How to Fix the Housing Crisis in BC

run-down-house

It seems that every year there are fewer and fewer places to rent, and as everyone knows, decreased supply invariably means increased rents. This has an especially negative impact on those at the bottom 30% of the economic spectrum.

The latest stab at fixing the problem comes via the federal government as they promise to blow another 4 billion on housing over the next few years.

In addition to the money, governments and the public have been trying to coerce homeowners into renting out their places, but to no avail. Renting out your place incurs risk that many homeowners don’t want to take. Bad renters are rampant, the law is often against the landlord when things go sideways.

This stick approach will not solve the problem. All it does is kick the can down the road, and saddle the next generation with even more government debt.

If they want to solve the rental shortage in a real way, they need more carrot and less stick. That is say, find ways of providing benefits to the landlord without hurting renters. Here’s one idea: eliminate income tax on rental income, at least under a certain threshold.The last thing they need to do is increase the tax burden on Canadians looking at renting out their basements as the feds are keen to do now. This will only restrict supply either further. Make no mistake about it, any extra costs the government puts on landlords will be passed on to tenants in the long run.

At the very least, the government needs to bring back the incentives available 30 years ago that lead to the apartment housing boom in the first place. Affordable housing is driven by apartment buildings, and most of those in use today were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these buildings are nearing the end of life, so the crunch will only get worse without real incentive to invest in housing.

Back in the 1980s rental apartments were shooting up like mushrooms because the federal government provided incentive to developers to expand the rental market, which in turn drove down prices for low income people. The old provisions of the Income Tax Act allowed investors (not real estate developers) to acquire (or build) qualifying rental units.

Under the program investors could take generous capital cost allowance losses of 10% per year, and apply these loses to other income that the investor had earned. From the government’s perspective, too many investors eventually became more interested in the tax breaks than actually maintaining housing for the most vulnerable in society.  As a result, the program was cut back over the years until being turfed entirely in 1988. But there’s no question the policy worked. Large swaths of housing projects were built, and even today most relatively affordable apartment buildings in use are surviving on the backs of this legacy.

This tax change was at the federal level, but provincially, policy has not been much better. British Columbia has some of the most expensive rents in Canada thanks to Bill Vander Zalm, who created the Property Purchasers Tax.

In addition to going back to the 1980s, let’s try a new approach to increase the rental supply. Eliminate all sales taxes on house related services — contractors, roofers, painters, etc. as is the case with food. This in turn lowers the costs of operating housing.

And most significantly, bring back the generous CCA similar to that of the 1980s. History shows us that this would incentivize builders to favour rental apartments over the more expensive housing we see going up today.

Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

The Coldest Months in Canadian History

dawson

Dawson, Yukon

As we close out the 70th winter since records began in the high arctic, I thought it would be interesting to count the number of very cold months, and further, determine the coldest of the lot. The map below shows all locations fortunate enough to achieve at least one month with an average mean temperature below-40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit, you choose).

minus40map2

The two areas of Canada most prone to extremely cold months are the central Yukon and the high arctic in Nunavut. Most of the locations in the above map are one-offs. But not Eureka, Nunavut. It’s the grand winner, having recorded 37 different months with a mean average temperature below -40. The coldest month of all time was February 1979, with an average temperature of -47.9°C (-54.2°F).

The second coldest month ever recorded in Canada was way back in December of 1917 when Dawson, Yukon, recorded an average temperature of -46.3°C (-51.3°F). Since Eureka is further north than Canada’s northernmost settlement, the Dawson record is the coldest month at an inhabited place. In some respects this month was more impressive. Starting on the last day of November, the temperature dropped below -40, and never rose above that mark — even during the day — for 31 consecutive days.

Interestingly enough, the two coldest places in the Yukon — Dawson and Mayo — also enjoy the hottest summers in Canada’s westernmost territory. The same sort of trend occurs in Alaska where the places with the warmest summers also have the coldest winters.

Prior to 1947, Dawson recorded one other month below -40 (as did Mayo). Both have recorded 4 additional winter months below -40 since then, with the last one being January of 1982.

The only other location in North America to record more than 2 months below -40 over the past 70 years is Shepherd Bay, Nunavut, at 5 occurrences (the last time being February of 1990).

Shepherd Bay is located on a sheltered peninsula devoid of the Arctic Ocean’s moderating effect, and outside of Eureka and Dawson, has the coldest month on record. Like most places in Nunavut, the record was set in February of 1979, only in this case the mean average temperature was -44.4°C (-47.9°F).

