base permit fee.
If we want to encourage people to move away from combustion vehicles or reduce the number of vehicles in the city, then a few more carrots and less sticks would be the route I would go. Explore incentives like reduced property taxes if you park your vehicle on your property or provide laneway housing on your parking pad. Improve public transit access to all corners of the city so that travel across the city is more seamless. Improve pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in higher density areas. Invest in complete neighbourhoods so people can more readily access services near where they live.
We have a robust carbon tax framework in British Columbia, which municipalities benefitted from until the Province recently cancelled the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP). Let’s work with the Province to get more equitable access to carbon tax revenues for necessary civic infrastructure and encourage the Province to introduce additional rebates towards the purchase of electric vehicles and hybrids.
Last fall we invested in EV charging infrastructure at public facilities, neighbourhood hubs and in existing and new buildings to enable the adoption of EVs. This was one of the most understated and underreported aspects of the climate report that I supported. The public is moving in this direction – the number of EVs in the city has gone up 700% over the past five years.
We have socially and environmentally conscious residents, let’s support them in a positive way to make informed choices on their next vehicle choice (if at all). Let’s also respect their pocket books and their concerns about affordability.
Residents have an opportunity to have their say on this proposal starting June 14 until July 5, 2021. I urge residents to weigh in and inform Council’s decision. https://shapeyourcity.ca/parking
Vancouver City Councillor (Independent)
Councillors Dominato, Hardwick and Kirby-Yung leave NPA
Vancouver, BC (April 21, 2021): Vancouver Councillors Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick and Sarah Kirby-Yung are leaving the NPA (Non-Partisan Association) to sit as a group of independents after being blindsided by the NPA board’s secret backroom decision to run John Coupar as the party’s mayoral candidate for the upcoming 2022 municipal election.
“We have heard loud and clear from NPA members and supporters that the actions of the Board and John Coupar do not reflect the standards of transparency, integrity and accountability we all expect from the NPA and each other,” said Hardwick. “NPA supporters and Vancouverites deserve better, which is why the three of us are stepping away from the NPA to sit as a group of independents. Instead of a fair and democratic process to select the best mayoral candidate, the NPA Board and John Coupar sidelined the elected members of the NPA and made a backroom deal. By any measure, it was about as old-boys-club as it gets.”
In an open letter to NPA members and supporters (see below and attached), the councillors said the NPA organization as it stands today cannot be trusted to govern fairly or responsibly and that it does not represent the values and standards that Vancouver residents and NPA supporters expect and deserve. The letter outlines a series of events that unfolded since the current board took control in November 2019, including Caucus demands for an open NPA Annual General Meeting and renewal that have been ignored.
”The NPA Board has gone in the wrong direction and is out of touch with supporters and residents who have been reaching out to express their concerns,” said Dominato. “Women in politics need to stand up for their point of view and lead by example. As a group of independents, we will continue to provide strong leadership at the Council table, focused on bringing the city together rather than divisive politicking.”
“The public response shows the party has lost any connection with the people of Vancouver with this move of pulling a power play behind the backs of their elected Councillors, and with no transparency to the public. We stand up every day in and out of Council chambers to bring Vancouverites voices forward, and wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t stand against this. I’m proud to be serving on Vancouver’s first-ever majority women council and I won’t diminish that by not drawing the line. In 2021 we shouldn’t have to fight for a level playing field but we are,” said Kirby-Yung. “Moving forward, we’ll be sitting as independents working together and across the aisle to deliver strong and smart leadership to help move Vancouver forward. This story is far from over. We expect to have more to say about the future of our incredible city, people and our neighbourhoods in the months ahead.”
Councillor Lisa Dominato 778-980-4422
Councillor Colleen Hardwick 778-999-7677
Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung 604-788-1352
April 21, 2021
Dear NPA Members and supporters:
We hope that you are safe and healthy during these unprecedented times we find ourselves in. Regretfully, we are writing to inform you that we are leaving the Non-Partisan Association (NPA).
