Friday, September 28, 2012

Local Government in BC

This week the UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities) hosted its annual convention in Victoria. The UBCM was founded in 1905 and lobbies the provincial and federal government on behalf of local governments in BC. Besides lobbying, the UBCM is also responsible for disbursing funds from programs like the federal gas tax refund to local governments. The UBCM gets its direction from resolutions passed at its annual conferences. The resolution that generated the most buzz this years was to “call on appropriate government to decriminalize marijuana and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.” The UBCM has a list of over 200 resolutions that delegates voted on this year and the list really got me thinking about the role of government in my daily life.

One of the things I’ve been noticing lately is that the further removed a government gets from the provisioning of on-the-ground services, the more likely it is to be run by ideology. I think the perfect example is the marijuana issue. The federal government has a get-tough-on-crime, prohibitionist ideology and you can see how its policies are reflective of that. The federal government is so far removed from the daily running of our cities that they can hold their ideology without dealing with the consequences. It is the provincial government that must pay for the prisons that get-tough-on-crime requires and local government that must pay for the policing costs and deal with the social fall-out. Local government must be more pragmatic than the feds and that is why they have realized that “marijuana prohibition is a failed policy which has cost millions of dollars in police, court, jail and social costs.” If we want to reduce drug usage, we need to look at other ways of doing it.

Other issues that I find important are around transportation, land-use, and the environments. Again, the federal government can hold the ideology of “drill baby, drill!”, but it is local government and its citizens that must deal with the “devastating and long lasting effects on British Columbia’s unique and diverse coast, which provides critical marine habitat and marine resources that sustain the social, cultural, environmental and economic health of coastal and First Nations communities.” When it comes to transportation and land-use, local governments know that active transportation and transit are critical for long-term sustainability and prosperity, yet provincial and federal governments continue to spend billions on highways and pennies on cycling and walking. Again it is local government that must deal with the consequence that congestion and pollution have on its citizens.

When reading over the UBCM’s Resolution Book, most of the issues deal with things that directly impact people’s daily lives and are less coloured by ideology than other levels of government. I think that is why I get excited about local government: it is relevant, impacts the daily lives of people, and deals with issues not ideology. Local government makes our lives better. If the federal government shutdown for a week you might be inconvenienced, but if local government shutdown for a week you’re world would come to a grinding halt.

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