The quest for affordable housing
Leslie Campbell’s article in Focus [September/October 2016] presents an excellent examination of an issue critical for Victoria residents, Canadians, and many around the globe. While the gap between incomes and housing costs has grown exponentially, particularly over the past two decades, having a roof over one’s head, although a necessity, is not available to over 235,000 of our fellow citizens across the country.
Although the United Nations has recognized that access to decent, secure and affordable housing is a fundamental human right, this has never been recognized by any level of Canadian government.
In the past, post-war housing was subsidized by the Canadian government to alleviate the shortage of accommodation for returning soldiers and their families, or as an urban economic revitalization tool in the late 1960s. Today, housing support has been shifted from the federal government to the provinces, who in turn have pushed it onto local governments—woefully undercapitalized to take on the responsibility.
The fact is that governments subsidize property ownership. Why? Because this is the way politicians secure votes and pass on benefits to homeowners who represent 65 percent of the Canadian population and 40 percent of Victoria residents. Individual property owners are entitled to home improvement grants, home-ownership grants, defrayed taxes, and untaxed income from “mortgage helper” Airbnb vacation rentals. No such benefits are available to renters who are considered second-class citizens in the housing world.
Regional statistics indicate that almost 80 percent of the housing supply is earmarked for high-income occupants who represent only 36 percent of the population. As Campbell points out “only 13.7 percent of the region’s homes are affordable for 50 percent of its households.” Indeed, Victoria’s house price-to-income ratio comes in second in Canada at 7:1 after Vancouver at 11:1, the second highest ratio in the world behind Hong Kong.
Victoria’s development approval office has no inventory of housing, and has demonstrated no ability to plan how to accommodate more than 20,000 newcomers to the city by 2041. Today the developers of high-priced condo towers call the shots, and it’s the City which stamps their plans to demolish old properties, refurbish heritage homes, and build gated vertical communities. The City’s decision to remove bylaw restrictions on the size of housing units and onsite parking requirements will not solve the housing affordability issue but rather put more profits in the pockets of developers by reducing their costs.
Just as Victoria has dismantled Tent City and displaced these residents to surrounding municipalities, offering the CRD use of the City’s “Housing Reserve Fund” to house the homeless, it fails to address the growing number of “renovictions” facing tenants throughout the city—tenants who have few places to live in a city with a vacancy rate near zero. The rent on refurbished rental suites is often hiked 40 percent or more. What homeowner faces a 40 percent hike in mortgage payments? Interestingly, this practice is not considered illegal, but just “good business.”
As we speak, rental property agents are writing fixed-end leases, some only six months in length, after which the tenant must either move out or agree to pay a higher rent. So much for British Columbia’s motto, Splendor Sine Occasu—“Splendour without End,” and Victoria’s endearing emblem, Semper Liber—“Forever Free.”
Leslie Campbell’s article “The quest for affordable housing” is fine as far as it goes, but ignores the 17-foot anaconda in the pool.
Stroll around Downtown, dear readers, and behold the giant City of Victoria surface parking lot for Royal Athletic Park. Not far away, another huge one for the Save-On Arena, and way more across the street on Caledonia. By the Legislature, yes, more acres of paving for government employees, and at Ogden Point, an eye-achingly vast expanse of pavement. Every supermarket, every mall—parking, parking! Most of these expanses of land sit empty the majority of the time.
Delve into Victoria history, and do an RIP for Rose and McBride Streets, bulldozed in order to make Blanshard into a semi-freeway. The Province has come up with $85 million for the McKenzie Avenue interchange. Even today, that’s mucho dinero, that could build a thwack of housing. Oh wait, there’s tens of millions more to widen out Highway 1, even though it'll just get clogged up again.
Our cars and trucks are Drug #1. Like all junkies, we’ll sacrifice anything, including affordable housing, to get our fix.
The sewage question
The article by David Broadland in Focus was spot on. How can we residents of Victoria still opposed to the sewage treatment plant—that we currently do not need—make a big statement somehow?
The well-respected and late Bill Wolferstan told me years ago that we would only need a sewage treatment plant in case we had 30 million people living in South Vancouver island. That has resonated with me and should be communicated to the public. The only case I can think of that we would need a treatment plant is if we were to start encountering severe droughts with global temperatures rising. In which case we need to reuse our wastewater and filter it for drinking purposes. Only in that case does this debate make sense.
