Fact-checking the 2017 Point Grey candidates debate

Three candidates for the Vancouver-Point Grey riding — BC Liberal James Lombardi, NDP David Eby and Green Amanda Konkin — came to the Nest last Thursday evening for a debate focused on student issues. The Ubyssey moderated the debate and has since checked the veracity of some of the candidates’ claims.

Amanda Konkin

Konkin claimed that BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver’s riding, Oak Bay-Gordon Head, had the highest voter turnout of any riding in the 2013 BC election.

True. The riding had a 69.56 per cent turnout, narrowly beating out Saanich North and the Islands’ 69.21 per cent.

Konkin claimed that Weaver was “one of the first people to put forward a ride-sharing bill in the [BC] legislature.”

True. Weaver tabled the Rideshare Enabling Act twice — the first time was on April 25, 2016, over 10 months before the BC Liberals announced their support for ride-sharing services in the province.

James Lombardi

Lombardi claimed that “nine judicial reviews have upheld the level of extensive environmental and Indigenous consultation that has happened” with regards to the Site C dam.

Mostly true. There have been a number of judicial reviews against the dam that have been dismissed or discontinued by the courts, although the number varies in news reports.

  • On January 23, 2017, The Globe and Mail and CTV reported that the number of court challenges was 10, according to BC Hydro spokesman David Conway.
  • On January 25, 2017, CBC reported that five judicial reviews and two appeals had been dismissed, also citing Conway.
  • On February 2, 2017 Energetic City, a Fort St. John news outlet, reported that nine judicial reviews and three appeals had been dismissed or dropped, according to Conway.
  • In February 2, 2017, The Dawson Creek Mirror and an opinion piece written by a former BC Hydro employee in The Vancouver Sun claimed that the number was nine. Neither cited a source for that specific claim.

Lombardi claimed that BC’s energy usage “is going to increase by 40 per cent” in the next 20 years.

True, according to BC Hydro’s 2013 forecast. A 2016 Vancouver Sun article updates that number to 39 per cent.

Lombardi claimed that BC has the “fifth-lowest average hydro rates in North America.”

True, for residential consumers, according to a 2016 report from Quebec’s public electric company, Hydro-Quebec.

Lombardi claimed that “85 per cent of Vancouver is zoned for single detached homes.”

Depends how you interpret it. The statement is true, according to Anne McMullin, CEO of BC's Urban Development Institute.

But it's false, according to Ingrid Hwang, a planning analyst with the City of Vancouver who measures the statistic in land parcels, as opposed to total land area.

“The land area that is zoned for single family homes, or what we refer to as RS zoning, is considerably less than 85 per cent. Approximately 55 per cent of the City of Vancouver’s land parcels are zoned for single family use which permits a single dwelling house with a secondary suite and a laneway house. However, not all of this land is really or readily available for residential use, as schools, parks (including Stanley Park), rail rights-of-way and other uses can also be located in [single family] zones,” wrote Hwang in an email to The Ubyssey.

By contrast, a 2017 study from the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association puts that statistic at 80.9 per cent and this Metro story says it’s 80 per cent, but doesn’t cite a source. 

According to the City, this discrepancy is because zoning can be interpreted very differently based on methodology.

“Many of our zoning districts allow a mix of uses including residential, which may not have been included in their methodology,” wrote Hwang. “Without knowing their full methodology, it is hard to know what was defined as the universe of residential area and therefore to determine [whether] the value was correct or not.”

Lombardi claimed that the BC Liberals made the “single largest investment in affordable housing by any province in the history of Canada at $920 million” this year.

It’s true that the BC Liberals have invested $920 million into affordable housing. We couldn't find anything that definitively proves that it's the biggest in Canadian provincial history, although a CBC article reports that Premier Christy Clark “described the new rental units as the biggest investment in a single year by any province in the country” when the number was $500 million.

Lombardi claimed that “we’re going to welcome another million people to this region in the next decade.”

False, according to the 2011 Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy, which estimates that Metro Vancouver will welcome 1.2 million new residents between 2006 and 2041 at a rate of about 30,000 new residents per year, or 300,000 per decade.

Lombardi claimed that under the BC Liberals, the province’s emissions decreased “by nine per cent from 2004 to 2014.”

True. According to data collected by Environmental Reporting BC, there was a nine per cent reduction in carbon emissions in the province between 2004 and 2014, although some experts worry that the Liberals might be veering off-track.

Lombardi claimed that “cleantech is the fastest growing industry in all of British Columbia right now.”

Almost true. According to a 2017 KPMG study, cleantech is “one of the fastest growing industries in BC.”

Lombardi claimed that “this government has negotiated over 500 economic reconciliation agreements.”

True. According to the BC Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, over 500 economic and reconciliation agreements have been signed between the BC government and Aboriginal communities to date, 400 of those since 2013.

Lombardi claimed that BC “has the strongest economy in the nation.”

True, if he means real GDP growth. An RBC report forecasted BC to have the strongest in 2016 with 3.3 per cent, although it notes that “the significant cooling of Vancouver’s housing market that began last spring in our view is a pivotal element that will grind down economic momentum during the course of 2017.” The bank predicts Ontario will lead in growth this year.

Lombardi claimed that BC has “the number one health care outcomes in the nation.”

True, according to both the Conference Board of Canada, a think tank that describes itself as “objective” and “non-partisan,” and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, which has been listed among the most conservative in Canada.

Lombardi claimed that BC has “amongst the strongest education outcomes in the English-speaking world.”

