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Chilliwack-Hope candidates talk business with Chamber

The Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce has released the responses it received from three candidates hoping to win next week’s byelection in the riding of Chilliwack-Hope.

“In the interest of fairness to all candidates,” said chamber executive director Patti MacAhonic, “and to get the best information on important business issues to our 600+ member businesses of the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce we invited the three by-election candidates above to participate in this questionnaire.”

Candidates were asked three questions that the chamber felt were relevant to business owners in the Chilliwack area.

Here are their responses:

 

•    What changes would you make to the transportation infrastructure in Chilliwack in order to create a more connected and cohesive community capable of meeting the needs of local students and workers?

 

Laurie Throness (BC Liberal): Positive changes have already been made to our transportation infrastructure, most notably the Evans Road overpass, which has eased traffic congestion in a number of ways.  I do like the roundabout there and would support more of them.

As our city and region expand, our local authorities must plan for changing transportation needs such as rapid transit.  As demand grows, I will be there to work with municipalities to ensure that the Province carries its share of the load.

 

Gwen O’Mahony (NDP): With Chilliwack’s population expected to increase by 60% by 2036, long-term planning and investments in transportation infrastructure and public transit will be key to ensuring that residents can get to work, that businesses can provide goods and services within the city and around the region. We can support improved traffic flow by making smart investments like upgrading interchanges, in consultation with local governments, residents, and organizations like the Chamber.  I believe there are improvements that can be made to public transit to make it a more attractive and convenient option for travelling in the city and throughout the region, including improving hours of operations and levels of service. While transit ridership has been slowly increasing in Chilliwack and throughout the Valley in recent years, the growth of transit services has not, and service levels in our region are considerably less than in Metro Vancouver.

As you know, in response to communities complaining about the level and quality of bus service, the Minister of Transportation appointed a panel to review the efficiency and effectiveness of BC Transit and transit services. While this review goes on for months, one thing we can get to work on immediately is the long overdue bus service between Chilliwack and Abbotsford. Many Chilliwack residents are ready to use this service, including commuters, seniors and UFV students. I was pleased to see a recent meeting of several south-of-the-Fraser mayors address the transit question, as currently only 2% of Fraser Valley Regional District residents use transit. Over the longer term, Chilliwack and the rest of the Fraser Valley region will continue to experience substantial population growth so we need to ensure that planning work is done to support this growth and this must include an analysis of all options and modes of transportation, including transit.

 

John Martin (BC Conservative): In Chilliwack, the motor vehicle will be the fundamental mode of land transportation for the foreseeable future.  Thus, we must support motor vehicle transport until there is sufficient density where other mass-transit options can be economically viable.

We would make transportation more affordable by scrapping the carbon tax.  Not only does this affect the price of motor vehicle fuel, but also the cost of all goods and freight which are embedded in the prices of everything that you pay.

We would make operating a motor vehicle cheaper by addressing the government’s currently policy of extracting capital from ICBC to pay for general revenue programs.  ICBC basic rates are slated to increase 11.2% this year (BC Budget and Fiscal Plan 2012, page 15) and this is nothing more than a “stealth tax” on any motor vehicle operator.

On the issue of rail transport into the Lower Mainland from Chilliwack – if there is sufficient public interest, such a project would need to be properly costed out to determine its feasibility.  The inner Fraser Valley would likely need to become much more densely populated in order for such a project to be financially viable.

A more realistic approach to inter-regional public transport (e.g. between Chilliwack to Abbotsford or Langley) is being worked out presently by BC Transit, but it needs to operate within the present financial framework.

 

•    Would you support an amendment to the Community Charter giving municipalities more power to impose penalties and surtaxes on the owners of vacant or derelict properties? What other methods of dealing with inefficient property use and the resulting “sprawl” in Chilliwack should be pursued?

 

Laurie Throness: This question comes into focus when we speak of the City’s recent 20 point ‘Downtown Plan’ to address the needs of the area around Five Corners.  I support this plan and the efforts of John Les, who ably represents this area of his riding.  This issue may have application in other areas of the constituency as well, and I would work to ensure that the balance of rights between landlords and municipalities does not jeopardize the character of our cities and towns, and the quality of life of their residents.

