The Union of B.C. Municipalities has waded into the ongoing dispute between the City of Penticton and the provincial government over a controversial homeless shelter.
This week, the UBCM wrote a letter to Housing Minister David Eby regarding the shelter in the downtown core, stating it had serious concerns with the province overruling Penticton’s decision to deny the shelter a year-long extension.
Had council not been overruled, the shelter would have been forced to close its doors. Instead, Eby used paramountcy to keep it open despite objections from Penticton city council.
“UBCM does not wish to become involved in a local dispute, but as an organization representing local governments across the province, we urge the province to commit to working in collaboration with local governments within the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions on current and future projects of mutual concern,” UBCM president Brian Frenkel said in the letter dated May 19.
“We are concerned that the application of statutory immunity sets a dangerous precedent and undermines local government autonomy as established in legislation.
“The Community Charter confirms that municipalities and their councils are an order of government within their jurisdiction that is ‘democratically elected, autonomous, responsible and accountable’ and must operate under strict statutory conditions associated with public consultation and public interest.
“Furthermore, the Local Government Act grants local governments the powers and flexibility required to respond to the needs of their communities within that mandate.”
Frenkel noted the province’s use of paramountcy in Maple Ridge in 2019, with that community’s objections against a supportive housing project being overridden.
“I would also note that then Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson provided assurance the application of statutory immunity in Maple Ridge was a special case, and affirmed that the province takes local government autonomy seriously,” said Frenkel.
“We would welcome the opportunity to explore a dispute resolution mechanism that could be used as an alternative to the application of statutory immunity in the future.”
Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki, who has been openly critical of Eby’s decision, welcomed the letter.
“I appreciate Mr. Frenkel sending his message of collaboration to minister Eby,” said Vassilaki. “Council is elected locally, they are accountable locally and the sites for housing shelters like 352 Winnipeg St. should be decided locally.
“As the province has overridden local housing decisions elsewhere in B.C., Penticton city council is standing up to defend local autonomy and the ability for our residents and businesses to have a say in what’s best for their community.”
Global News has reached out to Eby.
The UBCM letter can be read online.