June 14, 2022 – The Hon. David Eby, QC, MLA, Minister Responsible for Housing of British Columbia – Topic: Indigenous Justice, Housing and other present issues

The Honorable
David Eby, QC, MLA

A proud local resident, David was appointed in July 2017 to his current role as Attorney General by Premier John Horgan.
Before he was elected, David was the Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, an adjunct professor of law at the University of British Columbia, president of the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and served on the Vancouver Foundation’s Health and Social Development Committee.
An award-winning human rights lawyer, he has been repeatedly recognized in local media as one of British Columbia’s most effective advocates and has appeared at all levels of court in BC.
His years of legal advocacy at Pivot Legal Society to protect the human rights and dignity of homeless and under-housed residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were recognized in 2011 by the UN Association in Canada and the B.C. Human Rights Coalition with their annual award.
David grew up in Kitchener, Ontario. His father, Brian, was a personal injury lawyer and his mother, Laura, was a teacher, and later a grade school principal. He was president of St. Mary’s High School in his senior year.
He studied English at the University of Waterloo and worked for a communications firm after graduation. In 2004, he graduated from Schulich School of Law in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He articled for the federal Department of Justice and was called to the bar in June 2005.
David played in and provided vocals for several electro-indie rock bands, including Ladner and World of Science. He worked at Pivot Legal Society from 2005 to 2008 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside before becoming the executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association from 2008 until 2012.
.but was unsuccessful.
He was an adjunct professor of law at the University of British Columbia from 2009 – 2013, and also has served as president of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and as a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
He is the author of The Arrest Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights, published by the BCCLA.
His wife, Cailey, was a Registered Nurse, and later studied medicine at UBC. They have a son, Ezra, and a daughter, Iva.

NOTE: this was our first face to face meeting since 10, 2020, and keeping the Zoom option at the same time

Bill Hooker introduces David Eby

Transcription of presentation 

MLA David Eby returned earlier this month to discuss some of the challenges BC continues to face in the wake of the pandemic. While the outcomes have yet to be tallied, several trends have become quite apparent: increased racism, increased quality of life crimes, and increased polical division and unrest. These trends are seen across North America, but there are steps that are being taken by the provincial government to help address the tensions.

BC was alarmingly designated as the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America. There has also been an increase in an-First Nations racism, particularly in the healthcare sector. In response, the provincial government has taken acon in various forms, including increasing community capacity for immediate acon, systemic reform, and public education.

In terms of the immediate response, the Resilience BC network provides community organizations across the province a resource hub and funding to be able to respond quickly and support victims when there are high-profile racist incidents in their communities. At a systemic level, Dr. Chapelle Lafond was hired to pre[1]pare a report and recommendations on addressing anti-Indigenous racism in the healthcare system. The office of the Human Rights Commissioner was also re-established – currently conducting a systemic examination of the increased hate crimes over the last two years and identifying opportunities for better government and community response. The An-racism Data Act was also recently passed, which enables the government to use the information collected from British Columbians to facilitate targeted outreach to underserved communities and ensure that the benefits of government programs are equitable distributed. Regarding public education, the province is partnering with several community groups to deliver public education programs and facilities that demonstrate the vital contributions of different Asian communities to BC. The province is also working with First Nations to build capacity and formally return jurisdiction, authority, and oversight concerning their own citizens. UVIC now has a degree program which studies not just provincial and federal law but also Indigenous laws so that graduates can work with First Nations and help build up their legal institutions in preparation for the assumption of jurisdiction.