The coldest January ever recorded in Canada was set in Dawson in 1966 at -43.4°C (-46.1°F). This was the beginning of a two-decade period of inordinately cold winter months (as evident from the graph below). The only other months colder than this Dawson reading are February of 1987 and February of 1984, both set in Eureka.

minus40can

At least in Dawson the spring and summer months can be nice and warm. And even those extremely cold winters are relatively infrequent, especially since the 1980s. By contrast, winter hangs on so long in the high arctic that Eureka has averaged as low as -42.2°C (-44.0°F) in March (set in 1977). It’s the only place in Canada to average below -40 in March, and has done so 7 times!

Summing up, Dawson holds the record for the coldest December and the coldest January while Eureka holds the record for the coldest February and the coldest March.

The coldest months might be comparable between the two, but one need only compare the picture of Dawson at the top to one of Eureka below to fully grasp who has the nicer climate on average.

So there you have it, the Yukon is not as cold as you’ve been led to believe! Or at least, not as cold as some places.

eureka2

Eureka, Nunavut

Coldest Months Ever Recorded in the Respective Jurisdictions:

  • Eureka, Nunavut [February 1979] = -47.9°C (-54.2°F)
  • Dawson, Yukon [December 1917] = -46.3°C (-51.3°F)
  • Fort Yukon, Alaska [December 1917] = -44.6°C (-48.3°F)*
  • Fort Good Hope, NWT [January 1966] = -42.5C (-44.5°F)
*The thermometer recording daily maximum temperatures at Fort Yukon in 1917 used mercury instead of alcohol, and since 26 of the 31 days did not rise above -38°F, the month’s temperature had to be estimated based upon the the daily lows recorded with alcohol and the normal difference between the maximum and minimum readings. Up river from Fort Yukon, Eagle was able to record the daily highs because it was using an alcohol thermometer. The monthly average was -43.3°C (-45.9°F).
Posted in Climate, Geography | Leave a comment

Why the Chilcotin Will Eventually be the Coldest Place in BC

munchoIt’s an interesting fact that since 1938, when weather records began in earnest in northern British Columbia, the coldest January each year has bounced around between nine different places.

Ranked by the number of occurrences, the lucky spots are:

  1. Fort Nelson: 50 times with a total of 80 years worth of data (63% of the time)
  2. Smith River: 11 of 25 years (44% of the time)
  3. Lower Post: 7 of 9 years (78% of the time)
  4. Coal River: 3 of 3 years (100% of the time)
  5. Germansen Landing: 3 of 61 years (5% of the time)
  6. Lower Liard Bridge: 2 of 3 years (67% of the time)
  7. Sierra: 2 of 5 years (40% of the time)
  8. Yoho National Park: 2 of 41 years (5% of the time)
  9. McBride River: 1 of 3 years (33% of the time)

coldestinbc2

Coal River is the only location to be the coldest spot for all years within its record, but that’s less impressive when considering the fact that the station was in operation for just three years. Given the proximity to the Yukon border, Coal River would likely be rivaling Lower Post for the coldest winters in BC — though, Lower Post is probably the coldest place in the province, and holds the record for the coldest month ever recorded in BC (-37.5°C in 1969).

But these northern weather stations had all disappeared in the 1990s, which is why Fort Nelson had remained British Columbia’s coldest spot for 18 years in a row. Yoho National Park ended that streak in 2017.

Generally speaking, as you move north and east in British Columbia, the colder the winters, but there are microclimates that provide plenty of exceptions.  In much of the province, higher elevations have the warmest winters. That’s why the lowest point along the Alaska highway, Fort Nelson, has recorded BC’s coldest January 50 of the last 80 years while Tetsa River, 100km west and 300m higher than Fort Nelson, will never be the province’s cold spot.

Since the 1980s, the trend in Canada has been to centralize, and weather monitoring is no exception; most of the remote and northern weather stations have vanished. Of the nine stations capable of recording BC’s coldest January in the past, seven have disappeared, leaving Fort Nelson and Yoho National Park (located near Field) as the only cold spots left.

Moving into the future, the reduced number of weather stations in the north provides an opportunity for two new places to rise to the top: Dease Lake and the erroneously named Puntzi Mountain. Puntzi Mountain is exceptionally cold for its latitude during the winter months because it’s situated in a low spot on the Chilcotin Plateau, where the clear and windless nights allow cold air to sink and pool at the surface.

