Policy Success

BC Chamber Policy and Positions Manual


MEASURES TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF DERELICT BUILDINGS

 

Derelict or vacant properties can be an obstacle to the positive economic, social and cultural development of a community. Even a single derelict building can bring down the value of surrounding properties and businesses, pushing development elsewhere and encouraging the type of inefficient sprawl that carries with it significant economic and environmental externalities.

 

While the Community Charter gives municipalities in British Columbia the ability to encourage property revitalization through the use of tax exemptions, it does not provide specific authority for municipalities to penalize property owners who permit derelict or vacant properties to remain in a state of perpetual neglect.

 

Section 226(2) of the Community Charter states that “a council may, for the purpose of encouraging revitalization in the municipality, provide tax exemptions for land or improvements, or both.…” However, while municipalities have the option of using this power to promote the redevelopment of urban centres or “brownfield sites” (dormant properties which usually require environmental remediation), the Community Charter gives limited discretion to municipalities to impose direct punitive measures in relation to derelict properties.

 

There are a number of reasons why property owners might allow a building to remain perpetually derelict. One reason is that simply allowing a property to remain in a derelict state may avoid increased property tax assessments, allowing the owner to avoid the higher taxes that may come with improvements. In addition, if the property’s value has increased significantly since the time the owner purchased it, he or she may be responsible for paying significant capital gains tax if the property is sold. In order to correct for these negative economic incentives, municipalities need to be given the direct authority to impose fines and increased tax burdens on those individuals who maintain property in a derelict condition, thereby negatively impacting surrounding properties and the community as a whole.

 

The Community Charter’s current provisions which permit municipalities to take remedial action with respect to property are too narrowly defined to allow for councils to introduce comprehensive bylaws containing effective penalties. For example, section 64 of the Community Charter gives a municipality the limited power to take remedial action to address “unsanitary conditions on property” or “graffiti and unsightly conditions on property”. In addition, section 53 of the Community Charter allows for a council to regulate and impose prohibitions in relation to buildings and other structures only in very specific situations, including if the “health, safety or protection of persons or property” is at issue. There is no provision in the Community Charter which explicitly allows for the imposition of fines or surtaxes on the owners of derelict or vacant property.

 

One example of what could be accomplished by municipalities under an amended Community Charter can be seen in the City of Winnipeg’s “Vacant Buildings By-law”, which allows the city to impose escalating fees based on the length of time a building remains vacant. The Winnipeg By-law also allows for escalating fines and other penalties on non-compliant owners of vacant properties. However, the Winnipeg By-law is only one example of what could be accomplished by British Columbia municipalities if the Community Charter is amended to allow for individual municipalities to decide how best to provide the much-needed motivation for owners of derelict properties to begin the revitalization process. 

 

THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS

 

That the Provincial Government;

 

  1. amend the  Community Charter to give municipalities the option of introducing tools and strategies to motivate the owners of derelict properties to improve and maintain such properties.

 

  1. Clearly define what constitutes a derelict property

 

2009-10

2009-10 has been another highly successful year for the chamber movement in shaping the public policy agenda in BC and in Canada.

A Vibrant Resource Sector

  • Environmental Review Process
    The Province has committed to work with the Federal Government to develop a single environmental review process for projects.
  • Northwest Transmission Line
    The Province has initiated the environmental assessment and First Nations consultation for the extension of electricity along the highway 37 corridor. 

Competitive Taxation and Regulation

BC now has a tax regime that is the envy of Canada, chambers of commerce played a significant role in this achievement.

BC now has the lowest personal income tax rates for anyone earning $116,000 or below and the reductions planned for the next three years will give BC a combined federal-provincial rate of 25 per cent, among the lowest corporate income tax rates of the world's major industrialized economies.

Specific policy statements which have played a role in shaping the public policy agenda;

  • The Need for focused attention on business taxation
    A commitment to the lowest small business tax rate in Canada by 2012 - this represents the elimination of small business tax as Manitoba currently levies zero tax on small business. Further to this the provincial government also announced an increase in the threshold for the small business tax from $400,000 to $500,000.
  • Local Government Finance
    Significant progress has been made on this area with the creation of a new Industrial Property Tax Credit of 50% for light and heavy industry.