Crime rates have declined overall provincially over the last four years. Over the pandemic, property crime, in particular, decreased significantly. However, crimes that would fall broadly under the category of ‘quality of life crimes’ increased. These crimes are concentrated around downtown cores in different parts of the province and include open shoplifting, graffiti, uttering threats, and level-one assaults (aka random stranger attacks). The government is trying to address the root causes of these crimes by providing supportive housing to people who are living outside and in encampments. The net impact of this effort has been undeniably positive; however, 10-15% of people who get moved into supportive housing continue to really struggle. The vast majority of this population is grappling with severe mental health and addiction issues and needs health care. Currently, these folks are most likely to be evicted back to the street, meaning that the people sll living outside are generally the sickest. The most recent provincial government budget has dedicated funding for 500 complex care beds to help fill this gap. Different models (e.g. scattered housing, smaller purpose-built facilities, dedicated floors in buildings, etc.) are being tested and evaluated for effectiveness in responding to the needs.

There has also been an increase in prolific offenders as courts have been more reluctant to send people into custody during the pandemic. As a result, BC prison populations fell more than 20%, so many people who would have usually been in rehab centers and prisons are currently in the community. Given the overall reduction in activity across the crime and justice sectors, the usual response of increasing their funding is probably not the appropriate tacc. Instead, Former Chief Officer Doug Lepard and mental health and corrections expert Dr. Aman[1]da Butler are currently working together to help identify ways that the government can intervene more effectively in relation to random stranger a:acks and prolific offenders. While their work is underway, the message certainly needs to highlight compassion for mental health issues and addiction while maintaining clear boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable public behaviour.

Last, there has been an increase in politically motivated civil un[1]rest from both ends of the spectrum, from the an-mandate truckers’ protest in Ottawa to the traffic blockades related to old[1]growth logging. As a senior minister of the governing party, David Eby is a clear target for political actions, and unfortunately, his office was recently vandalized by an-vaxx protesters overnight. This is difficult to manage in a world of social media, but the provincial government’s role here is to ensure that people see them[1]selves and their views represented in government. Currently, BC’s legislative assembly is the most diverse in history, regardless of the definition. Furthermore, citizen participation in provincial government decisions has never been higher.

Unfortunately, the social fabric in North America was profoundly damaged by the pandemic, and these responses alone will not be sufficient. Community organizations, like the Probus Club, are the most essential tools in building back better.

Bud Wong thanked David Eby.

Transcription of Q&A

Question: Would you comment upon the difficult relationship between the RCMP and First Nations of BC?

Answer: Yeah, I certainly can. I’ll do my best. One of the repeated requests from First Nations, whether it’s through the justice strategy that they authored or through direct appeals to government, is increased jurisdiction in relation to the administration of law, which includes policing. They asked for, understandably, increased support for First Nations communities to be able to police themselves. And that request was reflected in an all-party committee set of work that was done about a year and a half ago. An all-party committee was struck to review the Police Act and make recommendations to government about reform. One of the significant recommendations from that committee was the importance of ensuring that policing is responsive to the needs in particular of First Nations communities.

As the ongoing dialogue in Surrey shows, transitioning from RCMP to other forms of policing is not an easy thing. Nor is it cheap. But the committee did come to a recommendation that we transition from RCMP to a provincial police force and shift responsibility for policing so that there’s more accountability within the province around policies, around training, and around complaints. Part of that is a shift towards First Nations jurisdiction in relation to policing.

One setback, one of the big challenges that we have with RCMP policing, is not the quality of the policing. It’s not police officers. It’s not the rules. It is the lack of a feedback loop between government and police. So when you have a complaint with RCMP, you file it with a commission that’s answerable to Ottawa. The accountability is to Ottawa, the infrastructure of the RCMP is in Ottawa, and they are not under provincial government authority, except to the extent within our policing contract. We’ve agreed to that. So, that is a very significant challenge. It’s a challenge for local communities, and local detachment heads try to navigate that.