Thanks to David Broadland for continuing to inform us about this crucial issue. In a province known for boondoggles—bridges, stadium roofs, highways and other public projects that balloon over budget to the grave detriment of taxpayers—Victoria’s land-based sewage treatment plan promises to set a new precedent: a billion-dollar-plus project that will achieve nothing beyond lining the pockets of the contractors, who will likely funnel some of that money back to their political paymasters, if they haven’t already.
Keep it up, David. Maybe someone will see the light and save us from this path of darkness.
John Horgan, are you listening?
New pot laws could bust rural BC’s economy
Laws, ideally, protect us and guide us, making our daily lives more secure and productive. Sometimes, however, laws are based on misinformation, are malicious in intent, or have simply outlived their usefulness. Both expert opinion and public attitudes to marijuana laws indicate that the time for real changes has arrived. Most folks seem to agree with former US president Jimmy Carter that “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.” Jeopardizing the educational, travel and social choices of otherwise law abiding and productive citizens has damaged too many lives for too long. Bad pot laws belong in the ashcan of history.
The promises of our federal government to change these laws should be guardedly welcomed. As Lisa Cordasco’s article makes clear, however, some things are happening which are undesirable—particularly for rural people in BC and for those using marijuana as medicine. Those who live in areas formerly sustained by logging and mining have had to turn to the pot industry as an alternative. Allowing people to grow their own will keep the price down, crucial for the increasing numbers of medical users. Marijuana is a useful plant which was widely (and legally) used until the American “war on drugs.” Regarding it simply as an investment opportunity—which, right now, seems likely—profits urban areas and the relatively rich at the expense of those living precariously in our countryside. The police and the courts have better things to do than playing cat-and-mouse with small-time pot farmers and their customers.
The way tobacco and alcohol are currently handled provides us with possible guidelines. They can be grown or made, but not sold, by anyone. Advertising is limited—though, in the case of alcohol, extensive. Both of these drugs are demonstrably more dangerous than marijuana. Marijuana is also a source of pleasure and solace—as well as a medicine—to millions of people. Full legalization would recognize these facts.
Professional reliance—a regulatory failure
Briony Penn concludes her troubling article on the BC Liberals’ penchant for so-called “professional reliance” by stating, “Quesnel, Keller and many others frustrated with the system will be watching with sharp eyes as to whether genuine change is afoot or simply more delaying tactics. Meanwhile the two tourist operators are confident that the business case for logging is losing out to tourism values in their regions. Quesnel calculates ‘our one business generated more income in less than four years than [forestry generated] from the entire cut—which can only be done every 60 years or so.’”
If one was to compare the donations made to political parties in BC by the respective businesses in this article, would that lend substance to the apparent hesitation of regulatory enforcement, despite the lopsided income generation between the two?
The diabetes diagnosis
About four months ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and my GP labelled me a “diabetic.” My research turned up Dr Roy Taylor, a medical researcher from the University in Newcastle, UK, who is an expert on MRI. He noticed an anomaly with patients having stomach and intestinal surgery (e.g. bariatric): 100 percent of them lost their diabetes; 30 percent got it back a few months after their operation but the rest were clear to this day! The theory was that visceral fat (that stored in the abdominal cavity around organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines) reduces the effectiveness of the insulin (called insulin resistance). Three million pound sterling is being invested in a field trial in Glasgow and Newcastle to check this theory. I was not willing to wait the two years for the results to be published so I used the 5:2 Fast diet to reduce my visceral fat and my last three blood readings were well below diabetic levels. It’s possible that I have shown that diabetes is not a permanent condition but reversible.
Roger V. M. Sandford
Alan Cassels misses several things in his attack on diabetes medicine. He talks of risk of hypoglycemia from medicines but omits that metformin’s reputation is of low risk of that condition—that’s why it is popular, whereas earlier medicines have significant risk. He throws out names of medicines like Trajenta and Onglyza without informing readers that those are supplementary medicines, intended to enhance the effect of metformin.
He rejects medicines because there is no proof they help with cardiovascular health risk judged by deaths, but he lists bad conditions resulting from high blood glucose levels (though he omits sexual function in males—a rather strong motivator), thus the medicines may well be worthwhile. Cassels effectively dismisses those conditions as not “clinically relevant.”
