Local Governments Chafe Against B.C. NDP’s Authoritarian Zoning Bill

It turns out that mayors and town councils don’t love the idea of zoning control being unilaterally transferred to Victoria with minimal or no consultation. Who could have guessed?

Bill 44, which abolishes single-family zoning and bans rezoning hearings in all B.C. municipalities of more than 5,000 residents, goes into effect at the end of June. As towns begin to reckon with this reality, the discontent rumbling over the heavy-handed legislation is turning into an uproar.

At a recent council meeting, Campbell River Mayor Kermit Dahl summed up his thoughts on the bill succinctly: “There’s nothing in this that I like and then the unintended consequences are terrible for our community”.

While certainly not a ringing endorsement, the mayor’s feelings on the subject paled in comparison with those of the councillors.

Councillor Ron Kerr called the bill “a striking example of senior government overreach by this radical NDP government” and “an extreme knee jerk reaction to housing supply shortage, which they and the federal government have created”.

The Campbell River council was particularly disturbed by the provision of the bill prohibiting public rezoning hearings, a move which has been requested by developers who argue that hearings slow projects down.

Councillor Ben Lanyon was shocked: “Council is prohibited from having a public hearing. I don’t understand that”. Or, as the mayor put it: “Tyrants and dictators don’t want your feedback”.

Another councillor, Doug Chapman, floated the creative idea of getting around the ban on public hearings by hosting “town halls” instead.

With great reluctance, the Campbell River council eventually voted to bring their bylaws in line with Bill 44, with the mayor expressing his hope that “in the future, someone who values the input of communities more may change this legislation”. Are you listening, B.C. Conservatives?

Some communities have gone beyond lambasting the bill, and are simply refusing to comply. West Vancouver’s council voted unanimously to reject the provincial government’s seizure of zoning authority, with a few councillors offering some choice words to the NDP government.

Councillor Linda Watt forcefully stated that she was elected by the citizens of West Vancouver and vowed to “continue to represent their best interests and vigorously oppose any entity that seeks to destroy the nature and character of our community”.

In a coup de grace, she added that it’s not West Vancouver’s fault that the feds recklessly “[opened] the floodgates” of immigration, thereby creating the need for massive amounts of new housing.

West Vancouver Councillor Christine Cassidy had already made her opinion clear in a previous meeting in which she described Bill 44 as “an extreme form of socialism, bordering on communism”. In the latest meeting, she declared her intention to never vote for a blanket rezoning of her community.

The B.C. NDP’s response to West Vancouver’s rebellion has been to declare that Victoria has the power to force towns to accept rezoning – regardless of whether they agree.

The optics of an increasingly unpopular provincial government rezoning communities against the will of elected councils would be undeniably bad. Is David Eby a Canadian premier serving his constituents, or a medieval European king ruling by divine right?

It’s not just Campbell River and West Vancouver. Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie is also expressing alarm over the NDP’s zoning bill: “In Richmond, we have a major aversion to Bill 44 and what it is going to do to our single-family neighbourhoods”.

Of particular concern for Mayor Brodie is whether Richmond’s infrastructure is sufficient to handle the dramatically increased population which would result from upzoning, and the threat posed by blanket densification to the historic neighbourhood of Steveston.

Richmond, Coquitlam, and Kitimat have all officially requested extensions ahead of Bill 44’s June 30 deadline.

How far will Premier Eby’s NDP go to force this unpopular densification bill on British Columbians and their elected representatives in local government?

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