West End Candidates Square off Over Rental Act

By Jackie Wong

The Tyee

NDP and Green Party campaign signs dominated the entranceway to the Vancouver-West End all-candidates debate at the Coast Plaza Hotel yesterday afternoon, reflecting strong audience support for incumbent NDP MLA Spencer Herbert and returning Green Party candidate Drina Read, who both ran in the fall 2008 by-election in the former Vancouver-Burrard riding.

Herbert agreed with Read on a number of debate questions pertaining to the preservation of St. Paul’s Hospital and changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, while BC Liberal candidate Laura McDiarmid, up against a tough crowd, worked hard to prove herself by emphasizing her longtime ties to the community.

McDiarmid, a former NPA park board chair and former vice-president of the Vancouver Pride Society, emphasized the BC Liberals’ “fair and balanced” approach to residential tenancy legislation and pointed frequently to the shortcomings of what she called the NDP’s “reign of terror” in the 1990s.

“The NDP has made reckless promises it can’t keep,” McDiarmid said, calling for balanced approach to what she described as a “neutral” Residential Tenancy Act, a statement rebuffed loudly by the crowd.

When debate moderator Steve Burgess asked candidates about the exorbitant rent increases served to tenants at the Seafield apartments, McDiarmid said she has met with the tenants and applauded them for appealing the increases.

“This is something that’s not standard across the board,” she said of the Seafield case. “I would work with you if the [Residential Tenancy] Act doesn’t work… I would protect your rights.”

Meanwhile, Herbert and Read hammered at loopholes in the Residential Tenancy Act that allow landlords to evict tenants for renovations and jack up rental rates to keep up with other buildings in the area, which they said unfairly tips the balance of power to landlords, not tenants.

“As for the assertion that [the Seafield] is a unique situation, I’ve talked to people across the West End, and it’s happening all over the place,” said Herbert. “Other provinces don’t allow this kind of thing to happen.”

“The reason we have a Tenant Rights Action Coalition is because there are flaws with the Act,” added Read. “We need our government to help us.”

On the topic of the possibly relocating St. Paul’s Hospital to the False Creek flats, McDiarmid denied allegations that the BC Liberal government said it would tear down the downtown hospital. “I think the hysteria is a bit irresponsible,” she said.

Herbert disagreed. “The NDP platform is the only party that has St. Paul’s in its platform as a commitment,” he said. “[Health Minister] George Abbott said we are taking key aspects out of St.Paul’s… and we’re the densest downtown aside from New York.”

Read also came out in support of keeping the hospital where it is, adding that Seattle’s Capitol Hill has five hospitals and less density than Vancouver’s West End.

Read was the only candidate who announced her full support of BC-STV (in line with her party’s platform), while Herbert and McDiarmid both responded by turning the question back to the audience. “I’m undecided,” Herbert told the crowd. “Really, this is about your vote, not me telling you how to vote.”

In addition to being the lone BC-STV supporter in the debate, Read was also the only candidate in the debate to mention B.C.’s child poverty rate–the highest in Canada.

Yesterday’s debate, organized by the West End Residents Association, was one of two all-candidates debates in the riding, the second of which is being organized by Xtra West and will take place Wednesday, May 6, from 6-9 p.m. at St. Paul’s Anglican Church (1130 Jervis St).

One Response to “West End Candidates Square off Over Rental Act”

  1. Derek Richer Says:

    If a business treated customers the way the BC Liberal Government treats citizens, it would rapidly plummet into bankruptcy. Symbolic openings of shell RTO offices might lend a bare semblance of veracity to Liberal campaign promises, but when viewed under the light of public scrutiny they demonstrate the meaning of duplicity. The actual treatment of renters under the Residential Tenancy Act shows just how empty and useless these “new” RTO offices are.

    If the Liberals were actually committed to good government and ethical conduct, they would have removed the loopholes from the RTA, placed security deposits in the hands of a credible third party manager (to prevent the theft of security deposits by bad landlords), and have opened fully functional RTO offices in neighbourhoods throughout the province. Giving the RTO enforcement power would be helpful too, since bad landlords and bad tenants alike can ignore DRO payment orders at present. Apart from opening an empty shell of an RTO office, which is not readily accessible to the public, the government has done nothing. The intent of the government is well exemplified by Rich Coleman’s disinterest in the plight of renters, and his unwillingness to reform the gravely flawed RTA. Instead, the Liberal Government has focused on spending other people’s money on an Olympic circus, an over-priced convention centre (which greatly overshadows any waste with the fast ferry business), and the Canada Line which devastated the lives and fortunes of many Cambie merchants. Meanwhile, Premier Campbell thought it wise to permit an unlicensed lobbyist to keep a desk in his office. Revelations about the questionable BC Rail transaction are further evidence of the mentality and values of the BC Liberal Party. Such people claim that a 38 percent rent increase is a win for tenants. What they really mean is that double-digit rent increases are a win for their major political supporters.

    Is it any wonder that the government should ignore the rights and interests of 35 percent of the population: renters who already pay high rents?

    As for any claims the Liberals might make about the importance of respecting “market trends,” one should not overlook some distinct policy paradoxes. On the one hand the Liberal government is prepared to open all tenants to the ravages of market extremes, yet on the other hand the government saw fit to ignore the market when it froze property assessments. Such an action is a deliberate attempt to tax property according to former peak values, thus ignoring the current deflated values. Is this the action of a government which religiously worships markets? Certainly not. This is the action of a government which selectively uses market rationales to forward its political ambitions.

    The deficits in the current RTO system are far too apparent to people who have suffered and slaved for months – at great expense in time and energy – to protect their tenancies from government-sponsored attack. Yes, the Liberal government has been aiding and abetting bad landlords. Indeed, one must seriously question the underlying cause for Rich Coleman’s firing of the RTO arbitrator Mary E. Mackenzie in 2005, which was later overturned in BC Supreme Court. Justice T. Mark McEwan stated in his decision that the government’s action in the matter was both unlawful and farcical. What is one to make of a government minister firing a supposedly independent arbitrator for no just cause? Such an occurrence places a heavy cloud over the fairness and independence of the entire RTO arbitration system. What interference in the RTO has gone undetected by the public? What was the real reason for Mary Mackenzie’s firing? Justice McEwan stated that Mary Mackenzie was fired for having the temerity to speak out. Clearly, the government has shown itself willing to run roughshod over vital legal traditions and rights for the sake of political expedience.

    Governments should be there to promote and protect the rights and interests of all citizens – to uphold the public good. Gordon Campbell’s clique exhibits a penchant for poor government. And considering their poor standing in the election polls at this point, the Liberals have only themselves to blame.

    We should have taken more notice years ago when former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson noted that his leadership (and a real Liberal Party) was threatened by a “pernicious cabal of malcontents.” Wilson saw the writing on the wall, and now many BC residents are feeling the wrath of these malcontents.

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