MLA Shirley Bond, the Interim Leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, took Minister David Eby to task over his handling of the ongoing dispute between Penticton and BC Housing.
The exchange occurred during the Thursday morning (March 18) sitting of the Legislature, and began with Bond listing the communities of Maple Ridge, Kamloops, Nanaimo and Penticton that have had concerns about the lack of supports for those with drug addictions or mental health issues.
She accused Eby of “bullying elected officials,” ignoring their concerns, and cutting funding to Pathways addiction treatment when the city is calling for more mental health support funding.
Eby answered Bond’s question by laying out the two options he saw following Penticton council’s decision to reject extending the permit for the Victory Church winter shelter; either the people were emptied out and risk an encampment, or, as the Minister has chosen to do, use the province’s paramountcy powers to override council’s decision.
“The alternative is — as the member says, and I freely acknowledge this — to use what are quite draconian provincial powers to override that local decision and continue to operate the shelter,” said Eby.
Those powers will keep the shelter open beyond its original March 31 closure date, until BC Housing has finished construction of the supportive housing project on Skaha Lake Road and is able to place people in it.
The city of Penticton is awaiting the formal documentation from the province invoking the BC Interpretation Act before they decide on whether they go forward with legal action, Penticton’s Mayor John Vassilaki told Black Press on Thursday.
If the shelter is closed, the 42 residents currently there would be turned out onto the street, which was not an option for Eby and BC Housing.
“I say to the member and I say to the mayor and council in Penticton: that’s the only non-negotiable. The only non-negotiable is that we will not go backwards and move people out of shelter back into parks. Anything else is on the table. Let’s talk about it. Let’s work together.”
In a supplement to her original question, Bond accused Eby of suggesting that officials in Penticton don’t care about their residents, and that they were “shocked” when the minister decided to use actions instead of discussion with the council on the issue.
“Penticton was shocked when this minister, instead of sitting down and having thoughtful and reasonable discussions about an issue that matters to the local Penticton council and all British Columbians, started to bully and threaten that if they didn’t listen, it was his way or the highway,” said Bond.
“So let’s be clear. Penticton needs — and so do other communities across British Columbia — full, wraparound services to support people with mental health and addictions challenges. That’s what the Penticton council was asking this minister for. Instead, what do they get? Bullying and threats,” said Bond.
Eby said there is no evidence of bullying.
“The member suggests that because I said if Penticton emptied the shelter out into the park, an encampment would likely result, and that our use of provincial powers could result in a court challenge that would result in exactly that outcome. That we would provide tents and manage, as best as possible,” replied Eby.
“We have 1,000 tents in a stockpile. That’s right. We would provide tents to people as a basic shelter from the elements…. The member says that’s bullying. Well, that’s just a fact.”
Eby said he had two Zoom meetings with the city.
“Unfortunately, we found something we disagreed on. That was whether or not we should go backwards and dump 42 people out into a park. I will not withdraw that. That is a disgraceful decision.”
I am very sympathetic to municipal leaders in the time of COVID, facing addiction and mental health issues that are more visible than they’ve ever been. Our government is very sympathetic … We cannot go backwards. That’s the only non-negotiable.”
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