The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) is backing Penticton city council and their dispute with housing minister David Eby who has exercised provincial powers to keep the Victory Church homeless shelter open.
In response to city council’s April 13 request for support from the UBCM on the shelter dispute, president Brian Frenkel has written a letter to Eby, urging the province to commit to working in collaboration with local governments.
The letter, sent to Eby on May 19, acknowledges concerns expressed by Mayor John Vassilaki regarding Eby’s use of provincial paramountcy to overrule council’s decision to not extend the temporary permit at the Victory Church shelter.
“We are concerned that the application of statutory immunity sets a dangerous precedent and undermines local government autonomy as established in legislation,” the letter from Frenkel reads.
The Community Charter confirms that municipalities and their councils are an order of government within their jurisdiction that is “democratically elected, autonomous, responsible and accountable” and must operate under strict statutory conditions associated with public consultation and public interest.
The Local Government Act grants local governments the powers and flexibility required to respond to the needs of their communities within that mandate, said Frenkel.
The letter concludes by inviting Eby to join UBCM in exploring a dispute resolution mechanism that could be used as an alternative to the application of statutory immunity.
Mayor John Vassilaki was pleased that Frenkel sent the letter.
“I appreciate Mr. Frenkel sending his message of collaboration to Minister Eby,” said Vassilaki.
“Council is elected locally, they are accountable locally and the sites for housing shelters like 352 Winnipeg Street should be decided locally. As the province has overridden local housing decisions elsewhere in B.C., Penticton city council is standing up to defend local autonomy and the ability for our residents and businesses to have a say in what’s best for their community.”
On May 12, Vassilaki wrote a letter to Premier John Horgan urging him to ‘immediately intervene’ with Eby’s decision to use provincial paramountcy powers to override council’s decision. The letter ran in Penticton newspapers and in the Victoria Times Colonist.
Within hours of the letter running in the Victoria paper, Eby jabbed back, laying out a rebuttal sent out to media through his communications staff.
The operator of the shelter, Penticton and District Society of Community Living, told the Western News that it will continue operating, following provincial direction.
According to the City’s communication manager Philip Cooper, Horgan has not yet provided a formal written response to council.
The city’s next step if Horgan doesn’t reply is to sue the provincial government.
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