Mostly true. Other English-speaking countries like Australia (#2), United States (#5), New Zealand (#7) outrank Canada’s #8 in the UN education index, but the Conference Board ranks BC among the top education performers in the nation, along with Ontario and Alberta.

Lombardi claimed that BC has “the fifth-lowest average tuition in the country right now.”

Undersold. Stats Canada ranks BC’s average weighted undergraduate tuition fourth-lowest in Canada, with Alberta right behind it. The lowest three are Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Manitoba.

Lombardi claimed that UBC “has already committed $450 million to build 12,500 more spaces by 2020.”

True. Student Housing and Hospitality Director Andrew Parr told CBC that UBC has committed $450 million to bring the total number of beds on campus to 12,500 by 2020.

A large dent in this project was made this summer with the opening of Orchard Commons, which offers spots to 1,050 first-years at a cost of $125.9 million.

Fun fact: there are now 11,038 student beds on campus, making the UBC Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) the largest student housing operation of any university in Canada.

Lombardi claimed that “only one third of BC grads are actually turning to government student loans.”

Almost. Over one third of BC baccalaureate graduates make use of government student loans. Thirty-six per cent, according to a 2015 BC Student Outcomes survey.

Lombardi claimed that each kilometre of the Broadway subway line “costs [$300 million] to $500 million dollars. At 8.3 kilometres from Arbutus to UBC, that’s $4.4 billion that we haven’t accounted for and we don’t know how to pay for.”

True, according to UBC architecture professor Dr. Patrick Condon. A 2013 estimate from Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson puts it at $2.8 billion, though. And while it's true that there's no plan in place for how to pay for the extension to UBC, it's also pretty far off.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told CBC in January, “Will rail eventually get to UBC? I’d say that’s probably a good chance. When? I don’t know. But for now, we need to get to Arbutus [and] relieve a lot of crowding on the bus service.”

Keep going. You're almost there.
Keep going. You're almost there. Tristan Wheeler

David Eby

Eby claimed that the Site C dam “got approved [with] $10 billion in public investment with no oversight and no business plan.”

Site C has a document library with a list of reports, but some groups have heavily criticized the government for what they view as a lack of meaningful consultation.

CBC reported that in 2015, Harry Swain, the chair of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's review panel, said there were better alternatives and that the approval process was rushed.

Eby also mentioned that the Site C dam has not been reviewed by the BC Utilities Commission, which is true.

A new report led by UBC researchers looking at the economic impact of Site C also called for the BC government to hit pause on the project.

Eby claimed that the Massey Bridge was “strongly opposed by the city of Richmond.”

True. A report by Richmond city hall’s transportation department said there are “significant gaps in the assessment of the impacts of the project, omissions of technical analysis as well as unsubstantiated claims of predicted project benefits.”

Eby claimed that the BC Liberals hiked the fee to visit the Residential Tenancy Branch “from $50 to $100.”

True, according to a January 2016 CBC article. The cost of appeals also doubled from $25 to $50.

Eby claimed the NDP has put forward six private members bills to get “big money” out of politics, all of which have been defeated.

True. CTV reported that “the NDP has introduced six private member’s bills in recent years seeking bans on union and corporate donations, but none received government support.”

Eby claimed that BC has “the worst economy in Canada — according to the data in the studies done by independent academics on this issue — for young people.”

Eby is probably referring to Generation Squeeze, an organization started by UBC School of Population and Public Health associate professor Paul Kershaw that lobbies for Canadians in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They reported in March that BC had Canada’s “worst-performing economy” for younger generations.

Eby claimed that “there are 10,000 students on the UBC waitlist for housing.”

According to a CBC report from August 2016, the waitlist had almost 6,000 students, but that number would have been after many students received housing offers at the end of summer. We’re waiting for UBC to confirm what that current number of students wait listed is. This article will be updated as soon as that information becomes available.

Eby claimed that BC residents can’t borrow enough money “under the student loan program to pay for first-year books, residence and tuition.”

Realistically, almost always true, at least at UBC. The maximum funding for students without any dependents is $320 per week of full-time study, which means a full-time student would receive a maximum of $11,200 per academic year.

Tuition for an arts student taking 30 credits is $5,189.70, according to UBC. Housing costs for Walter Gage or Ritsumeiken — both of which are cheaper than Totem Park or Place Vanier due to their lack of a mandatory meal plan — are $6,790.

Total cost: $11,979, not including books, student fees, food, a more expensive residence or a more expensive faculty.

Eby claimed that “BC students have the highest debt load in the entire country.”

Maybe. Some conflicting info here.

  • A Vancouver Sun article from February said BC “had been tied with the federal government and New Brunswick for the highest student loan rate in the country,” but didn't cite a source.
  • Federation of Post-Secondary Educators president George Davison said BC students graduated with an average $35,000 debt.
  • VICE reported that students in the Maritimes had the highest average student loan debt with $40,000 in 2010 according to Statistics Canada data from that year.
  • The same VICE said that BC “has a higher average debt to tuition ratio, meaning that for the amount they pay in tuition fees, their debt loads are pretty high.”
  • A 2013 report from the Canadian Federation of Students says that Ontario and the Maritimes have shared the highest average debt load for more than a decade, but didn't cite a source.

This article has been updated to clarify that UBC will be bringing the total number of spots in student housing to 12,500 by 2020, not adding that number of beds outright. A clarification has also been added to James Lombardi's claim about land zoning, which describes the difference between land parcels and total land area.