As many of you know, we were completely taken aback by the recent appointment of John Coupar as the NPA’s 2022 Mayoral candidate. Immediately following the announcement, NPA supporters and members reached out to us expressing deep concern about the lack of transparency, accountability and integrity of the selection process. Many of you questioned this secret appointment, which excluded all elected caucus members including four women on Council. If the past few weeks has taught us anything, it is that women in politics have to stand up for their point of view.
The NPA is supposed to represent your values of good governance and responsible leadership, transparency and accountability to citizens, diversity and inclusion of all Vancouver citizens. This secret appointment did not meet your minimum standards the NPA should represent. Your questions were simple and legitimate: How could this happen and is this the end of the NPA as we know it?
For context, it is important to outline the events that have led up to where we are today.
● November 2019: The November 2019 NPA Annual General Meeting elected a new Board of Directors. Following the AGM, there were a series of media reports characterizing board members as far right-wing, citing specific examples.
● December 2019: Councillor Rebecca Bligh resigned citing concerns that the newly elected board harboured anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiments. The NPA caucus responded with a statement of support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and SOGI 123.
● January 2020: NPA elected Councillors, Trustees and Park Board Commissioners issued a letter to the NPA Board asking them to affirm their commitment to inclusion and diversity.
● July 2020: Four NPA directors resigned citing concerns over the board’s ineffectiveness.
● September 2020: The elected caucus issued a statement regarding an NPA board member’s comments.
● January 2021: The elected NPA Councillors, School Board Trustees and Park Board Commissioners met and collectively decided to call on the NPA Board to hold an AGM. To date, an AGM date has not been announced.
● February 2021: The NPA Caucus met and began the process of activating 10% of the association’s membership to trigger a Special Meeting under the By-laws and Societies Act to set a date for the AGM.
● April 2021: The NPA Board announced John Coupar as the Mayoral Candidate. Elected NPA caucus members were kept in the dark and NPA members did not have a say in the decision.
● April 2021: Councillors Hardwick, Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung issued a public statement in response to the appointment, which they stand by today.
Over the past 18 months, the NPA elected caucus has responded to multiple media enquiries regarding the Board’s directors and policy direction, and issued several statements reiterating the elected caucus’ commitment to inclusion, diversity and stand against hate and discrimination. This has been an enormous distraction from focusing on the critical issues facing the city.
Despite our many efforts, the NPA Board has failed to address a number of issues that NPA members and supporters want:
● Open, accountable and responsible governance, as set out in the British Columbia Societies Act and the NPA bylaws.
● An open and transparent candidate selection process for the positions of Mayor, Councillors, School Trustees and Park Board Commissioners, elected democratically by the membership of the NPA.
● A clear and unequivocal statement of support for inclusion and diversity.
We have lost confidence in the NPA’s ability to govern fairly and responsibly. We don’t have faith the NPA will represent the priorities and values of Vancouver residents, and are looking forward to restoring hope and setting a new direction for the future of Vancouver.
Therefore, we are leaving the NPA and will sit as a group of independents. It is 18 months until the next election. We will continue to provide leadership at Council and consider the best interests of the city.
Councillor Lisa Dominato
Councillor Colleen Hardwick
Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung
Closing comments on motion B. 4 (Dominato and Kirby-Yung): Calling for a Plan to Clear Vancouver’s Permit and License Backlog and Revamp this Critical City Service
Closing comments on Motion B. 4 (Dominato and Kirby-Yung): Calling for a Plan to Clear Vancouver’s Permit and License Backlog and Revamp this Critical City Service
Biography: Councillor Lisa Dominato
City of Vancouver
Elected to Vancouver City Council in 2018, Lisa Dominato is a strategic leader with 20 years’ experience in government administration, public policy and stakeholder relations. She served a one-year term as a Vancouver School Board Trustee.
