British Columbia’s housing minister has welcomed a critical letter in the ongoing dispute between the province and city council in Penticton over a controversial housing shelter.
On Thursday, the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) waded into the fray between Housing Minister David Eby and the City of Penticton by issuing a public letter.
UBCM President Brian Frenkel said there were serious concerns with the province using paramountcy to overrule Penticton’s decision in denying the shelter a year-long extension.
Read more: Penticton shelter controversy: UBCM calls province’s use of paramountcy ‘a dangerous precedent’
Had council not been overruled, the shelter would have been forced to close its doors. Instead, Eby used provincial powers to keep it open, despite objections from Penticton city council.
In the letter, Frenkel said, “We are concerned that the application of statutory immunity sets a dangerous precedent and undermines local government autonomy as established in legislation.”
The letter ended by stating, “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.”
And it’s that ending that Eby keyed in on.
“I looked at the letter pretty carefully, and I didn’t see that UBCM was calling on me to allow Penticton to kick 41 people into the local park,” said Eby.
“So I don’t think they’re characterizing it as a win for Penticton. I think that everybody understands the situation is incredibly complicated and difficult.”
He continued, saying, “I welcomed the letter, but the part that I really liked was the suggestion that UBCM establishes a process where, when the province and the city run into a jam like this, where we simply won’t allow a municipality to create a public health hazard, that UBCM might be able to play a role of negotiating between the province and the city to avoid us using this extraordinary power.”
Notably, Penticton is mulling possible legal action against the province for using paramountcy. In March, the city posted a survey asking for public input, with 51 per cent saying a legal battle should be launched.
Eby said other B.C. communities are facing “many of the same issues that Penticton is facing, (but) they’re taking a different approach, and I’m grateful for that.”
He also said that given the situation’s complexities, face-to-face meetings should occur, “and if UBCM can facilitate that, I’m glad for it.”
The minister finished by saying, “The bottom line is that the province will not allow those 40 people to end up in a park, though.”
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