 

The other challenge with the RCMP is, in my experience travelling around to rural and remote communities, is you get police officers with no connection to the community coming in. Especially in rural and remote communities, it tends to be younger police officers who are newer to the profession, going into these communities, because that’s where the rookies go. The more experience you get, then you get more desirable positions in different parts of the RCMP. They have various policies to try to mitigate that and try to support people staying longer in the community. But one of the big concerns that was raised when I was starting work on police accountability, feels like 100 years ago, by rural communities was that they build a relationship with an officer they really get things going and then that officer would move on to another community, and people found that very frustrating. So, that’s some of the reason for some of the challenges and friction is a need to recognize the need for the passing of jurisdiction and responsibility. The other is the ability to build those relationships that last over time that’s frustrated by a national force that moves people around. And the third is the disconnect between provincial policy and the policy of the RCMP, given the constitutional issues.

 

Question: We would like your views on the building permit delays and the cost of permits. Edmonton no longer requires building permits.

Answer: For those on Zoom, I just mind a nice, slow pitch. So I have some very strong views about the state of housing and the connection between the housing crisis that we face and some of the very lengthy processes, which by the way, do include provincial approval processes in order to get housing built. One of the interesting things about the Sen?á?wk development that I told you about, the Squamish Nation development that’s going to be taking place just up the road, is that because it’s on reserve land, it didn’t go through any of the approvals, public hearing processes, whatever that the City of Vancouver has. The only interface with the City of Vancouver is the servicing agreement for the water and sewage for the site. Their time from announcement of project to commencement of construction is a fraction of what any other project is.

 

I had a meeting with the Urban Development Institute last week, where they ran me through project, after project, after project, amounting to 30,000 units of housing, about 10,000 rental housing units, about 7,000 of which were affordable, that had been tied up for five years or longer in various municipal processes across the Lower Mainland. Some, to be fair, we’re in South Vancouver Island as well. When we’re adding 100,000 people last year to our province from other countries and other provinces (the big migration inflows were from Alberta and Ontario interprovincially) – a 60-year high in immigration to British Columbia – the federal government is telling us explicitly they’re saying, expect more of this because we are accelerating this. And by the way, they’ve also issued, I don’t know what they’re at now, 100,000 more visas in Ukraine.

 

On top of that, with Ukrainian immigration to British Columbia and other provinces, we can’t be in a place where we can get the housing built. As Housing Minister, I also see rising interest rates. I see inflation around the supplies. A lot of projects that were economically viable five years ago when they were proposed are rapidly becoming non-viable. So, I have a huge sense of urgency around that.

 

I have been on the verge of begging, some think it’s very undignified, but frankly, this is not a time for dignity. It is time for action. I’ve been begging city councils to please approve this housing project that is provincially funded! This is BC housing money going into this affordable housing. Please approve it. Please expedite your approval processes. Some cities have heard that. I don’t want to be unfair. Some cities have really expedited their process. Victoria said, “okay, you come in, use your provincial authorities to build the project without going through any of our municipal processes.” Some people call it supremacy. Internally, we call it statutory immunity that the province can build a provincial housing project without any municipal approval processes. Victoria invited us to come and do that with three social housing projects to get them built. Those housing projects are almost complete. We have four projects in Vancouver. Two of them are almost through the public hearing process. It’s really hard as the minister responsible to know that our costs are going up while we wait for these approvals for these various projects.

 

We also put in place an authority for municipalities to waive public hearings where a proposal is consistent with an official community plan. So you had all these public hearings about what should our community look like, where should the housing be? You’ve developed an official Community Plan. Someone comes and proposes a building that’s consistent with the official Community Plan. And then you say to them, “very good, we’re gonna go through another round of public hearings about whether your building should go ahead.” Instead, we can say, “you’re allowed to skip that public hearing.” Go ahead, go straight to the development permit stage, and the City of North Vancouver has taken us up on that. And that is the end of the list.

 

So, the challenge that we have is we need to build a lot of housing in a hurry. The enemy of affordable housing is time, and in Vancouver, time is probably 5-7 years for major multifamily projects, and Vancouver is not alone in that. There are many municipalities that face that. These are municipalities that allow that kind of housing. There are municipalities that do not allow multifamily. They functionally do not permit it. At a time of rising costs around materials and land, multifamily housing, everything from townhomes to houseplexes to apartment buildings, are what we’re going to need to respond.

