Shifting policy requires corporations to step up

Laissez-faire government attitude towards Terrace housing means onus is on companies to build new homes.

A zero vacancy housing market, rent increases outpacing the stock market, and the prospect (or promise) of work camps adorning every neighbourhood.

Yes, economic good times are at our doorsteps. After years of stagnation, the community should be celebrating. But there are two sides to every coin and what goes up must come down; there is no end to platitudes of this kind.

People squeezed by the tightening housing market have called on government to make available and somehow create more affordable housing. The government flatly rejects such demands, referring those concerned to explore its basket of subsidies aimed at families with bona fide needs for housing assistance.

The government’s response ignores the obvious question: what good is a subsidy in a zero vacancy housing market? The problem is immediate, but there are no immediate solutions. Even if government were to decide today to augment the inventory of affordable housing units in Terrace, it would take at least two years for new units to be ready for occupation. The problem we face today should not come as a surprise; its seeds were planted decades ago. The general idea of a corporation is to facilitate people to pool their money to fund projects beyond the financial capacity of individuals.

Corporations, like people, are members of society and as such they have an obligation to serve both the public and their private interests. The emphasis is on both, not one over the other or one at the expense of the other. Changes to corporate tax policies resulted in corporate contributions to the common good, as a share of government revenues, being reduced by one third from what they were half a century ago. Corporate contributions to the common good and to private gain over that period show an emphatic change.

The resulting revenue shortfall limits governments’ ability to respond to a wide range of public needs, one of them being the need for affordable housing. Short-term measures will moderate the worst effects of the housing crunch, but we must realize that band aid solutions will not reach the roots of the problem.

People and their communities are as integral to the environment as are the salmon spawning creeks we seek to protect with environmental legislation. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act  recognizes as much by taking into account “any change that may be caused to the environment on health and socio-economic conditions” with respect to aboriginal peoples.

Under British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Act, a project is reviewed ”if the minister is satisfied that the project may have a significant adverse environmental, economic, social, heritage or health effect, and that the designation is in the public interest”.

We need to strengthen these laws. The federal act should apply to all communities and the provincial minister’s discretion should be eliminated. All projects with a potential socio-economic impact on communities should be reviewed.

The principle in question is the balance of corporate responsibility. Reducing their comprehensive contributions to the common good (taxes) has upset that balance. The promise of an economic boost resulting from major capital projects tends to blind us to their negative by-products. We review such projects and assess their impact. We impose conditions on corporations to mitigate any negative environmental impacts. But negative impact is not limited to the habitat of bears and salmon, it can affect a community’s socio-economic stability – our habitat.

Community stability means a balance in the supply, availability, and affordability of goods and services in all sectors. From housing to retail, from professional to municipal services, how do we protect and preserve stability and balance?

As we have eased corporations’ comprehensive responsibility to the common good, they must now be compelled to assume selective responsibility where their investments have a direct impact on the socio-economic stability of communities.

Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator living in Terrace, B.C.