Thursday, September 29, 2016

Getting down to business at UBCM: Protecting old growth, investing in infrastructure, fair taxation, and reducing substance abuse.

Yesterday was the start of the “meat and potatoes” part of the Union of BC Municipalities Convention, the plenary session. The session started with an invocation from Esquimalt First Nation Chief Andrew Thomas and Elder Mary Anne Thomas.

Elder Mary Anne Thomas call for us to work together to build relationships between nations, and Chief Andrew Thomas talked about the challenges facing First Nations government. Like many small municipalities in BC, First Nations governments do not have the resources required to adequately equip their staff to be able to deliver all the services required. He noted that staff burnout, because of limited resources, can be high. More support will be needed to help equipment all governments to deliver required services.

The Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia opened with a speech about the need for better coordination between all levels of government especially when dealing with complex challenges such as climate change mitigation. She mentioned that people should read the book “The Climate Nexus: Water, Food, Energy and Biodiversity in a Changing World.” She pointed out that local governments, with support, are in the best position to tackle climate change.

UBCM president Al Richmond called out the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for engaging in non-productive rhetoric around local government taxation. He noted that people demand services from government, and that with past provincial and federal funding cuts and program cuts, local governments have been left to take up the slack. Infrastructure is expensive, and local governments have a responsibility to ensure that water runs, streets work, and community services such as parks, libraries, and community centres are meeting the needs of residents.

He also noted that this will be the first time in ten years that a federal minister will be addressing UBCM which shows that the federal government is serious about working with local governments to meet the needs of Canadians.

After the introductions, the debates started on the resolutions. These resolutions are passed on to the provincial government to express the opinions of local governments throughout BC. I wanted to highlight five of the key resolutions passed today.

The first resolution passed was to call on the provincial government to reverse the downloading of the cost of doing police DNA analysis to local governments. The second was to request the provincial government to directly involve local governments as the regulatory approach to marijuana is established.

Also relating to marijuana was a request to have local governments receive a share of the taxation revenue received much like the federal gas tax fund.

Right now there is a hotel tax in BC. The final priority resolution was to work on a framework to extend taxation to all short-term accommodations such as those procured through Airbnb.

Finally, delegates moved to prioritize and pass a resolution to call for the protection of old growth forests on Vancouver Island.

Later on during the day, Premier Christy Clark gave a speech in which she announced a joint federal/provincial program to fund $373 million in water and waster-water infrastructure for local government, plus $10 million to setup a new BC Centre for Substance Use and to reduce the use of fentanyl.

Premier Christy Clark addressing delegates and the media at UBCM.

To find out about all the resolutions that are being debated at UBCM, please check out the UBCM Resolution Book.

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