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Fall session to see legislation on upzoning, crackdown on short-term rentals, and sparring between four official parties

It will be the first Question Period in decades where three opposition parties are asking questions of the B.C. NDP government, with the addition of the B.C. Conservatives.

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British Columbians calling for measures to address sky-high rental and real estate prices can expect to see legislation that will crack down on short-term rentals and force municipalities to increase density through secondary suites and upzoning. Photo by John Kenney /Montreal Gazette

When the legislature resumes for the fall session on Tuesday, the provincial NDP government will likely focus attention on their housing bills, but much of the political theatre could come from the recent addition of the B.C. Conservatives as the fourth official party.

The prospect of vote splitting among right-leaning voters between the B.C. Tories and the newly renamed B.C. United party has also renewed speculation of a spring election, despite Premier David Eby’s vow to stick to the October 2024 election date.

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British Columbians calling for measures to address sky-high rental and real estate prices can expect to see legislation that will crack down on short-term rentals and force municipalities to increase density through secondary suites and upzoning.

The B.C. Greens have called for a provincial registry of short-term rentals, which leader Sonia Furstenau said would provide a full scope on the number of potential rental units going to tourists and visitors instead of residents.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the legislation will address complaints that there is a lack of data on short-term rentals and a “lack of teeth” to deal with people operating them under the radar without paying the required fees.

“We’ve heard from local governments, and from various studies that have been done, that (short-term rentals) are taking away rental housing that people desperately need and driving up rents across our communities,” Kahlon said during a news conference in Saanich on Friday.

A recent McGill University report found more than 16,800 homes that had been part of B.C.’s long-term residential rental market had been converted to short-term rentals as of June, a 19-per-cent increase compared to June of 2022.

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New York has adopted tough short-term rental restrictions — limiting the number of people in a rental to two and requiring the host to live in the home being rented — which Airbnb has said amounts to a de-facto ban. This month, Quebec rolled out a new tourist accommodation law which enforces fines up to $100,000 for short-term rentals without a government certificate.

Kahlon plans to introduce legislation to support two housing measures announced in April: Policies that will force municipalities to allow secondary suites in all single-family homes across the province, and approve multi-unit housing on residential lots as long as the project meets all the parameters around setbacks and size.

Legislation related to Eby’s promised flipping tax — which would apply to those who hold a residential property for two years or less — will not be introduced until next year, Kahlon said.

Pointing to record home prices, “crime spinning out of control, failed drug policies and the crumbling health care system”, B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon said the public is getting tired of the NDP’s endless spending announcements and photo-ops without any results to show for it.

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“In everything they’re responsible for, we’re just getting terrible results,” he said. “And I’m going to keep hammering that home.”

Falcon is trying to build the B.C. United brand six months after ditching the B.C. Liberal moniker, and is trying to fend off concerns among party members about a split in the right with the emergence of the B.C. Conservatives as an official party.

The B.C. Conservatives gained official party status earlier this month when former B.C. United MLA Bruce Banman crossed the floor to join leader John Rustad, who represents the riding of Nechako Lakes.

Falcon said he is “completely unconcerned” about the more crowded field of opposition parties and said he is confident no more of his MLAs will defect.

The seven-week session that runs until Nov. 30 will be the first time in decades there are four official parties in the legislature. Like the B.C. Greens, the B.C. Conservatives will get one question and one follow-up during Question Period, taking time away from B.C. United.

“I’m not, frankly, going to waste any time being concerned about the fact that there’s now a fourth party,” Falcon said.

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Pointing to the B.C. Conservatives’ platform that, if elected to government, they would remove sexual orientation and gender identity policies from schools, Eby told reporters he is concerned the right-of-centre parties are in a “race to the bottom” in bringing socially conservative “American-style culture wars” to B.C.

Rustad, who was kicked out of the B.C. United caucus last year for endorsing climate change skepticism, dismissed that, saying the NDP government is stoking “huge frictions in our society” by “disrespecting parents’ rights.”

Despite the premier’s repeated promise to stick to the fixed election date of Oct. 19, 2024, Rustad’s money is on a spring election, which is why the party is in full campaign mode in an effort to solidify candidate for all 93 ridings.

“Two months ago, I would have said there’s a 15-per-cent chance of a spring election,” Rustad said. “I think that’s increased dramatically with the change in the polls. You can see that we are pulling from (the B.C. NDP support), as well as pulling from the B.C. United party, and I think, quite frankly, they want to give us an extra six months.”

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Gerald Baier, a political scientist at the University of B.C., isn’t convinced of a snap spring election, saying Eby might want to give Falcon and Rustad’s parties more time to “beat each other up.” The B.C. Conservatives’ bump in recent opinion polls, Baier said, is likely linked to the rising popularity of federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

“Add to that the fact that (the B.C. Conservatives) are going to have more status in the House and they’re going to have a bit more of a role in Question Period, I think that is going to put the feet to the fire for B.C. United,” Baier said. “The NDP are probably sitting back laughing, in a sense, because the party’s gains in sort of non-traditional NDP seats over the last two elections has come from some splitting of the conservative vote.”

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