Housing, Airbnb and social responsibility: Charlottetown mayor-elect Philip Brown
'I might have to find a balance, not only for my work but also my family'
The morning after his election victory in Charlottetown, Philip Brown joined the CBC's Mitch Cormier on Island Morning.
This conversation has been edited for length.
What were you thinking as you watched the results?
We knew it was going to be close, and who it was going to be close with we found out last night — my sister-in-law Kim Devine. But it was a great election. This was my fifth municipal election and this has been the best election I entered because we actually discussed ideas and issues.
What made the difference, compared to your two previous runs for mayor?
This time we had a great team of volunteers. That started back in May and it just kept building and building and building, and then for the advance polls we had lots of volunteers getting the voters out to the polls and then election day same thing.
What does one say to one's sister-in-law when you've beat them for the mayor's position?
Listen, Kim, Cecil, Jamie Larkin, Bill McFadden, myself, we all had our names on the ballot, and that to me is public service. I appreciate that not only Kim did it, but the others.
I watched you making some notes last Thursday when we were all sitting around this table. How many of the ideas that were presented are going to make their way into your platform?
We all shared the same priority, affordable housing. We all shared the idea that there has to be an economic development agency for Charlottetown. And for me, cleaning up the rivers — the Hillsborough, the North River and the West River — that's a concern of mine. I want to make that a priority.
But affordable housing will be job number one, and as I said during the campaign it's boots on the ground, shovels in the ground. I want to start working right away with the new council.
Do you think you'll be successful in changing the way that we zone properties in Charlottetown?
We want to get background information so we can bring something to the government to change legislation this sitting of the House. If not this sitting of the House, the spring sitting, so it will be in the new planning act.
We're talking what we call inclusionary zoning [a practice that encourages combining market-rate housing with affordable housing]. You said during the conversation we had last Thursday that you feel that these developers have a social responsibility. A lot of people came to me and said, "Come on, they're businesses." How do you find that balance?
We have my dad's business, E B Brown's Transport and Crane Service. You know, we're asked a lot of times to give something back to our community. We know there's a social responsibility to be a business.
Inclusionary zoning is one part of the puzzle. There's also the government's responsibility both provincially and federally to provide more public housing. There's also the responsibility of the University of Prince Edward Island to build more student housing.
If UPEI was to somehow build another residence, how much of a difference could that make?
It would be an impact. How much would it be? We'll find out based on the number of units that they will build or plan to build.
How are you going to change the short-term rental laws in Charlottetown?
When I meet with our new council we want to look at the commercial tax on Airbnbs, commercial water and sewer rates, also the inspection of these Airbnbs — fire, electrical, plumbing — and also the collection of the room levy, which I said last week, and I'm saying again today that that room levy will be used to build an affordable housing fund.
That has to go to a public consultation. We can't just create a bylaw without public consultation.
We're hearing now about apartment buildings being built to only be Airbnbs. If it's an apartment building and it's only Airbnbs is it a business or is it an apartment building?
It's a business. We have three types of taxes: residential, multi-unit complex taxing, and also commercial taxes.
Most of these are falling under that multi-unit rate. How do you move them to that commercial tax?
We would have to discuss as a mayor and council how we go from multi-unit taxing to commercial taxing. That's something we would have to be work with our provincial partners because they not only send out the tax bills for property taxes they also collect them.
Now we also have to talk about more family ties, with the minister who's responsible for municipalities. What's the first fight you see you'll be picking with your brother?
My brother Richard is the minister responsible for municipalities. We're not just going to be working with Richard Brown. We're going to be working with cabinet and the premier, because some of the ideas and issues that we brought up during this campaign concern not just the minister responsible for municipalities but requires the involvement of cabinet. We have to keep in mind that we have six MLAs in the Charlottetown area, and they have to look at re-election too.
Where are you on Holland College creating a sports field at what was supposed to be the entranceway to the Eastern Gateway Project?
That's a discussion we want to have right away. The [Charlottetown Area Development Corporation] spent $4.4 million to develop that facility out there. So, what do we do with concert venues down the road? Do we go back to Confederation Landing? The neighbours that live down there, they thought that this was going to move all that activity.
Are you transitioning to a full-time mayor?
I have to negotiate something with my employer, the Public Schools [Branch], but I can't do both. I can't be a full-time teacher and a full-time mayor. I might have to find a balance, not only for my work but also my family.