From church tax breaks to income-tested speeding tickets, a Saanich councillor has ‘transformative’ motions to bring to the provincial stage
Teale Phelps Bondaroff has bold ideas for his provincial counterparts to consider at the next Union of BC Municipalities meeting—if he can get Saanich council to agree on them first
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Newly elected Saanich councillor Teale Phelps Bondaroff already has ambitious plans for Saanich to make an impact at the provincial level. He plans to introduce four motions at next fall’s Union of BC Municipalities meeting, ranging from the “milquetoast” to the “transformative,” as he describes them.
The least controversial motion is a simple one: to request that the provincial government adapt an already developed tool (known as the “cost of doing nothing toolkit”) for BC. The tool, piloted in Ontario, helps calculate the cost of climate change on a municipal level—but it doesn’t include critical BC-specific challenges like wildfires or sea-level rise.
“Municipalities are at the forefront of dealing with a lot of these climate disasters like heat domes and forest fires and droughts, and we have a limited ability to actually address these issues,” Phelps Bondaroff said. “Understanding those costs allows us to lobby and pressure and get funding from higher levels of government.”
He’s also hoping to change the nature of municipal tax exemptions for places of worship. Currently, some of the property is automatically exempt from municipal taxes, but Phelps Bondaroff, who is a prominent member of the secularist BC Humanist Association, would like municipalities to discern whether religious organizations are providing a benefit to the community (such as a warming shelter or a soup kitchen) or are acting as private clubs with benefits only for their own members.
Using that information, municipalities could make decisions on whether to grant tax exemptions.
“To me it’s all about responsible use of tax money,” he said.
That’s not the only motion likely to stir controversy. The final two are about that hottest of hot-button issues: driving.
Municipalities are not currently permitted to use red-light and speeding cameras; Phelps Bondaroff, who lives car-free, sees them as effective means of saving police time while encouraging drivers to follow traffic laws. He wants to ask the provincial government to reverse its effective ban on municipalities installing them, stemming from a Gordon Campbell campaign promise from 2001.
“Unfortunately it’s a very effective tool,” he said. “Traffic cameras remind people to follow the law and they don’t do it again.”
West Kelowna asked for the same provincial reversal in 2017 and 2019, while other municipalities have also asked in previous years. A series of recent polls from BC-based Research Co. has found broad support for traffic enforcement cameras.
Phelps Bondaroff’s fourth and final motion would ask the province to tie traffic fines to the driver’s ability to pay. So-called means-tested fines are in place in Finland, and have resulted in eye-watering fines for high-income drivers. Buffalo Sabres defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen (who had a $43 million NHL contract) was slapped with a $176,000 speeding ticket for going twice the limit in 2019. It works both ways, however—people with lower incomes would receive more modest fines than they do under BC’s current system.
“The traffic fine is based on your income rather than a flat rate,” Phelps Bondaroff explains. “The goal is just to increase compliance; you don’t want to break people, or be a mosquito biting an elephant.”
For any of the resolutions to make it to the floor of the UBCM convention, (where, if they’re agreed upon, they get sent to the provincial government, which is then obligated to respond) they first have to pass through Saanich council, then the Vancouver Island regional municipal conference. They’ll start that journey in Saanich next week.