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Affordability, transit and a second Second Narrows bridge get airtime at North Van District debate

Discussions revealed a good deal of consensus on top priorities, with differing opinions on how to achieve goals

A show of hands at the start of Tuesday’s (Oct. 4) all-candidate meeting in the District of North Vancouver revealed that most of the audience hadn’t yet decided on whom to vote for.

Many undecided voters in the audience at Mount Seymour United Church may have left the evening debate still undecided, as much of the discussion relayed prevailing consensus on topics including transportation, housing and general affordability.

In general, most agreed that improving transportation is a priority, housing stock should better meet the needs of a broader spectrum of residents, and many aspects of living in the district are more expensive than they ought to be. Opinions on how to reach these goals differed more or less broadly depending on the topic.

The candidates were seated in random order. First, each of the candidates – 13 for council, followed by two for mayor – were given two minutes to outline their credentials that qualify them for the post they’re seeking. Then, each of the candidates were asked to answer a series of set questions in the same order, with one minute to respond. Toward the end of the evening, audience questions were fielded in a less-formal manner.

Seated in front of the councillor’s row, mayoral candidates Mathew Bond and Mike Little took different approaches to their introductions.

First to speak, Bond presented himself as the change candidate.

We are in a time of unprecedented transformation, the two-term councillor said.

“The negative outcomes that we’re experiencing today are the result of decades of resistance to change: the climate crisis, housing, affordability, worsening transportation outcomes,” he said. “These negative outcomes will only continue to persist if we don’t change.”

Bond claimed to be the strongest, most consistent advocate for solutions to housing affordability and modern transportation networks. Acknowledging that change is hard, he said the burden of fixing negative outcomes will be left to future generations without it.

In his opener, incumbent one-term mayor Mike Little emphasized the long list of committees and projects he’s been a part of.

Little listed his three terms on council, chairing both the District of North Vancouver’s library board and North Shore Emergency Management, as well as “countless” volunteer roles in the community.

He highlighted his current involvement in Metro Vancouver’s solid and liquid waste management plans. “We’ve now taken back that big project – the wastewater treatment plant – to try to get it going again,” he said. “That unfortunately has been a real challenge.”

Little also spoke to his work on the TransLink Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.

“Our Mayors’ Council ten-year vision has several key improvements for North Vancouver,” he said. “This includes a massive increase in bus service – HandyDART service, Bus Rapid Transit.”

What role should local government play in providing non-market housing?

Hitting on the hot-button issue of housing, candidates were asked what role they believed local government should play in the provision of non-market units.

Citing his perspective as a real estate asset manager for BC Housing, council candidate Herman Mah said there are many situations where his organization is advocating to introduce non-market housing.

“There’s money available in dealing with senior levels of government,” he said. “We need to look at and take advantage of that. At the same time, local government can also produce their own housing, using district-owned land, but it has to be very selective.”

Greg Robins, chair of the foundation for Lookout Housing and Health Society, mentioned the value of programs that aim to partially cover down payments for first-time homebuyers, as well as provincial and federal funding.

“I was speaking with (North Vancouver MP) Jonathan Wilkinson about three [months] ago, and he was telling me about the opportunities for the District of North Vancouver to be able to tap into this money,” Robins said. “In his words, you’ve got to tap into it otherwise it will not come your way – it will be scooped up by somebody else.”

Business owner Thomas Tofigh said the housing issue will require the study and communication with the provincial and federal government to allocate a budget to be able to rent all condos with reasonable rates, as well as pre-sale condos sold to the middle class.

“This combined with reducing property taxes will help to reduce the cost of existing homeowners, renters and buyers and decrease living expenses for all,” he said.

Trey Bell, vice-president of Parkgate Community Services Society, lives in the Seylynn community and said having a diverse housing mix has allowed him to live in North Vancouver.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford a semi-detached or detached home,” he said. Bell added that working with developers is an important part of the equation, telling them “this is what we want: We want affordable rental as part of new developments, we want social housing and we want rent-to-own.”