Perhaps more importantly both the 2009 Throne Speech and the Budget included a commitment from the provincial government to undertake a review of the structure of local government finance to ensure that taxation at the local level does not undermine our overall tax competitiveness.

Crime and Public Safety

Crime and public safety has received significant attention both in the media and from government, primarily focused on gang violence. This has led to increased policing, prosecutors and correctional facilities have all been announced. Further to this the government has also committed to expanding Community Courts to other parts of the province.

Specific policy statements which have played a role in shaping the public policy agenda;

  • Police Amalgamation
    Municipal governments in the Lower Mainland have begun discussions on the viability of regional amalgamation.
  • Consistency in Sentencing
    The provincial government were successful in having changes introduced to the criminal code for certain offences.

Skills and Labour

Despite the recent rise in BC's unemployment, the Chamber maintains that BC has a structural challenge with regards to skills and labour based on the demographic trends facing BC.

The BC Chamber was pleased to see the creation of the new Ministry for Advanced Education and Labour Market Development. This Ministry answered a long standing concern of the BC Chamber by bringing responsibility for skills and labour market under a single Ministry, rather than spread across government as had been the case previously.

The BC Chamber was also pleased to see the completion of the transfer of the new Canada-British Columbia arrangements in the area of labour market development that will enable British Columbia to assume an expanded role in the design and delivery of labour market development programs and services in British Columbia.

Specific policy statements which have played a role in shaping the public policy agenda;

  • Foreign credential recognition
    On January 16, 2009, the Prime Minister along with Premiers and Territorial Leaders agreed to develop a common pan-Canadian Qualification Recognition Framework.
  • Certification of Professions and Trades
    BC was the first jurisdiction to introduce legislation to allow full labour mobility to all trades and professions.
  • The Need for Continued Reform of the Canadian Immigration System
    The federal government created the new Canadian Experience Class which will fast track temporary foreign workers and foreign students through the permanent immigration system

Transportation

  • North Shore Trade Area - Canada and BC's Largest and Most Diverse Export Hub
    The Government of Canada, The Province of British Columbia, Port Metro Vancouver, TransLink, local municipalities, and the private sector are partnering to invest in excess of $225 million in five infrastructure improvements on the North Shore that will enhance rail and port operations and build Canada's Pacific Gateway.
  • Northern Transportation and Infrastructure Improvements Required in the 'Provincial Interest'
    As part of the government's attempts to stimulate the economy, $14 billion has been invested in infrastructure. This investment has been targeted at critical infrastructure projects ranging from enhancing our export hubs in the Lower Mainland through to investing in critical road infrastructure such as Highway 97.
  • Putting New Open Skies Agreements into Action
    Air policy - the provincial government has fully embraced the need for open skies policy and is actively lobbying the federal government.

In addition to these areas the Chamber has also been successful in addressing elements of a number of other policy recommendations;

  • The Future of the Forest Industry
    The Forestry Roundtable included a number of recommendations that mirrored recommendations of the BC Chamber of Commerce.
  • Easing Skilled Worker Shortage in Remote Areas
    The provincial government has committed to introducing a second trades trailer
  • Reform of the BC Election Act
    While currently under review by the courts, reform to the BC Election Act addressed the concerns of the BC Chamber
  • A New Strategy to Address BC's Power Consumption Patterns
    BC Hydro has proposed amendments to the price structure of electricity usage to better reflect the true cost of consumption patterns
  • Energy Security for Vancouver Island
    BCTC has replaced and upgraded the existing 138 kV overhead transmission lines and one of the existing submarine cable circuits connecting southern Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland with new 230 kV infrastructure.
  • Site C Development
    BC Hydro continues to move through the consultation process prior to a decision on the viability of the development of Site C.
  • Appropriate Funding for BC Clean Energy Plan
    The Policy Review Committee believes that while this policy has not been achieved in its entirety the 2007 Energy Plan, combined with the BC Hydro calls have ensured that BC has a clear framework and understanding of how the government intends to achieve its goals as laid out in the 2007 Throne Speech.
  • Building BC's Future with Wood
    Through an aggressive marketing campaign and efforts to introduce changes to the building code in China 2008 represented a record year for exports of wood products to China.

New legislation will require wood as the primary building material in all new publicly-owned and provincially-funded buildings, consistent with the new BC Building Code.