We need only look at 2017 to see the possibility in the years to come. Puntzi Mountain tied Fort Nelson for third place, and Yoho National Park edged out Dease Lake for top spot.

Additionally, Puntzi did not exist in 1950, but it’s almost certain to have been colder than both Fort Nelson and Dease Lake, but likely not as cold as the abandoned town of Smith River.

Comparing the coldest Chilcotin weather station each year to Fort Nelson reveals that January was equal in both 1950 and 2017. The Chilcotin point from 1950 represents the milder community of Kleena Kleene.

meanjantemperature

When you check back at this article in 100 years, you can call me out if I’m wrong, but just for fun, I will go out on a limb and predict that over the next century, the province’s coldest January will break down as follows:

  1. Fort Nelson = 90 times
  2. Yoho National Park = 4 times
  3. Dease Lake = 3 times
  4. Puntzi Mountain = 2 times
  5. Somewhere unexpected = 1 time
Posted in Climate | 2 Comments

What Does it Take to Trigger a Snowfall Warning in Canada?

train-going-through-huge-snow-wall-in-canada

It’s interesting to note that Environment Canada believes in and promotes discrimination. i.e. They have a different set of rules for different parts of the country (when it comes to issuing weather warnings).

In terms of snowfall amounts, a mere 5 cm forecast for Vancouver will trigger a warning while 20cm of forecast snow is required in the far northwest corner of the province.

Up in northern Quebec, they’re even tougher where Environment Canada does not issue snowfall warnings at all. The Quebec Inuit are apparently the toughest people in the country… or perhaps they know that the traditional methods of reading the weather are still more accurate than the highest powered computer in the nation crunching numbers down in Ottawa.

Here is the map for the entire nation. Note that areas in white do not receive forecasts and warnings of any kind because they are uninhabited.

ecwarningmap

Posted in Climate | 1 Comment

The Sunshine Tax

 

okrailSince moving to the Okanagan Valley area, I’ve been made aware of something called the “sunshine tax.”  It’s a sort of catchall explanation for getting screwed, and perhaps the most idiotic and pretentious excuse for not understanding basic economics ever invented.

  • Gas prices just went up today — sunshine tax!
  • House prices are rising — sunshine tax!
  • Income is stagnating — sunshine tax!
  • Someone in Tuktoyaktuk makes more money than you for doing the same work — sunshine tax!
  • Traffic is bad — sunshine tax!
  • Your wife left you — sunshine tax!

The “sunshine tax” stipulates that people in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley  get paid less and/or “enjoy” a higher cost of living simply because of the desirable climate. The sunshine as it were.

The first hint of something serious wrong with this theory appears in the ironic name itself. It’s not a tax. Nor is the Okanagan all that sunny. Sure, it’s sunnier than Prince Rupert, but the 1923 hours of sunshine per year in the south Okanagan city of Penticton is a far cry from the 2544 hours in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It’s also less than almost all major cities in Canada including Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. If sunshine were a taxable commodity, Penticton and Kelowna would be overdue for a tax refund if anything!

The lack of sunshine aside, the climate is quite mild by Canadian standards, and that makes it one of the more desirable places to live. However, the sunshine tax explanation is not used in other cities with mild winters like Kamloops or Nanaimo or Vancouver or Halifax. They just know basic economics — a company looking for workers in northern and remote parts of Canada will need to offer higher wages to entice people to move there.

The most annoying part about someone invoking the “sunshine tax” to complain about their economic situation is that they are essentially demanding their cake and to eat it too. They think that they should get the same wages and cost of living as someone living in some remote outpost that they themselves would never live at without a significant wage increase.

So it’s not a tax, has nothing to do with sunshine, and represents nothing unique about the economic situation of the valley compared to other places that don’t have this supposed tax. Maybe it’s time to retire the self-righteous phrase, and join the realities of  planet earth.

Incidentally enough, this disconnect between reality and expectations is what has likely given rise to the “sunshine tax” phenomenon in the first place. Perhaps it’s not so much a misunderstanding of economics or a self-righteous attitude, but a failure to realize that we’ve been lied to.

Similar to the false marketing claim that the only desert in Canada resides the Okanagan Valley, marketers have also been able to project a climate with nicer weather than reality dictates. This reputation for great weather increases demand for housing and supply of workers. In turn, housing costs are driven higher while wages are simultaneously lowered.

