Drug operations, Speculation tax and anti-money laundering messages delivered to MLAs in Victoria

The BC Real Estate Association (BCREA) held their annual Government Liaison (GL) Days conference in Victoria from April 28 to 30. REALTORS® from across BC, including the Fraser Valley, were there to meet with their MLAs and share our key recommendations for government.

As Joel Schacter, Director and Chair of the Board’s Government Relations (GR) committee, can attest, meeting with MLAs in Victoria is very different than meeting them in their constituency. In fact, a former MLA who spoke at GL Days compared the meetings to speed dating – there’s a buzz of excitement, there are a lot of meetings, and time is limited.

Joel explains, “When we’re in Victoria, the MLAs, don’t necessarily have the time to meet with us as their party could be counting on them to be in the legislature for a vote (especially when the number of MLAs from the two main parties are close), at times they could be tied up in committee meetings, or they could be engaged in meetings with other groups that are all competing for their attention. If we see them in Victoria, we’re very lucky and when under time pressures, the meetings become very focused quickly.”

This year, we booked meetings with 16 MLAs and ultimately met with seven. We had the chance to meet once again with MLA Darryl Plecas, an Independent MLA from Abbotsford who currently serves as the Speaker of the Legislature. You may know his name because he was in the news a few months ago for an investigation he spearheaded into the expenses of two senior government officials and more recently, he was in the news again related to the dress code of women in the Legislature.

When we asked Speaker Plecas if he would support the need for a provincial standard on remediating homes used to produce drugs such as cannabis, he said, “You know you’re speaking to the converted, don’t you?”

The MLA knows our issue very well because he has a long history of supporting our Board on the need to protect people from the risks associated with drug operations. When he was a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, he and his students conducted research for our Board in 2006 regarding how BC municipalities disclose information on former drug operations. Their result validated what Realtors knew all too well – there was no consistency in terms of reporting (where, how, what) and some municipalities wouldn’t provide any information due to privacy concerns. There was also no consistency when it comes to how these properties were remediated. These issues are still around 14 years later, which is why we continue to lobby for standardized reporting and remediation for all of BC.

When Realtors at GL Days asked Mike Farnworth, the Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General if the province would be willing to address the remediation of drug operations, he said, “I know it’s an important issue. The legalization of cannabis is one of the most significant policy changes in this country and we’ve taken some steps to help landlords and stratas.” He recommended following-up with Selina Robinson (Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing) and Adrian Dix (Minister of Health).

Though in the past we were able to get one-on-one meetings with our MLAs in Victoria, in the last couple of years, we have had to meet them in groups of three or four. These larger group meetings make it challenging to get comments from all the participating MLAs on our key topics. Still, our meetings were positive overall and the MLAs seemed interested in what we had to say. Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of them are willing to act on our recommendations.

Our recommendations:

Collectively, we asked the MLAs to address the public health and safety risks of drug operations by:

  • developing a consistent process to remediate buildings used in drug production to ensure they are safe; and
  • ensuring that all local governments implement the new uniform remediation policies and practices.

As well, we asked MLAs to address market housing affordability and money laundering in real estate by:

  • setting an end date on the Speculation and Vacancy Tax, based on pre-defined outcomes;
  • urging the federal government to review and reconsider the current mortgage underwriting “stress test,” as well as reinstate 30-year amortizations for federally-insured mortgages;
  • collaborating with the federal government and respective agencies to coordinate actions and share information (such as the provincial pre-sale assignment registry) to address money laundering and create a comprehensive, efficient enforcement regime; and
  • asking the Real Estate Council of BC to develop required anti-money laundering licensing and relicensing education for REALTORS®.

Another aspect of GL Days which our Board officers and GR committee volunteers particularly enjoy is the opportunity to network with MLAs. BCREA hosted a reception to thank all BC MLAs for their contributions to the province. In attendance were 20 NDP MLAs (including 13 cabinet ministers) and 31 Liberal MLAs. Finance Minister Carole James and Leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Wilkinson were on hand to share that they recognize the significance of Realtors’ contributions to their communities.

On the heels of BCREA’s MLA reception, we co-hosted a dinner for Fraser Valley and Chilliwack area MLAs with the Chilliwack Board. Our MLA dinner is typically well-attended by local MLAs. This year, 13 out of 16 MLAs from Fraser Valley communities took the time to join our dinner. As presenters told us at GL Days, relationships with elected officials based on trust and mutual respect don’t develop overnight or solely in meetings. Networking events like our dinner help us get to know our elected officials better one-on-one.

Kim Phillips, a first-time GL Days attendee and new GR committee volunteer, shared that she, “found the experience interesting” and she’s “excited to learn more!” This enthusiasm is typical for our GR volunteers, who will now follow up with the MLAs locally, where they’re more relaxed and have more time to spend with us.

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