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Candidates spoke to Capital Daily about their priorities, from transportation to climate—and we asked them all for their housing solutions
For the 2021 election, we'll be speaking with every candidate in every riding in the CRD. For each riding, we'll ask the candidates to outline their local priorities, and then we'll focus on a single issue for that riding. In Victoria, we've chosen housing as a pressing issue to ask each candidate about.
Unless otherwise specified, all interviews are conducted live, not via email.
The Victoria riding includes UVic, Oak Bay, and parts of Saanich aside from its namesake municipality, totalling around 120,000 residents. According to 2016 Census data, the Victoria electoral district’s median income is lower than that of the rest of the CRD districts—and the second lowest in the province—at $58,000. Its median age of 45 is a few years above Canada as a whole. Roughly three times as many people live in apartments, townhouses, or other attached housing in Victoria as live in detached homes, and just over half (53%) of residents are renters.
Over the past year Victoria, especially, has suffered from the pandemic, with many of the businesses that make up its thriving downtown shuttered, two tourist seasons largely cancelled, and university classes relegated to remote and online only. Throughout the pandemic, 24/7 camping in parks as well as other effects of the housing crisis dominated discourse in the city. Opioid-related deaths spiked. The region suffered two climate-influenced heatwaves. Now Victoria residents are grappling with vaccine and mask mandates, a worsening housing crisis, and a just-announced reopening of the marine border with the US.
We asked each candidate to outline their priorities on the local level, and to address a single issue for each riding. In Victoria, that issue was housing.
Incumbent Laurel Collins is a new MP, having been elected to the position shortly after being elected to Victoria city council in the 2018 municipal election. Prior to the municipal election, Collins worked with non-profits like Women In Need, the Stop C-51 campaign, and the Victoria Multi-Cultural Society. She has also taught sociology at UVic. Collins sits as the NDP’s critic for climate change and environment.
Climate change: “Canadians want their government to be fighting the climate crisis like they actually want to win,” Collins says. “We are in the fight for a livable future and seeing the government who says the right thing and then refuses to take the actual action that is necessary is infuriating, and I think terrifying for a lot of people.” Collins wants to cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion—a pipeline the government now owns—and remove subsidies from fossil fuels.
Health care: “I have spoken to so many people in our community who cannot afford their prescription medication, their essential medication. I've talked to people who have thousands and thousands of dollars of dental work that is needed, and they are missing work because of the pain, but they can't afford to get the surgery done,” she says. Collins and the NDP want to see dental and mental health care brought under the umbrella of universal health care: “If you have serious dental work that's needed—essential dental work—for some reason, only the people who can afford it can access that care. That is not a truly universal health-care system.”
Indigenous rights and reconciliation: “One very simple thing [the federal government] could do right now to show their commitment to reconciliation, to show us that it's more than just a thought, is to stop fighting Indigenous kids in court,” Collins says. She is also calling for an Indigenous housing strategy, for both on-reserve and urban Indigenous peoples.
Collins points to a broad spectrum of ways in which the housing crisis is manifesting in Victoria, from outright homelessness, to housing precarity and hidden homelessness, to the inability of working people to enter the housing market. “It is unacceptable that we, in a country as wealthy as ours, are not providing the housing and the supports needed for people who do not have a place to call home,” she says.
The first solution she raises is to simply build more federal government-led housing: “In the 70s and 80s, we had a federal government who built housing, who built co-operative housing, social housing, non-profit housing. We could have a federal government, once again, committed to building energy-efficient, green houses.”
The NDP has committed to building 500,000 new units of affordable housing and bringing in a 20% foreign buyers’ tax, in addition to the provincial speculation tax.
“We have people in our community who want to live in the neighbourhood they grew up in or want to live in the community they grew up in,” Collins says. “We're being forced out. We need to actually put an end to the speculation fuelling high housing prices.”
Nikki Macdonald is returning for her second run at the national seat, having placed third in 2019, after the NDP’s Laurel Collins and Racelle Kooy for the Greens. “I came out of that having doubled the Liberal vote in Victoria,” she says. In the interim, Macdonald has been working at UVic as an adjunct professor in the School of Public Administration, drawing on her previous career in government and consulting to government departments and NGOs.
Macdonald sits on a number of local boards, including the Mount Work Coalition, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and the Artisanal Gold Council.
Climate: Macdonald brings up climate change immediately as her focus. “We are an island-based community,” she says. “In terms of oceans alone, [climate scientists predict] we’re going to see rising of the sea level, acidification, worsening storms.” The Liberals’ climate platform includes the revenue-neutral carbon tax, which will rise to $170 per tonne by 2030, hiring 1,000 new firefighters to combat wildfires, investing in low-carbon technologies, and transitioning to electric vehicles by 2035.
Recovery and resilience: Macdonald, having sat on the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s recovery task force, touts the effectiveness of the federal government’s wage subsidy. “The wage subsidy kept them alive,” she says. “Unemployment is dropping, and in fact many of the businesses I’ve talked to are looking for people.”
Overdose crisis: Throughout the pandemic, more people died from drug poisoning in Victoria than from COVID-19. “That got overshadowed by the pandemic,” she says. “The temporary housing that BC has put in place is okay, but it’s not a solution.” She did not commit to safe supply as an alternative, but said she is closely watching a pilot project funded by the federal government that provides safe prescription opioids in Cowichan Valley.
