Questions swirling around price tag for Vancouver’s new $645K public toilet

The B.C. government has allocated $645,000 to buy and install a single public toilet in Vancouver’s Cooper’s Park.

The toilet will be placed in the park, which is located in Yaletown, under the Cambie Street Bridge.

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The washroom is funded by the Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP), to which the government has dedicated $100-million to provide one-time infrastructure funding grants to communities around the province.

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However, the high price is raising some eyebrows.

“Despite stating otherwise, the jobs minister has clearly failed to understand that non-profit organizations like Science World are ineligible for his own business recovery grant program,” Todd Stone, BC Liberal Critic for Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation said in a release.

“To add insult to injury, while we all agree that public washrooms are important, the NDP are out of their mind to think allocating more than half a million dollars for Vancouver to build a toilet is an appropriate use of government relief funds — that’s outrageous.”

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The issue was also brought up in question period Monday with Stone saying “My question to the minister would be this: why was spending over half a million dollars on a toilet more important than grants for struggling performing arts venues that are barely hanging on?”

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B.C. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon defended their spending, saying B.C. has “the highest per-capita supports in all of Canada for businesses and people. We’re so proud of that — 99.4 per cent of jobs returned, and 10 straight months of job increase, leading the country. This is something we should all be proud of.

“We’ve cut property taxes, deferred others to reduce pressure. We’ve prohibited commercial evictions. We’ve put in tax subsidies for businesses to hire and rehire employees. We’ve provided a 25 per cent reduction to liquor pricing for restaurants. Guess what: we made it permanent.”

The toilet is built by a company called Portland Loo, which claims their products “are designed specifically to prevent problems that are commonly experienced with public toilets. The sleek and modern kiosk discourages crime with graffiti-proof wall panels and open grating.”

Another Portland Loo kiosk, installed in Nelson, cost the city approximately $140,000.

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John Irwin, a Vancouver Park Board commissioner, said he is in favour of public toilets and it’s important to note that $150,000 of the allocated funds are for the toilet itself and the remaining amount is for building the services and infrastructure in the area that are needed for the toilet to operate. The pipes and the sewer system have to be installed in the area as Irwin called it an “unserviced part of the city.”

“We’re in the middle of a rebuild of Cooper’s Park so this is the time to do it,” he said.

“Under the provincial funding, that work will create jobs for people. It will create work for local people and services for local people. So yes, the sticker price for the toilet is high but.. it’s like a tank of toilets, it’s virtually indestructible.”

Irwin added the Park Board spends a lot of money to fix up toilets that are vandalized and damaged.

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The City of Vancouver has been criticized in the past for the lack of public facilities, especially for the city’s more vulnerable citizens.

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Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said the public needs to remember that the pandemic took away some of the most important resources for vulnerable Vancouverites, causing the situation in the inner city — and especially in areas like the Downtown Eastside — to deteriorate quickly.

The City of Vancouver operates 11 automated public toilets and two “comfort stations” underground, along with three temporary washroom trailers opened during the pandemic. Six of them are open 24 hours a day.

The toilet is one of 63 small-scale public-use infrastructure projects throughout the province.

Josie Osborne, B.C.’s minister of municipal affairs, said Tuesday that local governments could put forward proposals for projects that needed funding.

“We know they have identified this as a priority project for them based on the dramatic increase in people accessing Vancouver parks,” Osborne said.

“We count on local governments to bring forward their priority projects and our staff uses a merit-based process to assess the projects. The local governments will conduct those projects. There is a reporting back mechanism and we will be monitoring that as we always do with all funding projects.”

Ross McPhee lives near the Esquimalt Portland Loo toilet and told Global News it seems to be popular.

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“Especially with the children’s playground right next door, with the parents, I think it gets used a lot,” he said. “I think they really appreciate it.”

He said he cannot understand the cost of the Vancouver model.

“The cushioning must be really good,” he joked.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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