Incumbent Coun. Jim Hanson noted that local government has the zoning power to create affordable housing.

“And yet, one of the last major votes, this council four-to-three voted through a 27-storey concrete tower with 330 [units], and it’s only 20-per-cent affordable,” he said. “We didn’t need to do that.

“We could have put the housing here that our community needs, not the housing that the developers need to make their big profits.”

Conversely, project manager Clayton Wellwood said it’s not a proper role of government to provide or build housing.

“The right role for local government is to cut the red tape that is driving up the cost of housing," he said. “If the residents of North Vancouver do want to see more non-market housing, maybe there is a way for a community amenity contribution system to be reformed so that residents can request [non-market units from developers] as a type of community amenity contribution.”

In response, incumbent Coun. Jordan Back acknowledged that provision of housing is not a traditional responsibility of local government. “But when you’re in a housing crisis, when you’re in a climate emergency, there’s a lot of things that aren’t traditional roles of local government that now are things that we need to handle.”

Back added that he’d love to see “real” workforce housing on the North Shore because it’s wrong that so many first responders and firefighters don’t live in the communities they serve.

Former broadcast journalist Catherine Pope said it’s critical to approve housing support from higher levels of government to keep more families in the community. She also cited the 2021 district housing needs report, which highlighted the need to build 3,000 units by 2026.

“And we’re huge, long way from that,” Pope said. “We need to address housing that also feeds into the transportation and congestion problem.”

How would officials alleviate traffic in congested areas?

Then came the question of how officials, if elected, would mitigate traffic in congested areas like Deep Cove.

Ellison Mallin, constituency assistant for MLA Susie Chant, said the district has to look at creative solutions to get people out of cars.

“Some ideas I have are a foot-ferry from Port Moody to Deep Cove in the summer,” he said. "And an active transport paved path from Blueridge-Parkgate Centre along the bottom of Mount Seymour that can be used all season.”

Mentioning her work on Metro Vancouver’s regional planning committee, incumbent Coun. Lisa Muri said Metro is currently looking at a study about adding a passenger ferry between Belcarra Park, Port Moody and Deep Cove.

Muri highlighted the usefulness of shuttles and the overcrowded buses coming in from Phibbs Exchange.

“You need to engineer and you also need to restrict access into [high-traffic] areas, to force people to use other ways to get to the places that they want to visit,” she said.

But fellow incumbent Coun. Betty Forbes said that not everyone is able to use active transportation. Forbes suggested opening up additional parking at rec centres and schools on weekends, and run shuttles from there up to popular destinations.

“Any destination that charges a fee for coming to their destination, should provide a free shuttle from wherever we provide the parking,” she said.

Student and climate organizer Harrison Johnston said the district needs to provide people “real” options to not use their cars to commute. At peak times, the sheer volume of people on buses at Phibbs Exchange acts as a deterrent for using public transit.

“We really need to provide people with much more reliable frequent public transit service on weekends,” he said, adding that bike routes to popular destinations like Deep Cove need to be made safe for use.

On the other hand, Peter Teevan – a semi-retired business manager formerly of the automotive sales sector – noted that recreation seekers from other regions won’t take public transportation over the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing because their bikes and kayaks are strapped to the top of their cars.

“There’s one answer and that is a brand-new Ironworkers bridge,” he said. “Two decks, six lanes per deck, with [light rapid transit] and protected bike lanes. The bridge we have is going to start falling down within 20 years. It means we need to start working on the new bridge.”

General voting day is Saturday, Oct. 15. Visit our 2022 Civic Election webpage for more election news, including candidate Q&As and where and how to vote on the North Shore.

Not sure if you are already registered to vote? The Election BC’s online voter registration system allows you to register to vote, check if you are already registered to vote, or update your voter registration details.

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