There is strength in numbers, and among B.C.’s civic politicians, there is a collective belief that speaking with a unified voice is a way to make positive change in this province.
That notion was behind the formation of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the machinations of which leap into action today (Sept. 26) when the annual UBCM convention gets underway in downtown Victoria.
While this week-long meeting of the municipal minds is, for most elected officials and certain senior civil servants, an out-of-town retreat to work on professional development and connect with provincial government officials, the West Shore contingent will be sleeping in their own beds, with the various workshops and group resolution sessions happening at the Victoria Conference Centre.
While many B.C. mayors and councillors will look to network with ministers and ministry staff while here, Langford Mayor Stew Young noted his city already gets to do that.
“We get a pretty good opportunity to meet with ministers on a regular basis … We don’t have to travel far to get our message out,” he said. “UBCM is pretty much every day for me.”
If Langford councillors do take any meetings with ministers, he added, it will most likely be to thank them for their continued support and investment in the City. He nodded to the numerous funding announcements made in over the past year or so that affect Langford, including highway improvements and cycling trails.
At least one group of West Shore politicians is anxiously awaiting the gathering.
“The entire Highlands council is going, which is awesome,” said Mayor Ken Williams, noting this event is a great opportunity to connect with representatives of similar-sized municipalities across the province. He added triumphantly, “we’re not the smallest in the province.”
His council members are especially looking forward to the Small Talk forum, where people from smaller jurisdictions gather to share stories and discuss their programs, issues they’ve encountered and solutions.
“All kinds of great ideas come out of it,” Williams said, adding a past discussion led Highlands to donate a surplus fire truck to a municipality in need in Northern B.C. “That’s the kind of thing that happens.”
Having attended a number of UBCM conventions, Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton also likes the joint networking and problem-solving that goes on, and appreciates the sessions in which municipal policies are discussed.
She noted, however, that some resolutions tend to come up for discussion often over the course of many years, having achieved limited action.
“It is a long and slow and arduous process, and sometimes you have to tweak it, and go back and do some more work and come back with a new and improved resolution,” she said.
Longtime Metchosin Mayor John Ranns isn’t planning to attend the convention, but sees value in it for newer councillors who are looking to network and gain a broader perspective.
“I’ve been doing this job for a long time,” he said, adding, “The membership is a lot of money for my taxpayers for what use it is … I just can’t justify laying that kind of money out for it every year.”
Lobbying for change to make a statement
While some watchers have criticized the UBCM for lobbying the province to take actions it has no jurisdiction over, View Royal Mayor David Screech, another UBCM veteran, believes doing so is often about getting a conversation started.
Take the RCMP’s elimination of policing activities traditionally engaged in by auxiliary constables, such as ridealongs with full-time officers and firearms familiarization, plus the review of such functions as traffic and crowd control. In View Royal’s opinion, the mayor said, “there was a sweeping decision from a desk in Ottawa with no communication with the communities the RCMP serves.”
Convinced of the valued role auxiliaries play in the community and that the upper hierarchy of the RCMP underestimates that value, Screech said, the Town of View Royal is bringing forward a resolution to the UBCM. It essentially requests the province to pressure the federal government and the RCMP’s “E” Division to reinstate the auxiliary constable program in B.C. to the level of services it provided before the January 2016 decision.
“What we’re asking for is to ask the province to enter into talks about how we can all be involved and maybe get a slightly more balanced decision,” Screech said. “I appreciate the (RCMP’s) danger consideration, but sometimes the problem with a sweeping decision like this is it’s not a reasoned one.”
Amalgamation, Aboriginal Day, geese and more on Metchosin’s agenda
Coun. Moralea Milne will be at the UBCM meetings carrying Metchosin’s hopes that its various resolutions will be forwarded on to the provincial government.
One of them, spurred on by recent discussions involving the province around amalgamation of services in the CRD, looks to confirm the position of all political parties in the legislature around maintaining Section 279 of the B.C. Community Charter, entitled No Forced Amalgamations. Ranns hopes there will be a lot of positive feedback for such a resolution. “It isn’t just Metchosin that doesn’t want to be amalgamated, it’s probably most places in the province,” he said.
The District’s is also requesting that National Aboriginal Day be declared a statutory holiday in B.C. The annual day is celebrated across Canada on June 21 and was first celebrated in 1996. Currently, only the Northwest Territories observes Aboriginal Day as a stat holiday.
The rural municipality also has resolutions relating to geese and the protection of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island. The first aims to see management of the increasing populations of non-migratory Canada Geese shifted to local governments from the federal government and provincial wildlife agencies, as a way to curb the “social, economic, environmental, human health and safety impacts and problems” it states that the birds cause.
The second asks that existing old-growth forests on Crown land on the Island be protected from logging.
Colwood and Highlands tag team on soils resolution
Colwood is bringing forward a joint effort with Highlands called a safe soils program. It asks the province to develop a certification program that incorporates a processing standard and labelling regulation that soil sellers can choose to participate in, with the goal of protecting against invasive species.
“(It’s) so you can be sure soil coming in won’t be a problem … (and) there’s a need to get on top of this so we’re not passing it around to other municipalities,” said Williams.
Colwood is also sponsoring a community safety resolution that asks the province to take action to improve the delivery of B.C. child protection services, fully fund the office of the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth and follow the provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. The requests come from recommendations made separately by the Victoria Family Court and Youth Justice Committee and the Sooke School District.
Also on Colwood’s list are petitions to the province to eliminate fees for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing free for men as a way to encourage earlier testing and potentially increase the survival rates for prostate cancer in B.C.
Langford looks to clean up Island Corridor Foundation
Young and his council are forwarding a motion at UBCM asking the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities to work with impacted Island governments and the Island Corridor Foundation board to conduct a financial and governance review of the ICF.
Given its creation in 2003 and the lack of progress on the line, the mayor said everything from the foundation’s books to management needs to be evaluated. But ultimately, Young wants to know if there is a way to use the corridor to move West Shore residents into Victoria and back, especially until they’ve created the newly announced business park and have more local jobs keeping West Shore residents out of that daily commuting grind.
He’s not holding his breath that a solution will be found to getting trains running between Langford and Victoria.
Unredeemed pop can deposits mount up, Highlands says
Highlands has a catchy name for its other resolution being brought to the UBCM convention: Pop Cans for Parks. It calls for the province to collect monies from unredeemed container deposits for a fund to buy park land. It’s a program that has been rather successful in some American states, said Williams.
While everyone pays a deposit on beverage containers at the store, he said “maybe 75 per cent of those containers get refunded.” What’s not refunded is basically going back into the beverage industry, he noted. Instead, if that money was put into a fund to buy land for parks, he said people
know their money is going to a good cause even when they are not the ones collecting the refund.
Some resolutions go nowhere, even from UBCM meetings
Not every one of the more than 180 suggestions or recommendations to be brought forward to the UBCM as resolutions this week gains traction. While some have been given the pre-designation of “endorsed” by the UBCM Resolutions Committee, for others the committee has “no recommendation” listed, often with a suggestion that the municipality take steps to communicate further and work with other bodies or groups to find solutions.
The resolution sessions run Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. For more information about the Union of B.C. Municipalities, visit ubcm.ca.
– with files from Katherine Engqvist, Joel Tansey