 

Sorry, this is a long answer, but obviously, I could have done a whole speech on this. I have said to municipalities, my colleague Nathan Cullen, the Minister for Municipalities, has said to municipalities, and our government is trying to convey that, unless municipalities can figure this out, unless they can find ways to get housing approved quickly, the province will have to step in with some form of legislation to ensure that essential infrastructure is built because housing is the same as water service, or hydro, or whatever. It is essential for our province to be successful, for employers to find people to hire, for them to be able to live near work, for climate commitments to cut down on the traffic of everybody living out in Chilliwack and driving to Vancouver for work, and so on. If we want livable communities, we need to build more housing. So, I have been trying to send that message. So, I do have some strong views about that. It appears to be, given the discussion around the Broadway Corridor in Vancouver, an increasing issue of political salience in Vancouver. I’ll be interested to see how that shakes out in the municipal election. That Broadway Corridor plan is at least two years late. That housing should be under construction right now for the opening of the subway, and it is not. The permits won’t be accepted until the plan is approved. It was supposed to be approved last Wednesday, and then it was put over again for another day of discussion. So, I have some views on that absolutely.

 

Answer: That’s a great question. So, for a period of, depending on how you measure it, of four to five years – some people go back to Expo ’86, some people go back to the Olympics – we don’t really know how much international money came into the housing market. There was a big push for the provincial government to start to track that. There was a lot of resistance to that when they finally started tracking. It was about 20% of the units in Burnaby, about 18% in Richmond, about 17% in Vancouver, were selling internationally and having a significant impact on pricing.

 

Question: Do we have too much offshore capital flowing into the housing market?

That led to the imposition of the Foreign Buyer Tax by the then BC Liberal government and the permission for the City of Vancouver to charge an Empty Homes Tax. When we formed government, we doubled the Foreign Buyer Tax, and we introduced the Speculation and Vacancy Tax which ties your Provincial Property Tax to whether you’re keeping a unit vacant or whether you’re renting it out, and also to whether or not you’re paying provincial taxes in British Columbia, whether you’re a tax resident in British Columbia. These combinations of interventions have reduced international purchasers in our housing market to below 2%, and international money is no longer considered in terms of the purchase of housing as a significant driver of prices. However, during that period, when expectations were set about prices and so on, they did have a significant impact.

 

The federal government since then has now imposed another layer federally of the Foreign Buyer ban with carve-outs for international students, permanent residents who are working, and a number of other carve-outs that functionally, for BC, mean it won’t have any particular impact, except perhaps in some resort municipalities like Whistler, on housing prices.

 

So, the short answer is yes, there was a big influence. Today, I think less so compared to the issue of the scarcity of housing. In the same time period as we had a 60-year high in in-migration to the province, we had (since the beginning of counting data in the MLS system) the lowest number of housing units for sale in Metro Vancouver ever. And at the same time as we had this massive in-migration, we also saw the lowest vacancy rates,  around 1% or 2% in Vancouver, functionally zero. Some communities are actually at 1%, which is just a remarkable thing. So thanks, very good question.

 

Question: Eby, how can we build a functioning society or a country when there are different benefits and requirements based on an individual’s bloodline? This is sort of discrimination accepted and promoted by our governments.