Lisa is passionate about public service and local government and has served as a senior public servant with the Government of British Columbia, specializing in social policy. A former chief of staff and political advisor to several Cabinet Ministers, she has worked closely with Ministers, Deputy Ministers, all 60 school boards and provincial stakeholders.
On School Board, Lisa championed the restructuring of the Board’s governance framework and garnered support from all 60 school boards for a provincial student-centered mental health strategy.
Lisa’s leadership approach is grounded in collaboration – fostering strong relationships and problem solving for outcomes that make communities better. She has a proven reputation of working across the political spectrum and bringing people together.
Lisa believes her provincial experience, combined with her collaborative approach to advocacy, would be a strong asset to UBCM in representing the voices of municipalities across Metro Vancouver and the Province.
Lisa currently serves as Chair of the Pacific National Exhibition, Director of the Metro Vancouver Board, and Vice-Chair of the Metro Vancouver Liquid Waste Committee. Lisa is also an honourary board member of FamilySmart and is the former Chair of Vancouver’s Kettle Society.
She holds a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia and University of Burgundy in Dijon, France. She is fluent in French and English and a recipient of the Premier’s Annual Innovation and Excellence Award.
She lives in East Vancouver with her husband and two daughters aged 8 and 6.
Motion on Notice – Mental Health and Addiction Reform: An Expert-Led Cross-Jurisdictional Task Force
Submitted by: Councillor Lisa Dominato
- Amid the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, Canada and the world are in the grips of an ongoing mental health and addiction crisis – one that ruins health, threatens lives, and hurts economies. The magnitude of this mental health and addiction crisis, on a societal and on a personal level, is profoundly overwhelming and continues to frustrate and defy most efforts to arrive at effective solutions and achieve more successful outcomes;
- Mental illness and addiction affect people of all ages and backgrounds. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centres in its field – cites statistics that show mental illness will affect approximately 1 in 5 Canadians in any given year, and that, by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have – or have had – a mental illness. Approximately 4,000 Canadians per year die by suicide – an average of nearly 11 suicides a day;
- The City of Vancouver is home to residents who continue to struggle with mental illness and/or addiction. Many lack the necessary supports within our housing and social services systems to thrive, especially amid the societal disruption resulting from COVID-19;
- The City of Vancouver has taken various steps to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and drug use – and ensure that people get treatment – without sacrificing personal security. Council is working to:
- promote healthy families and communities and protect child development
- make sure individuals have access to services that help them lead healthier lives
- reduce the spread of deadly communicable diseases, and prevent drug overdose deaths
- recognize the need for peace and quiet, public order, and safety
- Much has been written, discussed, studied, announced, debated, attempted, actioned and/or implemented over the course of several decades to address the challenge of our city’s – and our country’s – persistent and increasingly complex struggle with mental health and addiction issues, including the related struggle to provide affordable, safe housing across the housing spectrum in our city. Numerous examples of these actions, measures, plans, and strategies exist, and many people have noted and questioned the apparent lack of effectiveness and/or significant results flowing from past solutions and actions. Many see the approach as fragmentary and incomplete and are calling for significant change, particularly the need for governments at all levels to radically rethink how we deliver social services across the spectrum;
- A representative (though not exhaustive) list of examples of the measures and actions taken and/or considered/recommended over the course of several decades in response to our city’s longstanding and increasingly desperate mental health and addiction issues ranges from the Four Pillars Drug Strategy in the 1990s to the creation of the provincial government’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in 2017 to the more recent emergency measures surrounding the unsafe and deadly supply of street drugs and the resulting need for greater access to a safer supply of opioids for those suffering chronic addiction (NOTE: an expanded list of illustrative examples is included below in the endnotes); [i]
- Despite the many response efforts to-date, we continue to have people living on the margins of life and death in our city who are in desperate need of better supports – those who are homeless or precariously housed, some struggling with personal trauma, untreated mental illness, addiction, and chronic health issues – while others in our city are increasingly feeling unsafe in their neighbourhoods, grappling with increased crime, threats and needles in parks and streets. Health experts and police alike continue to advocate that we have a public health crisis on our hands and as Chief Palmer recently noted, “Addiction issues should best be handled through a health-care system, not a criminal justice system,”;
- Members of the public, frontline service providers, advocates, police, health, and housing leaders are increasingly and consistently calling for mental health and addiction treatment reforms that will address the urgent public health crisis, along with the increasing public safety concerns, including:
- System navigation to connect vulnerable residents to appropriate services
- Integration of wraparound supports and services as part of our housing framework
- More treatment beds and a system for bridging the transition gap from detox to treatment, where long waitlists are reported
- Increased treatment and recovery pathways
- A centralized registry to enhance information sharing between agencies serving individuals who are homeless, accessing detox, seeking treatment etc.