Housing, Macdonald notes, is needed across “a whole spectrum,” from families to seniors to people with barriers to housing. She says she has spent time over the last year speaking with groups like Pacifica Housing, BC Housing, Our Place, and neighbourhood associations, and points to successes like the Rapid Housing Initiative, which was intended to get people off the streets during the pandemic and has been renewed in 2021. It has added 91 homes in the CRD this year, with funding for 20 years. “Victoria has been very active in terms of building housing,” she says.
Macdonald also points to the missing middle—duplexes, townhomes, multi-unit housing—as specific housing types Victoria should be adding, and says more investment could be devoted to that from the federal government. But she adds that one barrier is at the local planning level: “The municipalities need to identify where those projects can take place.
“A strong federal MP would come and sit down with the municipality and say it’s not enough to throw money at this—how are the zoning requirements incentivizing building or creating barriers?” she says. She also advocates for a regional approach, so that regulations or incentives in one part of the region wouldn’t simply push the same problems into another part.
At 23, Loughton is the youngest candidate in the riding, but this will be the second federal election he’s been involved in; in 2019 he was an aide to Racelle Kooy in her close race against Laurel Collins. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Law at UVic, and previously did cancer research at the University of Calgary.
Health care: “We have the only health-care system in the world that guarantees health care but doesn’t guarantee pharmacare,” Loughton says, calling it “neither fiscally responsible nor socially sound” to not have drug coverage built into the universal health-care coverage. As someone with Type 1 diabetes, Loughton says he personally has had to choose insulin that could have less healthy outcomes because the other options were not covered. But it’s not just him: “Everyone that I talk to knows someone that accesses the health-care system in ways that are inequitable to them... quite frankly I’m fed up with politicians who tell us that people who can’t afford it don’t deserve that treatment.”
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Climate: “We know what crisis this next parliament will face, and that’s the climate crisis,” Loughton says. He points to buildings and transportation as two local aspects of the climate picture—specifically, building retrofits and electric transit. “We need to be building for the future,” he says—2050 or 2100—and have systems in place “before we need them,” rather than catching up later. Ending old-growth logging is also a climate priority, he says.
Income inequality: “Wages remaining flat is a massive issue that’s causing the erosion of our middle class,” Loughton says. He says conversations around inflation are misdirected—because although goods and services are rising, wages are rising more slowly. “When wages don’t climb with the years… they’re being robbed of the value of their labour.”
Six years of federal Liberal government, Loughton says, and four years of NDP at the provincial level have failed to meet targets for housing. “We needed affordable housing built yesterday,” he says. “At the most basic, we need to build more affordable housing.”
To achieve that, Loughton says the federal government can leverage the power of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to support co-op housing and to “demand, nationwide, that strong rent controls be implemented.”
Loughton returns to the issue of income inequality as a major part of the housing solution: “We can’t be looking at housing as a buildings and roofs issue,” he says. “What we need in Canada today, what we needed yesterday, is income equality.”
Hodson, a new candidate in 2021, is no stranger to politics. She has worked for conservative federal and provincial parties, including as a research officer and in communications for the BC Liberals and her current job under Conservative MP Dan Albas. In terms of the party’s own spectrum, Hodson places herself “much more on the ‘progressive’ conservative side. Hodson is the first transgender candidate for the Conservative Party.
Small business: Hodson says her priority—aside from housing—is helping small businesses emerge from the pandemic. “It’s important to the character of our community, especially in the downtowns of Victoria and Oak Bay,” she says. The Conservatives are offering a tax credit for small businesses of up to $100,000. “We don’t want to see more For Lease signs in downtown businesses.”
Environment and climate change: Hodson says she is ecstatic that the Conservative platform contains what she calls a “serious and credible” plan to deal with climate change. “Climate change is real and is a serious problem, and something we all need to work together to address,” she says. More locally, she wants to see cruise ship dumping regulations harmonized with Alaska, which has stricter regulations on dumping—“All bets are off” once ships cross the Canadian border. On climate, she touts the low-carbon savings account, a plan the Conservatives are proposing in lieu of the rebates on the carbon tax the federal government currently provides.
Mental health: “I’m not secretive about my own mental health journey,” Hodson says. “I am a recovering alcoholic, 11 years sober.” It’s important to her to talk about these things publicly, and she says the opioid crisis is a major part of the Conservative platform. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has characterized addiction as a health problem, not a criminal one, a distinction Hodson says she is proud of the leader for making. She advocates for more recovery options for people with addictions.
Hodson begins by stating what has become obvious in Victoria in recent years: “Housing isn’t affordable, accessible or secure to a large extent.” She says it’s the number-one issue she hears about when she’s out knocking on doors or speaking with people in the community. “Prices in the Victoria riding for housing are simply out of reach.” Younger people, specifically Gen Z, are “entirely dismissive” of homeownership. “They’re like, ‘That’s something people used to have.’”
The Conservatives have committed to building a million new homes across the country, and banning foreign purchases of homes for non-residents for two years. They have also said they will incentivize cities to increase density near public transit, and encourage the building of more purpose-built rentals. “Ultimately, people need places to live. The South Island is a very attractive community; people want to live here,” she says. “There will always be demand.”