Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, federal MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, was in Whistler last week for a town hall hosted by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.
Open to the public, the Aug. 30 meeting at the Maury Young Arts Centre addressed a slew of topics, including, of course, Whistler's pressing concerns around its longstanding housing and labour shortage. Held just hours after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the approval of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX), citing a lack of government consultation with First Nations, the project, along with Ottawa's overall energy strategy, was also top of mind for many in attendance.
The dozens of attendees had the option to either submit questions through their smartphone or wait until the audience question-and-answer period at the end of the hour-and-a-half session.
Pique has highlighted some of the discussion below, which has been divided by subject and lightly edited for length and clarity.
On what the federal government is doing to address housing:
PGJ: We now have a National Housing Strategy. We've committed to that, and it's the first time Canada has had that.
There are all sorts of programs within that, but generally speaking, the housing strategy is about addressing housing for those who have the greatest challenges. Following this meeting, I think there's two applications that Whistler has put in, which I will sit down and work with Whistler on and take to the minister and do everything I can to have those put forward.
The other piece of that, something that's new, is called a housing benefit ... In 2019, this comes into place, and for people of a certain income, there will be an amount, say $400 a month, that you will get and stay with you to close that gap. Say you can afford $900 a month but not $1,300 a month (on rent), that's what that's for. We hope that's another away that housing becomes in reach for more people.
On what's being done to address how real estate prices are fuelled:
PGJ: You've seen some of the measures taken federally and provincially. For instance, the market seems to have cooled more in terms of volume of sales, but in terms of price, in our part of the world anyway, it's still extremely high. The (real estate) speculation tax, some people feel it's been terribly detrimental, others feel they have faith that this is helpful.
(Finance) minister (Bill) Morneau did do a study on what's fuelling the Vancouver and Toronto housing markets. We are closing loopholes, we are focusing on this in Saskatoon when we go to our national caucus meeting in a week and a half. But there are a lot of moving parts. I don't like to act like I fully understand all those parts, but we are addressing bit by bit what we can to cool down the housing market, but also not to be punitive. This is me being a little political, but one of the things the (B.C.) premier brought in in regards to tenant advocacy, gives tenants an awful lot of rights, that, from what I've seen in the early days, makes people not want to rent. So it's a delicate balance.
On the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program:
PGJ: (Employment) minister (Patty) Hajdu has been deeply committed, right from Day 1, on reviewing the Temporary Foreign Worker file as a whole, and it's certainly been an election issue in the last several elections because of the abuses that had happened and the kind of real crackdown that Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper brought to the program. Our review has shown, and the government has a good understanding, that sectors are different, needs are different and it's not one size fits all. We've done, I think, a pretty good job of expressing the needs of Whistler to the minister. Her first priority is that Canadians get jobs first, that jobs offer skills training, that Indigenous people are employed—all the things that Whistler has done and has led on are in place.
On what the government is doing to support employers deliver much-needed skills training to their staff:
PGJ: Skills training is obviously very important and it's something that we want to be able to encourage employers to do and also be grateful for that and recognize that, so I think that's part of how we address this problem, and we're seeing some pretty innovative things happening.
What we'll do after this meeting is respond in a concrete way. I can make general statements but I'd rather point us to specific programs.
On how Whistler workers can survive on low wages when the cost of living is so high:
PGJ: Yeah, and how does a business survive that wants to employ someone and is providing housing and everybody is very stretched? I'm hopeful that some of the things in the housing strategy will help, like the housing benefit and like the proposals that we will work on together in order to attract federal investment in employee housing. But a business has to decide what it can afford to pay. I'm not sure the role the federal government has in that.
We did reduce the small business tax on the federal side. The wage is determined (by provincial governments).
On why the government acquired the Trans Mountain pipeline as a Crown corporation and is seeking investors to expand the project: PGJ: At the heart of the TMX decision is Canada's need to diversify its markets. You probably all know right now, with regard to the export of oil, we sell it at a reduced price to the United States, pretty much exclusively. In order to get a better price, we need to be selling it to other markets. That's one of the fundamentals of why the government is interested in TMX. We'll see where that goes.
Also, we need to think about what Canada's energy future is in the 10-, 20-, 30-year timeframe. The TMX project is the beginning of that, but really we have to transition to other forms of energy and other forms of fuel. I was surprised to see Premier (John) Horgan be as gung ho on LNG as (former) Premier (Christy) Clark. That will be next. That's part of reducing global GHG emissions overall, but ... we must have a (national) price on carbon in order to reach our targets and that is the big thing that we should be pulling together on.
On whether she supports the Woodfibre LNG project on the shores of Howe Sound:
PGJ: I, myself, personally think it's in the wrong location. I say that, the minister knows that, and it doesn't make me particularly popular in certain circles. But I've studied LNG. In fact I wrote my report for my MBA on Aboriginal business for the First Nations Mining Council, which was intended to demonstrate what jobs would be available for Indigenous peoples along the construction route. As a result, I've studied LNG all over the world. I have visited plants in Singapore, which is a massive trans-shipment area for the industry. They are simply not sited at the end of fjord where people live—they just aren't. That's not to say that I don't think the industry is obviously a big industry, and I also feel that two successive opposite parties in provincial government wanted to expand it in British Columbia. I think that that will happen.
Goldsmith-Jones named secretary to foreign affairs minister
On Friday, Aug. 31, Goldsmith-Jones was appointed to the position of parliamentary secretary to the federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
Goldsmith-Jones previously served as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs from December 2015 to January 2017. She took on the international trade role at the start of last year.
The term is for 12 months, but can be renewed at the end of the term. Parliamentary secretaries earn an additional salary of $14,600 per term.
-Squamish Chief staff