BCA councillors accuse each other of obstructionism and broken promises

'There's been a realignment of loyalties around the table'

Members of the same political party accused one another of obstructionism, broken campaign promises and ulterior motives at a Burnaby council meeting on Monday. 

“There's been a realignment of loyalties around the table,” Coun. Colleen Jordan told the NOW following the meeting, which saw two of her housing policy proposals voted down.

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Jordan first tried to amend a bylaw that was up for second reading – a rare occurrence at such a late stage in the process. 

If it reaches final adoption, the bylaw would allow homeowners and new home builders to have more below-ground floor space. Jordan’s amendment would have required that space to be a secondary suite.

The existing proposal requires only that the larger basements are “suite ready” by B.C. Building Code standards.

Jordan said she was “fundamentally not in support” of the basement-expanding zoning change but felt she could support an amended version of it after hearing from residents eager to build basement suites at a recent public hearing.

“I’ve listened very carefully,” she said.

But several of her fellow councillors spoke against the amendment before it was narrowly defeated.

'Obstructionist' amendment rejected

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said Jordan should have proposed the requirement earlier in the process, when city staff were studying the issue.

“I’ve never seen a bylaw being changed on the fly like this,” he said.

Coun. Pietro Calendino said he was “somewhat confused” by the amendment, as Jordan had previously raised concerns about the cost to homeowners of making their basements suite ready.

“So, I’m kind of confused and I'm not sure why she's bringing this up other than for obstructionist purposes, so I'm speaking against the amendment,” he said.

Mayor Mike Hurley raised a point of order, telling Calendino the word “obstructionist” was inappropriate at the council table. 

Calendino said he thought it was parliamentary language but retracted the word, saying “I will …  say that she is simply trying to delay the process.”

Jordan’s amendment failed by a five-to-four margin, with Dhaliwal, Hurley, Calendino, Coun. Joe Keithley and Coun. James Wang opposed. The unamended bylaw passed second reading with Jordan and Coun. Dan Johnston opposed.

Calendino, who presented the initial motion that led to the bylaw, and others on council have said they hope the change will lead to more suites being built and rented out in Burnaby, where new rental supply is desperately needed.

“It is an item that I had asked for for several years and that Colleen and the former Mayor would not hear of it,” Calendino told the NOW in an email after the meeting. “We had many members of the public ask us to allow them to develop the crawl space for accommodating either family members or to rent out in a secondary suite.”

Jordan told the NOW she thought her colleagues’ stated reasons for backing the change were false.

“The bylaw is not about the suite … never has been,” Jordan said. “It's just to allow bigger basements.”

Let task force work, councillors say

Later in the meeting, a second proposal of Jordan’s was also defeated. 

Jordan’s motion would have requested city staff to study the “advisability and feasibility” of the city contributing up to $20,000 per unit to organizations building non-market housing projects in Burnaby. This could expedite the construction of 1,000 units of affordable housing currently at various stages of development in the city, she said. 

All four councillors who sit on the new Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing – Keithley, Dhaliwal, Wang and Calendino – spoke against the motion. They said Jordan’s proposal may be one piece of the solution to housing affordability, but the task force should be allowed to do its work looking at the broader picture before presenting its final report in six months.

Calendino said Jordan had the opportunity to bring this idea forward during her many years as chair of the city’s planning and development committee but never did. (Hurley has since removed her from the committee.) 

“We cannot solve this problem just by a single solution,” Wang said.

Jordan told the NOW she was disappointed to see the motion fail.

“I don't think council should cease doing anything until six months from now,” she said. “I'm not ready to sit around and wait and not do anything for the next six months, but I guess I have to find something else to convince them that we should actually do.”

New divide in BCA

Jordan, Johnston, Wang, Dhaliwal and Calendino are all members of the Burnaby Citizens Association (as are councillors Paul McDonell and Nick Volkow). The party held every seat on council before Hurley (an independent) and Keithley (from the Green Party) were elected last fall.

Jordan pointed out the idea to subsidize non-market housing with city cash was in her party’s election platform. 

Asked what she thought the apparent divide meant for the future of her party, Jordan said “Who knows? I don’t know.”

“(It) doesn't look like you can count on what they promised to do when they were running for office, because they all signed off on it,” she said. 

In an email, Calendino said, “I am not breaking any campaign promise at all.”

“The Task Force is working very hard and very fast, and recommendations will come before we know it,” he said. “It should be given a chance to show what it can accomplish, not undermine it or dictate to it what it should do.”

Calendino called Jordan’s $20,000-per-unit suggestion “a fictitious figure that may or may not facilitate any more non-market housing.”

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