- A full spectrum of safer supply that is accessible to all
- Decriminalization of drugs as a public-health response
- On July 31, 2020, Councillor Dominato wrote to the Honourable John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, expressing deep concern over “The growing challenge of homelessness, mental health, and addiction related issues in Vancouver” and the “emerging tensions” playing out in a number of downtown area Vancouver neighbourhoods. Her letter noted the ongoing struggle to find effective solutions which “obliges governments at all levels to radically rethink how we deliver social services across the spectrum.” In the letter, she made two urgent requests of the Premier and Provincial Cabinet to consider:
- to expedite recently announced navigation centres to provide emergency shelter and wrap around services to people who are currently in need, and increase the proposed capacity of the centre from 60 spaces to 200 spaces
- to support the establishment of a municipal-provincial-federal task force on mental health and addiction, with a mandate to review the current service delivery and outreach framework, including the interdependencies and coordination between different levels of government.
- In recent months, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the positive impact that all levels of government can have when they work together with urgency, intention, and coordination. Our province has emerged as a leader in the race against time, successfully implementing measures to flatten our province’s COVID-19 curve. Many observers have suggested a similar intentional and coordinated approach to mental health and addictions could be a game changer that would save lives and create pathways to greater health and resilience. Given the persistence and the crisis level of mental health and addiction issues in our city, our province, and our country, it is incumbent upon governments at all levels – now more than ever – to radically rethink how we deliver social services across the spectrum.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Mayor and Council publicly call for, and endorse in principle, the establishment of an expert-led cross-jurisdictional (provincial-federal-municipal) emergency task force on mental health and addiction, the mandate of which will be to respond to the urgent public health and emerging public safety concerns manifesting in our communities and bring forward expert-informed (including lived experience), evidence-based, non-partisan recommendations and solutions; and
FURTHER THAT the task force mandate shall specifically include an examination and review of the current service delivery and outreach frameworks, including harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services, as well as the intersectionality of these issues with housing, and shall include an examination and review of the coordination between the various jurisdictions that proactively and reactively deliver these services; and
FURTHER THAT Council direct the Mayor, on behalf of council, to write to Premier Horgan and Prime Minister Trudeau to seek their leadership in establishing a cross-jurisdictional task force as outlined above.
* * * * *
[i] The following examples are representative and illustrative (although not exhaustive) of measures and actions taken and/or considered/recommended over the course of many decades in response to mental health and addiction issues and the challenges that frustratingly persist:
- Under former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, the Four Pillars Drug Strategy was adopted by the City in the 1990s.
- Flowing from the Four Pillars Drug Strategy, Council unanimously endorsed a drug policy prevention plan in November 2005: Preventing Harm from Psychoactive Substance Use. The plan was the result of extensive research and diverse community consultations and the first of its kind at the municipal level in Canada.
- In September 2013, the City of Vancouver, the Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), and the Chair of the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) Board presented four urgent recommendations to the Premier and the Ministry of Health. This was to respond to a surge in people with severe, untreated mental illness and addictions at St. Paul’s Hospital, a dramatic increase in people taken into police custody under the Mental Health Act, and several violent episodes that indicated a major crisis in the health care system.
