Friday, September 25, 2015

UBCM resolutions show what challenges are top-of-mind for local governments

This week the annual UBCM conference is being held in Vancouver. The UBCM represents the interests of local governments in our province, and advocates on behalf of all local governments in BC.

Our province is unique in Canada in so far as the provincial government treats local governments as another order of government. Even though local governments are created by provincial legislation, there is a higher degree of respect from the province around the autonomy of local governments. In other provinces in Canada, provincial governments normally do as they please to local governments. For example, sections of the Greater Toronto Area were merged into one municipality on the whim of the Ontario provincial government in the 1990s.

At the UBCM, local government delegates propose and endorse a series of resolutions which they want the provincial government to address. The province responds to these resolutions several months after the convention. Sometimes the provincial government actually takes action on the resolutions passed, but most of the time it usually responds to the resolution with words that sound nice, but mean nothing.

For example, last year local governments asked that “the provincial government increase [and pay for] the number of RCMP members at detachments that have identified staff shortages through RCMP audit.”

The provincial response was “in these fiscally challenging times, it is increasingly imperative to find innovative solutions to meet public expectations for the delivery of police services and address increasing costs. Government has set this as a priority for the RCMP.”

Nice words, but little action. Another resolution last year called for the province to take action on adding regulations around e-cigarettes. The province indicated that it would take action, and now has, on this resolution.

This year, there are some 166 resolutions that are looking for an endorsement at this year’s UBCM conference.

One of the interesting resolutions endorsed this week is for the provincial government to allocate 60% of the revenue it receives from the federal “New Build Canada Fund” directly to local governments. Right now, the province only redistributes 40% of the funding it receives from the feds to local government for infrastructure, pocketing the rest. Local governments have the largest pool of infrastructure assets in BC, but collect the least about of taxes compared to the provincial and federal governments.

Another resolution that was endorsed this week called for the province to enact an Environment Bill of Rights which:

  • Recognizes the right of every resident to live in a healthy environment, including the right to clean air, clean water, clean food and vibrant ecosystems;
  • Provides for public participation in decision making respecting the environment and access to environmental information;
  • Provides access to justice when environmental rights are infringed; and
  • has whistle-blower protection.

As you might imagine, local governments in BC haven’t been impressed with the scandal-laden provincial Auditor General for Local Government. Many in local government saw the creation of this position as a way for the province to start micro-managing local governments, while providing little benefit to local governments. It is no surprise that a resolution was passed to eliminate the AGLG position.

Some other interesting resolutions relating to public transit include a resolution from Vanderhoof requesting that the province fund public transit delivery in rural and resource-based communities. Since the provincial government has stop funding transit expansion via BC Transit starting this year, another resolution by Lower Mainland Local Government Association is asking that the provincial government once again invest in public transit expansion throughout the province.

Another thing that local governments have been requesting of the provincial government for a few years now is for more flexibility to reduce speed limits in urban areas from 50km/h to 40km/h. By reduce speed-limits, lives are saved. Unfortunately, the provincial government has been raising speed limits because it is politically popular. In rural areas, the speed limits on some roads have increased from 80km/h to 100km/h. The Central Okanagan Regional District proposed a resolution for the province to put in place a formalized process where local governments can request a lowering of the speed limit on certain sections of highways that pass through rural communities and neighbourhoods.

While most of the resolutions don’t actually result in any action by the provincial government, reading the resolutions endorsed is a good gauge of the challenges that local governments in BC face.

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