If the Okanagan’s reputation matched reality, everyone would probably be more understanding of market conditions like they are in Kamloops and Halifax where newcomers aren’t duped into thinking they’re entering a paradise unequaled in the rest of the country.

Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

How to Beat Wikipedia at Their Own Game

bc_castlegar

Wikipedia’s standard of proof dictates that all information must be sourced, and not from blogs. Nor can original research be used. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia becomes an incredibly valuable resource because so many pages ignore this rule by supplying original research and local knowledge. For example, this table listing the world’s mountains by prominence was produced by a bunch of mountaineering nerds who sat down and calculated out most of these values. There’s simply no other source out there for such information. Thank you, Wikipedia.

And yet on many other pages, you have editors who will deleted every edit that does not provide a “valid source.” This detracts from Wikipedia’s value. The temptation to be too strict (for non-controversial topics) means that common knowledge and common sense are thrown out the window in the name of verification. Wikipedia is an invaluable source of information in large part because much of the information is original research and local knowledge that cannot be found anywhere else on the internet.

Their policy of not allowing blog posts as valid references falls apart when we consider the fact that this blog post is actually true while this government source is clearly wrong.

Rigidly following the rules means that anyone can find an error in the “official sources,” and permanently insert errors into the Wikipedia pages. And nothing but the use of common sense will be able to reverse the falsehood.

It’s much like how you might have a Math textbook that shows the answers in the back. You swear the answer to 2×5 should be 10, not 100 as the back shows. A good teacher is going to side with you because the “official answer” is clearly not right. A dogmatically rigid teacher will still insist the answer is 100.

You might be thinking that no such teacher exists, and hopefully you’d be right, but the same cannot be said about the editors on Wikipedia. For example, Canada has this completely meaningless variable called the Humidex, which is supposed to tell you what the humidity feels like — it doesn’t.

Those who use common sense like Environment Canada’s chief climatologist will look at the data, and know that 53.4°C (128°F) humidex in Castlegar, BC, is an error. They know that British Columbia has very dry air, so you never get humidex values like that. Plus, looking at other places in the area from that day shows that this was indeed an error that made it into the database. So instead, they will refer to the places with the highest humidex values in Canada as those in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba.

But not Wikipedia. All that you have to do is source the Environment Canada data for Castlegar, and voilà!  You have just re-written history with a source that can’t be refuted. On Wikipedia, Castlegar is listed as the place with the highest humidex.

When the editors demanding proper sources look at the humidex record on Wikipedia, they conclude that it must be true . Anyone with a little local knowledge or some common sense knows it’s wrong intuitively, but those are not qualities they bestow upon Wikipedia editors, or at least not all of them.

There’s really no way to scrub the false humidex value off the Wikipedia site. They can’t link to this blog because it’s a blog, and thus not reliable, and they can’t point to the articles listing Windsor, Ontario, or Carman, Manitoba, as the record holders because the Environment Canada value for Castlegar is considered a more reliable source. Heck, I’ve even seen instances where someone tried to add a note that the Castlegar record is suspect and unreliable, and within minutes, a Wikipedia editor goes in and reverses the change such as this bogus record remains unchallenged.

This is but one example of Wikipedia kiboshing truth in favour of fiction where the who of the source trumps reason. Wikipedia is a great website, but they could be even better if common sense were more common.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Top 12 Musicians That Died in 2016

At the end of 2015 I took us through 10 black musicians we lost. It’s another year, and we are all another year older and another year closer the end of our own earthly journeys.

Over the year of 2016 we lost many of the great musicians. A sad reality of life, but we can celebrate the talent they graced us with over the decades. Here are 12 of the best who left us during the year.

12) George Michael. This was his last Christmas.

11) Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane

10) David Bowie

9) All 64 members of the Red Army Choir died on Christmas Day as their plan crashed into the Black Sea.

8) Fred Hellerman, the last surviving member of the folk group, the Weavers, passed away at the age of 89. Hellerman is the guitar player.

7) Bobby Vee

6) Ralph Stanley

5) Joey Feek, the wife of the husband-wife duo of Joey + Rory

4) Prince. It’s more than his guitar weeping this year.

3) Leonard Cohen

2) Merle Haggard

1) Glenn Frey from the Eagles, age 67. Take it easy, Mr. Frey.

Posted in Music | Leave a comment