 

Gwen O’Mahony: I understand your concerns regarding the negative effects that vacant or derelict properties can have on adjacent businesses and homeowners. I support a vibrant urban centre in Chilliwack with a level of density that is appropriate to what the community has decided on through our Official Community Plan. With our population expected to grow significantly, we need to be constantly thinking about what this growth should look like and how we build complete communities where people live, work, and play close to home.  Our community also feels strongly about preserving agricultural lands and we recognize the importance of this industry to our region and our province. Urban sprawl has significant costs to all local taxpayers, ranging from water systems to policing to roads and transit. More compact communities save all taxpayers money and are more environmentally friendly, so I applaud the Chamber's interest in containing sprawl.

I know the city and the Chamber are looking for more creative ways to ensure that poorly maintained or vacant buildings are dealt with so our downtown is more attractive for development. I understand that the Union of BC Municipalities has endorsed resolutions asking the provincial government to amend the Community Charter to grant specific authority to local governments to regulate and impose penalties on owners of rundown buildings. I am not satisfied with the BC Liberal response on this, which is basically to say that local governments have enough tools at their disposal and no changes are needed. I think we can be more creative and flexible about this and work with local governments to figure out how best to deal with this unresolved problem. Our city will continue to grow and develop, and I want to make sure that we have the tools we need to ensure this growth is consistent with the desire of residents and businesses to have an attractive urban centre.

 

John Martin: This question likely relates to the challenges currently faced with the improvement of downtown Chilliwack.

The only reason to impose penalties of these types would be to compel the landowner to sell.  Discussion of the imposition of penalties and surtaxes is constructively expropriation.  This is dealt with in the Expropriation Act.

Municipally, there is a balance that needs to be addressed: mainly that property owners have a right to do “nothing” with their land as long as they are otherwise conforming with bylaws, while local governments need the power to prevent land owners from contaminating the value of other land owners (e.g. with unsightly properties).

The definition of “inefficient property use” is in the eye of the beholder: some may think that putting up a patch of parkland is the most efficient use, while some might think putting up another strip mall is the best idea.    City Council arbitrates this with official community plans and zoning bylaws.

Once the Community Charter is opened to introduce an erosion to right of private property owners in these sorts of cases, one cannot help but think about the slippery slope that one can imagine will be used in the name of improving “inefficient property usage”.  As such, I would not support such an amendment since there are both market and non-market remedies available.

The market-based solution to remedy the situation would be to offer a sufficient amount of money to the property owner to compel the sale of the property, while the non-market solution would be to engage in the processed involved in the Expropriation Act.  The latter, of course, has the limitation that such lands need to be used for public purposes.

 

•    What, if any, changes do you think should be made to BC’s Property Transfer Tax regime in order to reduce potential economic barriers to property transfer and ownership?

 

Laurie Throness: The Property Purchase Tax is often referenced as one of the taxes people would most like to see reduced or eliminated.  As someone who prefers minimal government and low taxes, that’s a hard premise to argue against.  While the Minister of Finance reviews all tax structures as part of the every budget cycle, our main economic focus is to keep personal and corporate taxes low, to restrain debt and balance the budget.

I do support the recent increase in the HST rebate threshold for new home buyers to $850,000, as well as the BC First-Time New Home Buyers’ Bonus providing a temporary one-time refundable personal income tax credit worth up to $10,000 on the purchase of any home. This will help to reduce economic barriers to home ownership.

 

Gwen O’Mahony: Our main priority right now with respect to taxation policy is the elimination of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). In an already expensive real estate market, the BC Liberal government deliberately made it even more expensive for families to buy new homes or to renovate their existing homes. This bad tax policy continues to hurt families and small businesses in our city and its repeal could have been done much more quickly. Given the results of the referendum, it is imperative that the democratic will of British Columbians be honoured without this extended period of delay and uncertainty which is not good for consumers or businesses.  I appreciate that you have identified the Property Transfer Tax as a tax you feel should be reduced,  but at this time the NDP is not contemplating a reduction.  I can assure you, however, that Adrian Dix and the BC NDP will be clear and upfront with British Columbians in advance of the next provincial election with any proposals for  changes to our province’s taxation system.

 

John Martin: Our party’s economic priority on the revenue side is to eliminate the carbon tax without raising other taxes within the context of a balanced budget.  We will have more information on how to do this with a fully costed platform in the upcoming general election.

For this by-election, we do not have a policy relating to the property transfer tax, which is expected to raise $893 million for the government this fiscal year.

We have prioritized the elimination of the carbon tax over any decisions with respect to the property transfer tax.

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