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Provincial election just five weeks away

Sea to sky candidates talk housing, affordability

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For incumbent BC Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy, it's not surprising that housing has become a dominant issue in the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding — the surprise comes in how long it has taken.

"As we know, the highway was completed in 2010... (and in) 2011, 2012, I'm thinking 'What's going on? Why isn't Squamish taking off?'" Sturdy said in a phone call from his office in Pemberton.

"It took until really 2014 before the market discovered Squamish... and then in 2015 things started moving."

The impacts of that "market discovery" in the past three years should be no surprise to residents of the Sea to Sky corridor: more growth, more visitors and fewer housing options for the people who live and work here.

"I think both (Squamish and Whistler) have had equal impacts in many respects, in that the visits overall are growing very significantly — in double digits in Whistler — and that means more staff, that means more people, that means more traffic, and that means more opportunity," Sturdy said.

"But it also means more challenges."

Housing has become an issue from one end of the corridor to the other, Sturdy said, and different communities require different approaches.

With the May 9 election clearly in its sights, the BC Liberals have been doling out the cash in recent months — including two separate $2 million contributions for housing projects in Whistler.

"I'm in regular communication with the (Resort Municipality of Whistler), with the mayor's office, with councillors on what their ideas are, and I'm looking forward to getting a better assessment of the circumstances in Whistler," Sturdy said, noting he's interested in seeing what the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing finds in the coming months.

"I think the mayor has recognized (the problem) through her housing task force, and it is a complex problem. Whistler is changing, there's no question about it. What is the impact of Airbnb and that type of economy on availability?"

The work the RMOW and the Whistler Housing Authority has done to house employees in the community is a bright spot in the riding and beyond, Sturdy added.

"I think it's an example to communities around the province. It's something that I bring up all the time with other communities."

If re-elected, Sturdy said he will continue to work towards a regional transit structure for the Sea to Sky.

"(The provincial government has) been there, (and) we will be there in the future," he said.

For the Green Party's Dana Taylor — a two-time North Vancouver city councillor — addressing housing in the riding would begin with consulting municipalities to learn more about their individual needs, "and then looking at some of the transition, the specifics of what plans are underway to address this now and then where is the help needed," he said.

"Looking at the 'emergency' side, or the most pressing aspect of it, and really focusing on that."

The tendency in the past has been to "let the marketplace take care of things," but the issue of affordability is not the same as it was 15 years ago, Taylor said.

"The costs of housing have outstripped people's ability to pay — and a whole range of people, not just people at the lower end of the income scale," he said.

"And frankly I don't think that's going to change. I think there are ways of dealing with that, impacting the market place somewhat... policy and platforms are one thing, and then programs come from those things."

The answer could lie in incentive programs to provide mixes of housing, and engaging the development community to ensure adequate rental units are being created for people who need them, Taylor said.

"But first and foremost you've got to be talking to the people who are actually there," he said.

The BC NDP's Michelle Livaja, acclaimed on April 2, said she didn't want to speak to the issue ahead of the party's platform being released, "but definitely there will be some ideas that are coming forward in that."

But ever-increasing fees under Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals are not making things easy on average British Columbians, she said.

"I had a $1,500 dollar hydro bill this winter, and that was before the increase, so that's something that definitely is a factor for our island residents, for example," said Livaja, a longtime resident of Bowen Island.

"Normal working families can't afford this."

(For a full profile of Livaja, see page 18.)

Tristan Galbraith, running as an independent in the riding, said having better education and more support for community services is important, but "the first thing I'd like to see is that we raise our minimum wage to at least $15 an hour."

One of Galbraith's main points is what he calls a disappearing "hierarchy of needs" for young people who want to own land, housing, vehicles and more. So how would he address the problem?

"I think just creating the awareness as a starting point, and once elected developing a greater strategy and finding out what it is," he said, adding that he'd like to see an increase in manufacturing.

"It's not necessarily something I think we can address right away, but it is something we're going to look at addressing in the big picture, and when elected raising the minimum wage will be a great starting point, and helping small businesses."

For more on Galbraith's campaign visit www.tristangalbraith.com.

More on the Green Party: www.bcgreens.ca, the NDP: www.bcndp.ca and Jordan Sturdy: www.votejordan.ca.

An all-candidates debate is planned for Mon., April 24 at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

Stay tuned to Pique in the coming weeks for more on the May 9 provincial election.

VOTING IN THE PROVINCIAL ELECTION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Anyone who is 18 years old, a Canadian citizen and a resident of British Columbia for the past six months is eligible to vote in the May 9 provincial election.

Voters must register — either online at www.eregister.electionsbc.gov.bc.ca/ovr/, by phone at 1-800-661-8683, by mail, fax or e-mail, or in person. Complete info can be found at www.elections.bc.ca/register-to-vote.

General voter registration closes on Tues., April 11 at midnight, but voters can also register in person at their polling station on Election Day.

Advance voting takes place on Sat., April 29 and Sun., April 30, as well as from Wed., May 3 to Sat., May 6 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Whistler's polling station is at the Whistler Conference Centre, 4010 Whistler Way.

Voters are entitled to four consecutive hours free from work to vote on General Voting Day (Tues., May 9 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.), but that doesn't necessarily mean a guaranteed four hours off of work — just that each voter must have a four-hour period, free from work, during voting hours (so for example, if a shift ends at 4 p.m., or doesn't start until noon, the employee is not entitled to any time off).

Employers are not allowed to deduct pay or otherwise penalize for taking time off to vote.

For more resources head to www.elections.bc.ca.

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