B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman and his federal counterpart Jean-Yves Duclos speak to reporters in Victoria June 28 after two days of meetings to plan a national housing strategy.

BC VIEWS: Politicians herded on housing

Justin Trudeau's new housing minister resumes the Liberal Ottawa tradition of meddling in provincial jurisdiction

The biggest risk of building and promoting a nanny state is that you get one, and then you have to feed it.

B.C. politicians are facing this situation in housing, after an entire generation has been taught by school and media that the government is supposed to control the global housing market.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t promised yet to house everyone in their location of choice, which overwhelmingly seems to be the most desired and expensive urban real estate in the country. But he sent his Families, Children and Social Development Minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, to B.C. to meet with provincial ministers to create a “National Housing Strategy.”

We haven’t had one for 40 years, Duclos declared. Oh dear, what a scandal.

Actually the reason is that housing is a provincial and local jurisdiction. As with health care, federal meddling via funding strings had largely been eliminated.

This is why Ottawa didn’t have a Families, Children and Social Development Minister until a few months ago. If you include housing, B.C. has three ministers doing those jobs, which is as it should be. Duclos’ job is to show that Trudeau really cares, in the style of Liberal Ottawa.

As for a national strategy, local and provincial poverty and homelessness elimination schemes have shown that governments might as well announce a Soviet-style Five-Year Plan for Tractor Production for all the good it does.

The choice of Victoria for the federal-provincial strategy meeting was less than ideal. The theatre over Victoria’s ever-growing “tent city” squat was continuing in and out of the courthouse next door, bolstered by professional protesters from Vancouver.

They took a break from ordering the media around at the tent camp, hauled their public address system over to the hotel where Duclos was meeting with B.C. housing czar Rich Coleman and other provincial ministers, and chanted their demands.

They even have a number, delivered via bullhorn by a large, loud fellow named Ivan Drury of something called the “Alliance Against Displacement,” an upstart outfit formerly known as “Social Housing Coalition.”

Drury led a chant of “77,000 homes! Build them now!” before his massed supporters made a show for TV of trying to force their way into the hotel where the ministers met.

Inside the hotel, Coleman indicated what B.C. intends to do with the $150 million share of federal money that Ottawa offered in its first budget. It’s going into programs that Coleman is rapidly expanding, whether it’s fixing up more run-down hotels or building new subsidized housing.

Coleman has been buying up buildings hand over fist in Victoria. He’s brought in the infamous Portland Hotel Society to show the capital how the poverty industry runs in the big city.

One of Victoria’s existing converted motels was recently partly gutted by fire, and this will continue to be a risk as “low barrier” housing becomes the main focus. People with a track record of wrecking social housing and camping in dangerous and unsanitary conditions are the political priority. Their priority is to get high and do as little as possible, and they’re coming from across Canada to good old B.C.

Meanwhile, the B.C. government is grappling with the higher end of the housing problem. Vancouver claims it will lead the way and impose a tax on vacant properties to discourage international speculation.

That may even work. At least it is being undertaken at the correct level of government, as part of the property tax system. But of course the city wants the provincial government to take over the job.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


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