- In September 2014, the Vancouver Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions completed the first phase of its work and outlined 23 priority actions in a report (Caring for All: Priority Actions to Address Mental Health and Addictions –September 10, 2014). This report was brought forward to Council on September 17, 2014.
- In 2016, following a significant increase in opioid-related overdose deaths from drug poisoning, a public health emergency was declared in B.C. Since then, roughly 5,000 people have lost their lives to overdoses across the province.
- The provincial government’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions was created in 2017 “to build a seamless, coordinated network of mental health and addictions services that works for everyone in B.C., as well as lead the response to the overdose crisis.” and in 2019 released a 10 year strategy: A Pathway to Hope: A roadmap for making mental health and addictions care better for people in British Columbia;
- On December 18, 2018, Council approved a series of recommendations flowing from the Mayor’s Overdose Emergency Task Force, including:
- THAT Council commit the City of Vancouver to approaching the Provincial and Federal Governments to seek their commitment to enter into a new Vancouver Agreement that will provide an ongoing programmatic relationship and a shared commitment to a long term approach to addressing the overdose crisis. Within the context of this agreement, partners will work together to identify and plan changes to the health care system to enable a robust system of continuity of addiction treatment that includes culturally safe practices.
- THAT Council issue a formal statement of support for a clean drug supply and write the provincial and federal governments in support of health care system changes to enable this supply.
- On July 24, 2019, City of Vancouver staff presented an update to Council on the implementation of the 31 Mayor’s Overdose Emergency Task Force recommendations approved in December 2018. The update showed completion of 14 proposed actions and progress on 16 proposed actions to that date, as well as eight new recommendations based on the ongoing engagement with the Vancouver Community Action Team (CAT) in response to the overdose crisis. A City of Vancouver media release states: “Despite the focused effort to prevent overdose deaths across the city, Vancouver continues to experience historically high numbers of drug poisonings as the overdose emergency continues.”
- In April 2020, Health Canada proactively issued six-month class exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to all provinces and territories to establish new temporary Urgent Public Health Need Sites (also known as overdose prevention sites) within shelters or other temporary sites, as needed, to help people stay safe from overdose and respect physical distancing and self-isolation measures. The exemption provides provinces and territories with the flexibility to choose to establish other harm reduction activities with controlled substances, such as drug checking or virtual supervision of drug consumption to prevent overdose and overdose death.
- On June 12, 2020, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, the Honourable Mike Farnworth, released a statement in response to calls for reform of British Columbia’s Police Act. His statement noted that the 45-year-old act is out of step with the provincial government’s approach and the government’s work with police services on important issues including harm reduction and mental health. An all-party committee is engaging with communities and experts on how the 45-year-old act can be modernized and will examine the role of police with respect to complex social issues including mental health and wellness, addictions, and harm reduction; and in consideration of any appropriate changes to relevant sections of the Mental Health Act.
- On July 9, 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) publicly called for the decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs and recommended that all police agencies in Canada recognize substance abuse and addiction as a public health issue. The CACP endorsement of decriminalization came in response to the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that have devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives. CACP recommended that “enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focussed approach that requires partnerships between police, healthcare and all levels of government.” Similarly, they stated: “The compelling case for transformative change in Canada has been made by public health officials regarding how we respond to people experiencing a substance use disorder.”
- On July 31, 2020, Councillor Dominato wrote to the Honourable John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, expressing deep concern over “The growing challenge of homelessness, mental health, and addiction related issues in Vancouver” and the “emerging tensions” playing out in a number of downtown Vancouver neighbourhoods. Her letter noted the ongoing struggle to find effective solutions which “obliges governments at all levels to radically rethink how we deliver social services across the spectrum.”
- On August 5, 2020, the preliminary results for the 2020 Metro Vancouver homeless count were released. The count took place on March 3 & 4 and found 2,095 residents who identified as homeless in Vancouver (547 people were living on the street and 1,548 people were living in sheltered locations, including emergency shelters, detox centres, safe houses, and hospitals, with no fixed address).