Answer: I think that this is a core political discussion. It is part of our Anti-racism Data Act to recognize that different communities are able to access different government programs differently. And that results in different outcomes, some of which are very undesirable. Whether it’s about high school graduation attainment, healthcare outcomes, housing outcomes, incarceration outcomes, any number of outcomes that government, I believe, should be focused on trying to drive down. If you don’t recognize, or if you refuse to recognize, that different communities are responding differently to different government programs, then you’re, in my opinion, and I don’t mean any disrespect, I think it’s a sincerely asked question, in my opinion, you’re blinding yourself to a potential way to drive down those negative outcomes. It is the case that if you are supporting First Nations culture, recognizing their connection to the land, recognizing their history, recognizing their jurisdiction over their own people – which we recognize in the Constitution, it’s not our government’s particular initiative. It’s a constitutionally recognized thing – but if we recognize these things, and we provide kids of First Nations descent, an educational experience, that they see people who look like them in positions of authority, they see people who look like them in, in different areas of the economy, different areas of the justice system, whatever, their outcomes get better. And this is something that has been documented and researched. We can prove it.

 

So, treating people differently for better outcomes, positive outcomes, is something that our government does. And it’s also something that can be controversial. I recognize that. But I think that it’s essential to recognize those things and to do that work and try to help communities to have better outcomes. I think there is tension, though. And that tension is around some of the extremes I see in relation to identity politics, of driving people apart. We can’t possibly work together. We’re so different. We’re all different. And we’re not actually all part of the same collective trying to work together to improve the province. I’m part of this group, and you’re part of this group, and you’ll never get me, and I’ll never get you.” That is an extreme view. It’s not a common view, but it is a potential trend we need to be aware of when doing this work. It’s very sensitive and important work that we have to do, but it can, if we’re not careful, have the effect of dragging people apart instead of bringing them together and increasing our broad prosperity as a province.

 

Question: Could you comment on the plans and expenditures for the BC Museum planned in Victoria? I understand you allocated $200 million for earthquake protection, then you’ve decided that the whole museum needs to have a redo, and you’re planning $800 million on top of that – a big expenditure. And compare that if you would, with the, what I understand is in support of the Art Gallery in the tune of $250 million. So I think a lot of us were staggered by this $800 million expenditure for the museum. Why was that necessary?

 

Answer: Yeah, thanks. Good question. So I thought we might have a museum question. I noticed the staff were flicking the lights while you were asking the question. In support or in opposition? I’m not sure. So the Premier and the relevant ministers have been working on this for a number of years. There are two components to this project. The core issue is the museum holds 10s of 1000s of artifacts from our shared history, including a massive document archive, many of which are currently stored below sea level and in a facility that would not withstand an earthquake. So, the discussion is, well, what are we going to do about a number of pieces? There’s also a significant number of exhibitions that the museum hasn’t been able to hold because they have insufficient capacity for the physical size of the exhibits proposed to come into the museum. We also have some responsibilities around repatriation of some Indigenous artifacts that Nations would like back that are physically built into the museum. So for a whole pile of reasons, government decided to look at renovation, replacement, and so on.

 

The first phase of the project, though, was to ensure that the archives and essential artifacts and so on, are protected. So that’s the $200 million dollar project you’re talking about, which is a provincial archive, which will be located off-site and will be protecting those artifacts. The second is what do we do with the museum? So there were costed out plans for renovation – what would be required for the museum to be able to fulfill its mandate to do the work that we expect them to do as the people’s museum in British Columbia, to do the exhibitions that other museums are able to do in other communities, to be a center of tourism for the City of Victoria, and to be something that we can all be proud of? So that work was done. The cost of renovation was, I believe, on the order of $600 million. The cost of a brand new build was, I believe, $800 million. Please forgive me if I’m off a little bit in these numbers. I’m working from memory. The commitment that was made was $100 million in the capital budget over an eight-year period to complete the project. It works out to less than 4% of the overall provincial capital budget. The idea is to create a museum that we can all be proud of, that can be a center of our shared history, and part of some of what I was actually talking about today about First Nations and different founding communities in British Columbia.

 

With respect to the Art Gallery, I’m not aware that the Art Gallery has been turned down formally by government or informally. I do understand that there has been some significant movement on that file recently with some significant financial commitments from major donors that they’ve been waiting on for a long time. The government has been looking to them to secure before advancing the Art Gallery project in Vancouver. That’s about all I can say usefully on that topic because I’m not up to speed on that particular piece. Thanks for asking.

