Monday, June 6, 2022

Toxic Drugs, Affordable Housing, Climate Change, and Mental Health Services are Canada-wide Challenges

Federation of Canadian Municapilies Conference

The annual Federation of Canadian Municapilies (FCM) conference wrapped up yesterday. It started on June 2nd and took place in Regina. The convention has workshops, panels, keynote presentations, a trade show, and networking events. I attended this year's FCM conference.

The most interesting things I learned at the conference were from the informal conversations that I had with other people who attended from around Canada. I wanted to share a few ideas from these conversations that stood out to me.

The challenges that all municipalities face throughout Canada are addressing the toxic drug overdose and death crisis, providing affordable housing, adapting to climate change, and building out mental health services.

Unfortunately, BC has started experiencing and addressing these challenges earlier than most other provinces in Canada, so we are leading the way for better or worse.

The federal government provides provinces funding for healthcare, but there is no funding dedicated to mental healthcare. Throughout Canada, including in BC, mental healthcare services need to expand. Many people have a strong desire, from big urban mayors to small-town councillors, for the federal government to provide dedicated funding to provinces for mental health care.

This funding could help fund seats at colleges and universities to train mental healthcare professionals and help provinces build-out out mental healthcare capacity. It should be as easy to get mental healthcare as calling the police or visiting a doctor's office or walk-in clinic. Once you reach out for mental health care, the care should be easily accessible. Today, it is hard to get mental health care and navigate the system.

Mental healthcare and problematic substance use are linked. Getting accessible mental healthcare will also help people address problematic substance use. While BC is a leader in harm reduction, just like the rest of Canada, we need to build out capacity around treatment. The federal government again can help provinces with specifically-targeted funding.

When it comes to affordable housing, there is funding available, and municipalities throughout Canada are coming to the table to help support the construction of affordable housing. I was encouraged to see this. One of the challenges is a skilled trade shortage throughout Canada. I was talking to some people who suggest that beyond beefing up our skilled trades programs here at home, the federal government should be working to attract and retain skilled tradespeople through immigration programs.

The final area of conversation was around climate change adaptation. Most municipalities must replace a large amount of aging infrastructure, which requires the support of the federal and provincial governments. These infrastructure projects include replacing water, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer systems which must now account for increased climate change-related events such as flooding and other extreme events. While I may sound like a broken record, the federal government needs to beef up funding for its existing program to help municipalities address these infrastructure challenges.

We also need to build knowledge about adopting our cities for climate change. For example, Langley City is on a floodplain. There are other cities throughout Canada on a floodplain. Instead of Langley City having to learn how we mitigate climate-change-induced flooding on our own, we should be able to learn from and share out experience with other municipalities going through similar challenges.

It was good to learn from other elected representatives throughout Canada about some of the challenges they experience and how we can solve them together.

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