- On August 20, 2020, in response to the country’s increasingly toxic illegal drug supply, the Government of Canada announced more than $582,000 in funding over a 10 month period for an “emergency safer supply project” to help people at risk of overdose during the COVID-19 outbreak. It will provide “pharmaceutical-grade medication to people experiencing severe opioid use disorder and connect patients with important health and social services, including treatment, which may be more difficult to access during the COVID-19 outbreak. Additional supports offered include a harm reduction drop-in program, evidence-based information, supplies, food and referrals to other service providers.”
- On August 25, 2020, the BC Coroners Service published updated reports on illicit drug toxicity deaths and fentanyl-detected drug deaths to the end of July 2020, with 175 illicit drug toxicity deaths reported in July – the third consecutive month with more than 170 suspected illicit drug deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service. The Chief Coroner noted deaths due to an unsafe drug supply continue to “surpass deaths due to homicides, motor vehicle incidents, suicides and COVID-19 combined.” To date, there have been 909 illicit drug deaths in 2020 in B.C. This compares to a total of 203 deaths (to August 25) in British Columbia due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
- On September 2, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quoted by the CBC as saying he would not back the decriminalization of drugs as a public-health response to the country’s escalating opioid crisis. He stated that the decriminalization approach (raised as an option by advocates and medical officials across the country) is not a “silver bullet” solution and further noted that the government is prioritizing other options such as greater access to a safe supply of opioids.
Submitted by: Councillor Dominato
- The City of Vancouver is required by the Vancouver Charter, Library Act, and Police Act to produce a consolidated operating budget incorporating the separate internal budgets of the Board of Parks and Recreation, the Vancouver Public Library Board, and the Vancouver Police Board, and is required by Public Sector Accounting Standards to include the Vancouver Downtown Parking Corporation (aka EasyPark) in its consolidated financial statements;
- The City of Vancouver has a policy (Policy Number ADMIN-004: “Budgets – Operating”) which outlines the requirements for Operating Revenues and Expenditures, including authorization requirements. The policy applies to all Operating Revenues and Operating Expenditures undertaken by the City of Vancouver and is intended to supplement and provide operational clarity and promote best practices within the statutory requirements relating to budgeting as set out in the Vancouver Charter, Police Act, and Library Act;
- Section 219 (1) of the Vancouver Charter (“Director of Finance to report on revenue and expenditure”) states: “As soon as practicable in each year and in any event by April 30, the Director of Finance must prepare and submit to the Council a report setting out the Director of Finance’s estimates in detail of the anticipated revenues and expenditures of the city for that year.”;
- With respect to the requirement for the City to set an Operating Budget, Policy Number ADMIN-004 (“Budgets – Operating”) states, under section 2 (1.1), that “The Director of Finance is to present an Annual Operating Budget for the upcoming year as a report to Council in December of each year.” The policy further states that “On an exception basis, as determined by the Director of Finance, such as may occur in the year of a municipal election, an internal working budget will be developed by December of that year, and a budget will be adopted by Council no later than April 30th of the following year as required by section 219 of the Vancouver Charter.”;
- Additionally, Policy Number ADMIN-004 (“Budgets – Operating”) states, under section 2 (1.2), that “In any year in which the budget is not approved by Council before December 31st, Council may authorize expenditures as are necessary to carry on the business of the City until the budget is adopted, if the following conditions are met:
- the amounts for that Budget Line Item does not exceed the amount for the Budget Line Item in the prior Annual Operating Budget, and
- the expenditure is approved by at least two-thirds of City Council.”;
- There are clearly no statutory requirements relating to budgets, as set out in the Vancouver Charter, Police Act, or Library Act, that would necessitate the approval of a City of Vancouver Operating Budget in December of any year, including a municipal election year. An “internal working budget” can be developed by December of a municipal election year – or “In any year in which the budget is not approved by Council before December 31st” – and a final budget adopted by Council no later than April 30th of the following year, with Council empowered to authorize expenditures necessary to carry on the business of the City until the budget is adopted if the amounts for that Budget Line Item does not exceed the amount for the Budget Line Item in the prior year’s Operating Budget and the expenditure is approved by at least two-thirds of City Council;
- As a point of relevant comparison to the City of Vancouver’s budget policy, the section of the City of Toronto Act (CoTA) 2006 that pertains to Toronto’s “Yearly Budget” (i.e., section 228) includes an exception clause, namely subsection 228 (2), which states that “Despite subsection (1), a budget for a year immediately following a year in which a regular election is held may only be adopted in the year to which the budget applies.” [i]