 

Question: The housebuilding industry, which represents less than 1.5% of our economy, is the only group that benefits from excessive immigration. Why should we allow this unnecessary growth which will destroy our infrastructure and enjoyment of overcrowded and unhealthy communities? Where does the assumption that artificial government-induced growth is a good thing?

 

Answer: So on the first question, a really important question about immigration policy, and I think one that the United States grapples with and Canada does – how many people do we welcome to Canada through various streams? I think we have international commitments around refugees, but in terms of economic migration, migration to build country, migration to respond to demographic shifts in country, all decisions and discussions that are taken at the federal level. At the provincial level, as Housing Minister, I just see what’s coming. I see what’s coming, and I know we need to be ready, and I know we’re not ready. And that’s the part that really worries me when people are sleeping in their cars, when they’re lining up to rent basement suites and these kinds of things. That knowing things will get worse if we don’t respond in an urgent way is the piece that I am particularly focused on. I think the presumption in the question that the house building industry is the only one that benefits from immigration to British Columbia is not correct. There’s some really excellent research on immigration and the positive impacts that immigration has on British Columbia and Canada. So, I wouldn’t like that to go unchallenged, but I won’t focus on it.

 

The second question is an important one, and one that is an important discussion from the perspective of environment, sustainable communities and so on. What is government’s role in managing growth? How do we disconnect growth from carbon emissions? How do we disconnect growth from negative outcomes? How do we support positive and sustainable growth in our communities? This is the stuff of many different provincial policies. I could go into it in detail, but I don’t think anyone assumes that growth itself is a good thing. Uncontrolled growth in biological systems is a problem, and growth that isn’t responded to with essential infrastructure like housing, schools, employment, responsive groups who can meet people. One of the first things we did in government was make ESL training free in the province so that when you arrive in British Columbia, you can get your English training and you can level yourself up quickly. Another piece that we’re working on is recognizing international credentials better to ensure that people aren’t driving cabs when they’re engineers and they’re not driving cabs when they’re medically trained. One of the recent announcements was around the recognition of nurse credentials, nurses that we badly need in the healthcare system. So I don’t know that there’s an assumption around that. There’s a recognition that growth brings with it responsibility and careful government management.

 

Question: Returning to the question of Indigenous justice, could you comment just briefly on the new First Nations Justice Centers that are being established across the province?

 

Answer: The idea behind these centers is a pretty straightforward one. If a First Nations family or a First Nations individual is in contact with the justice system, they can go to this center and get a couple of things. One is legal advice. But more importantly, wraparound services responsive to the reason why they’re in contact with the justice system in the first place. Are there things that could be put in place to divert this person out of the criminal justice system, out of the child protection system, and into a better outcome? So that piece is really vital when we look at the massive over-representation, particularly of Indigenous women and girls, in the justice system. Intervening early and finding solutions to the core issue – Is there a problem with a partner? Is it a problem with the housing situation? Is that a problem with a mental health or addiction issue? Is it a problem with some other challenges this person is facing? Can we address that and get them out of this cycle of offending, the cycle that brings them into the criminal justice system. The fact that it’s Indigenous-run for Indigenous people is a really important component of that. It’s a really exciting initiative. There are three that are open right now. Prince George has a very tense relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Amazingly, the readers of the newspaper in Prince George voted the First Nations Justice Center as their favourite social service in Prince George. I read that, and I was shocked but pleasantly surprised. It really shows that people can recognize the effect and importance of these kinds of interventions.

 

Question: Many years ago, there was a tax program where individual investors who invested in rental buildings received tax benefits that stimulated a lot of rental buildings. Have you considered reintroducing some sort of tax benefit for individual investors to invest in rental buildings, which may stimulate production?