As for death rates of persons taking meformin, he does not tell us if the UK study controlled for the poor health of the individuals (lack of exercise and obesity, for example, obesity coming from lack of exercise and typically bad nutrition practices).
Certainly there’s a need for objective evaluation, rather than the verbose vague blathering of the Canadian Diabetes Association, which can’t distinguish between correlation and causation, and meddles in fields served by other organizations such as cardiovascular health. Certainly doctors should be communicating more with their customers, instead of being rote hacks in the government-controlled medical system that slices lives into short visits—the system exploits providers and fails to serve customers well. And enables inefficient bureaucracies like pharmaceutical companies and Island Health.
But progress won’t be achieved with such an article.
Alan Cassels responds:
As I said in my article, metformin might be low risk, but it is also of low benefit. The supplementary medicines do nothing to enhance the effect of metformin and are a lot more expensive and a lot more risky. They are there to lower blood sugars and make pharmaceutical companies a lot of money, but do nothing to extend the quality and length of one’s life. People become obsessed with their diabetes because they think it will kill them. That’s my perspective.
The UK study was in a population of patients that had all those bad things (lack of exercise, obesity, etc) and if barely any effect could be shown in this really unhealthy population, how could they show an effect in a healthier, fitter population—the majority of whom are the main consumers of metformin today?
I measure “progress” by more informed patients and better health decision-making. If anyone can show my articles don’t achieve those ends for some people, I will quit writing.
The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) would like to respond to Alan Cassel’s recent article.
Recent reports published on the treatment of type 2 diabetes have led to questions about the use of medications to control blood sugar. The CDA would like to stress that people being treated for type 2 diabetes should not stop taking their medication.
The CDA recommends working with your health-care team to ensure that your diabetes treatment plan is right for your particular circumstances. For most people, that will include medication to lower blood glucose levels.
For many people, the risk of complications such as damage to eyes, kidneys and nerves may be reduced by treatments that tightly control blood glucose. At the same time, others may not benefit and a small percentage may be harmed. Accordingly, our “Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada” (CPGs) call for individualized care that takes into account both the risk and benefit of treatments for each person.
Over the past two decades, we have seen a more than 50 percent reduction in complications, such as heart attacks, stroke and amputations. We don’t know exactly which components account for these improvements, but better blood sugar control has been part of the treatment regimens that have led to those improved outcomes.
Type 2 diabetes is a complex disease and the CDA’s Clinical Practice Guidelines indicate that the treatment of blood glucose in type 2 diabetes must be individualized. Tight glucose control may not be appropriate for all and our CPGs give guidance as to which people with diabetes are most likely to benefit. To learn more, visit diabetes.ca or call 1-800-BANTING (226-8464).
Regional Director, British Columbia and Yukon
Canadian Diabetes Association
City council should stick to its knitting
Victoria City Council loves to reach outside its areas of jurisdiction. Labelling of GMO food is a good example. Making GMO labelling compulsory is the “Star of David armband” for food. It’s a way to stigmatize these products without any scientific justification.
On the other hand there are real health and safety issues Victoria City Council could address if people’s safety is truly their priority. For example, making carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all residences. Requiring testing for lead in drinking water and for radon gas when occupancy permits are issued and every five years thereafter. These are steps that could identify real hazards and actually help make people safer—but probably wouldn’t get councillors as big headlines.
Sewage sludge alert
British Columbians have been invited to review and provide feedback on a policy intentions paper for the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR), including new requirements for managing the use of biosolids (sewage sludge).
In 2011, the CRD banned the land application of sewage sludge amid worries that farmland and the food grown on it could be polluted by pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, pathogens, and other toxic elements, the majority of which are not tested. In 2013, efforts to lift the ban failed, but pressure to overturn the ban still exists.
Please participate in the review so as to provide the Province with sufficient input and clear guidance for local governments, as well as compost and biosolids producers, on how to dispose of organic material while protecting soil quality and drinking water sources.
Many individuals and organizations have a particular interest in an updated regulatory regime for sewage sludge believing that land application of sewage sludge should no longer be considered a safe method of disposal anywhere, not just in the Capital Region.
Focus readers are urged to provide feedback on the OMRR policy intentions paper for organic matter recycling. Google “BC OMRR”.
The opportunity for public comments ends December 2, 2016.
Carole Witter, Sewage Treatment Action Group
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