Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Provincial government looking to micro-manage local government in BC

BC has a proud history of local government. In other provinces, local government has been subject to the whims of the province. In BC, the provincial government has historically recognized the important role that local government plays. It has given local government more antimony over the years, culminating with the Community Charter which was passed into law in 2003.

The Charter says that “municipalities and their councils are recognized as an order of government within their jurisdiction” and that “citizens of British Columbia are best served when, in their relationship, municipalities and the Provincial government acknowledge and respect the jurisdiction of each.” The Charter is the constitution for local government; as such, it confers rights and responsibilities that should be broadly interpreted.

Recognizing that local government is an important form of government, municipalities in BC are the only ones in Canada where the Federal Gas Tax transfer agreement is a signed by the federal, the province, and local governments (through the Union of BC Municipalities).

Over the last several decades, both the federal and provincial governments have downloaded responsibility to local government. As a result, local government has had to take on increased responsibility for funding police, affordable housing, public transit, and infrastructure projects.

With this increased responsibility, as least in BC, the provincial government gave local government tools and autonomy to deal with the increasing services that local government provides.

This seems to be changing now. The provincial government appears to be trying to micro-manage local government. The first hint of this was the introduction of a provincially appointed Auditor General for Local Government. The stated role of the AGLG is to “give advice and recommendations to local governments to help them deliver their services more efficiently, effectively and economically.” Some see this as the province meddling with local matters; a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Just recently, the province leaked a report call “BC Public Sector Compensation Review.Metro Vancouver has called this report “profoundly disrespectful to municipalities and their citizens.” The reports contains serious omissions. Even the authors admit this by saying “that significant data limitations were encountered in constructing this analysis” and that “it has not been possible in all cases to present findings in the manner of a consistent and integrated story.”

It is no secret that once adjusted for inflation, federal government spending has decreased, provincial spending has stayed relatively consistent, while local government spending has increased due to the downloading of service to local government. The report even notes this by saying that “after adjusting for inflation, as well as population, real per capita spending across Metro Vancouver grew by 32% between 2000-10, compared with approximately 10% in the Provincial Government.”

In Metro Vancouver, the province transferred the responsibility of transit to the region. Local government also has to renew aging core infrastructure with limited financial support from the provincial or federal governments. This all added up to huge cost increases.

One of the largest costs for municipalities is policing. The cost of policing has rapidly increased, and those costs have been imposed upon municipalities by the provincial and federal governments.

The reports seems to have been created to give the provincial government a reason to directly control the wages of all local government staff. This is micro-management, and I’m not sure what problem it will solve. It will create another level of expensive provincial bureaucracy.

BC has a diversity of local government. For example, should the Chief Administration Officer of Vancouver get the same rate of pay as the CAO of Williams Lake? Like not. It will be nearly impossible to set the “right” rate of pay for local government employees provincially.

Local government is in the best position to determine the appropriate wages and staffing levels. As the report even admits, “the services [local governments] provide are closer to the citizenry (e.g. garbage collection, recreation centres, etc.) and thus decision-makers feel enormous pressure not to disrupt these services.”

Besides a power grab, what does the provincial government gain by micro-managing local government and reducing services that citizens demand? This is not a good idea and will not benefit citizens. The provincial government should continue to respect local government and the citizens that elect local governments. This is working in BC today, and it is one of the reasons why the rest of the world looks to BC for leadership about local government.

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