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Policy Number ADMIN-004 (“Budgets – Operating”) Section 2 (POLICY STATEMENTS) be amended to better reflect the budget circumstances of a municipal election year and an incoming Council by striking subsection 1.1. under the heading “Requirement to set a budget” and replacing it with the following amended wording:
- Section 1.1. “The Director of Finance is to present an Annual Operating Budget for the upcoming year as a report to Council in December of each year. In the year of a municipal election, an internal working budget will be developed by December of that year, and a budget will be adopted by Council in the year that it applies and no later than April 30th of that year as required by section 219 of the Vancouver Charter.”
AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED
- THAT Council direct staff to prepare a By-law for the consideration of Council to legally enshrine the intent of this motion, namely, that in the year of a municipal election an internal working budget is to be developed by December of that year and a final budget is to be adopted by Council in the year that it applies and no later than April 30th of that year, consistent with the requirements of section 219 of the Vancouver Charter, and
- THAT Council direct the Mayor to write to the Province to seek an amendment to the Vancouver Charter to enshrine a requirement on the part of the City to develop an internal working budget in the year of a municipal election (by December of that year) and a requirement for a final budget to be adopted by Council in the year to which the budget applies and no later than April 30th of that year.
* * * *
[i] Subsection 228 (1) of the City of Toronto Act (CoTA) 2006 states that “For each year, the City shall in the year or the immediately preceding year prepare and adopt a budget including estimates of all sums required during the year for the purposes of the City, including….”
On June 2, 2020 Council considered three resolutions to relax alcohol regulations in the context of the city’s COVID19 recovery:
1. Unlicensed limited service food establishments
2. Parks and beaches
3. Public spaces such as civic plazas
Resolutions to enable alcohol consumption in unlicensed limited food service establishments and to endorse Park board in allowing alcohol consumption in parks and beaches were adopted by Council;
Considerations were raised with respect to public health and safety, equity, consultation and timing of additional pilots in public spaces such as civic plazas;
Further public feedback has shown support for piloting alcohol consumption in public spaces in a measured that supports small businesses, social connectedness, equity and physical distancing during the pandemic.
Therefore be it resolved:
That Council urgently reconsider the decision of June 2, 2020, with respect to the motion co-sponsored by Councillors Fry and Wiebe to pilot responsible alcohol consumption in public spaces.
- The City of Vancouver declared a local state of emergency on March 19, 2020 in response to the global COVID19 pandemic;
- The Province has recommended physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet) to prevent the spread of COVID19;
- The Province has also recommended the public continue to safely enjoy the outdoors, including local parks and public spaces;
- The Provincial health officer has commented publicly in recent weeks that partial street closures and one way travel/routing can be an effective way to enable physical exercise and safe distancing during the pandemic;
- Cities across Canada and around the world are undertaking measures to reallocate street space and roadways for pedestrians to safely exercise, access businesses and employment, while maintaining a safe distance due to the current pandemic;
- Vancouver City Council has previously endorsed motions to support slower residential streets and encourage safer shared use;
- The City of Vancouver and Park Board recently identified congestion in and around Stanley Park, and subsequently closed the Stanley Park roadway to cars and one lane along Beach Avenue to enable safe physical distancing during the COVID19 pandemic;
- The City of Vancouver has initiated a street reallocation initiative that focuses on Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move during the COVID19 pandemic;
- The ongoing pandemic necessitates that the City reallocate road space on an urgent basis now and develop plans for mobility and space use as part of our post-COVID-19 recovery and new economy.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to expedite efforts to identify and implement appropriate reallocations of road space, such as high use greenways and streets adjacent to parks where space could be reallocated temporarily to enable safe shared use (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles) and support safe physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic response, and
FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available to the City for reallocating space to support access to local businesses, to support loading and curbside pick-up, and to support physical activity and distancing in neighbourhoods across the city, and
FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to report back to Council in fall 2020 on refined options for mobility and public realm use us as part of the post COVID19 recovery and new economy.