 

Answer: Yes, thanks for that. So the MIRHPP and the MURB programs – I mean, they built the West End, they built a lot of what is currently the affordable rental housing stock that a lot of the advocates are fighting to keep – the low-rise walk-up rental buildings. Groups of doctors, or dentists, or lawyers would band together, and they would do a rental housing development. One of the messages that I try to convey over and over to city councils and to the public is government can do a lot of housing building, we can build a lot, but we need the private sector as well. And there is a huge amount of private sector interest in building housing, and there’s a huge amount of investment money out there that’s looking for places to land. I mean, I’m sure you’re all liquidating your Bitcoin holdings right now, so where are you going to put your investments? There’s the interest of insurance companies or pension funds or others to build housing is really profound, and if you couple it up with some tax benefits, you can have a really profound effect. One of the reasons I understand the program was cancelled was it was actually too successful, and the opinion of the federal government was that it was compromising tax revenues. It was around the point that the feds almost exited the housing game entirely. To many warnings that they shouldn’t and that we would pay a reckoning someday down the road – well, we’re there now.

 

I’ve talked to the Federal Minister about this many times. The way that the program worked was it was an accelerated capital cost allowance for rental housing. This is a federal tax tool, which is a really good one. What we’re doing at the provincial level is we’re providing construction financing for private developers, so whether they’re nonprofit or for-profit, to bring down their cost of borrowing for the construction of the project. It can be a significant saving for them, especially with the duration of some of the approvals that I’ve been telling you about. In exchange, they make commitments to the province around affordability. This is one of the tools we’re using. We’re not afraid to, and it is controversial in some circles, but we’re not afraid to subsidize or find ways to encourage the private sector to build the kind of housing that we know we need. I’ve definitely advocated for a return to that program, as well as another program called the RRAP program that helped private landlords renovate their buildings in exchange for affordability guarantees. A lot of landlords are looking at buildings that need capital repairs and wondering how they square that with their tenants that are in the building that have relatively low rents. That program closed the gap, and we’re talking to the feds about those programs as well. It’s a great question. I love that program. It built so much housing, and it could again.

 

Question: Could you give us an update on the progress with the money laundering issue?

 

Answer: The Money Laundering Commission ran for a year and a half. It just concluded, and they provided their report to government. It’s over 1000 pages long. The Public Inquiry Act says it goes to Cabinet, which then decides whether there should be any redactions. Cabinet decides whether any of it or all of it should be released to the public. It’s been through that process. The report will be released in full without redaction. It’s going to be released tomorrow. It asks a number of questions about political accountability, public service accountability, around what happened in the casinos, and broader questions like how big is the problem in British Columbia? What other things should we do with the role of the federal government? We can expect answers certainly on all of those questions because they were explicitly in the mandate of the commission. I can’t tell you what’s in the report because that is not lawful until it’s tabled in the legislature or with the clerk, which it will be tomorrow. So you’ll see it in the news tomorrow. So that’s on the report.

 

In terms of the issue itself, BC has the first public beneficial ownership registry, where we actually know who owns property. A group of lawyers asked the province for an extension around this because they had difficulty identifying who actually owned many of the properties in British Columbia. When it’s owned by a trust, when it’s owned by a corporation, when it’s on by some other entity other than an individual, or someone’s holding it for somebody else, the owner must declare who the beneficial owner is, and we put in similar rules around companies, so that police tax authorities also know who owns companies in British Columbia. Astonishingly, you could completely conceal the ownership of both properties and companies in British Columbia until these legal changes, which obviously facilitated a fair bit of this activity. This registry has already paid off. An individual alleged to have been involved in some significant corruption overseas was identified through the registry, and the relevant government is taking steps to recover those funds. So this transparency to deal with money laundering is one of the key pushes of government along with a number of other changes, including information sharing agreements with the federal government, between our tax authorities and Revenue Canada that allow us to share more information. But I’m very much looking forward to the recommendations to the commissioner, and that’ll all be out tomorrow!

 


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