* * * *
Originally published in the Globe and Mail on January 30, 2020
One of the top issues in the recent federal election was affordability. Canadians across the country expressed concern about rising costs of living, from food to housing.
So how is it, in the face of an affordability crisis, that the city of Vancouver increased property taxes to the highest level in recent memory? The answer lies in a false urgency.
In time for Christmas break, our city council rushed a vote to approve its 2020 operating budget to the chagrin of many members of council, including myself. I said from the beginning of the budget process that the recommended property tax increase was too high, and I ultimately voted against the final 7-per-cent increase.
The councillors in our Non-Partisan Association (NPA) caucus put forward a pragmatic motion to have staff further review fixed costs, explore reducing department budgets by 5 per cent, and report back in the new year with a revised budget.
Disappointingly, this motion wasn’t supported by the council majority.
Lost on everyone, it seems, is the fact that the budget does not need to be approved until April in the following year. The provincial government operates with interim supply until the final budget is approved, often a few months after the start of the fiscal year. I think it is fair to say that the 2020 city budget was rammed through without proper due diligence.
So, where are your tax dollars going?
Well, 3.5 per cent of the property tax increase is represented by “fixed costs” – which includes expenditures such as rents, leases, insurance, utilities, and wages and benefits for pending collective agreements. However, we later learned that some of these line items involved discretionary spending and unfilled job vacancies that could have helped reduce the tax by more than one percentage point. I believe we could have found more savings in this area.
The proposed $110-million in increased spending also included funding proposals to address a range of service gaps and new initiatives, such as public safety, the Vancouver Plan and climate initiatives. There is no doubt councillors hold varying views on what should be highest priority among these initiatives and the myriad of existing city services.
And while we may disagree on priorities, there were surely more savings to be found. Asking staff to take a further look for them was a matter of exercising good governance and transparency.
The city of Vancouver faces increased costs just as businesses and homeowners do. However, as stewards of the public purse, we need to work harder to innovate and pursue partnerships to make efficient use of public funds. This is something that was absent from the conversation.
The city’s 2020 budget document stated that cost pressures will continue for the next 10 years, making it “difficult to balance the budget with a reasonable level of tax and fee increases.” The report also proposed to find future opportunities to “offset the city’s increased cost structure and continued cost pressures.”
We need to turn this on its head and challenge the cost structure and service delivery itself. The city’s own budget document tells us the current structure and path is not sustainable.
In 2015, the city of Vancouver financial outlook foreshadowed that increased costs related to first responders would put significant pressure on the city’s budget. “These cost increases would need to be offset by increased revenues through fees or property tax, or by reduced expenditures or staffing levels,” claimed the report by staff.
In the following year, the city’s financial outlook anticipated the “potential for a significant gap between the growth in expenses and the growth in revenues.”
In other words, the warning signs have been there for years.
Yet, since that time the number of full-time equivalents staff has increased by nearly 1,000. The previous council was repeatedly warned that costs were rising faster than inflation and that corrective measures such as process improvements, information technology transformation and review of service delivery models were necessary to address “higher costs of labour, facilities and operations.”
So, as someone who was elected to make sure our government finances are sustainable, I have to ask: Why are we failing to heed the warnings of staff for half a decade or more?
Canadians expect dependable and affordable government services without overburdening them with high taxes. Vancouver City Council has a duty to make that happen.