What Nelson's city councillors did, and what they learned, at their annual municipal conference
Every year, hundreds of municipal politicians their senior staff spend five full days at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference, attending workshops, training sessions, strategy sessions, panels, debates, meetings with provincial ministers, and information sessions. They vote on hundreds of resolutions. They connect with their colleagues from around the province and with provincial politicians.
They have the opportunity to talk about a staggering array of subjects: water law, medical marijuana, policing costs, mental health policy, recycling, liquor policy, speed limits, noxious weeds, heritage conservation, library funding, watershed protection, animal control, election reform, and the list could go on for pages.
This year, Nelson’s mayor and all councillors except Paula Kiss attended, along with city manager Kevin Cormack, at a total cost of about $21,000.
After the conference, The Nelson Daily asked the mayor and the attending councillors two questions:
- What sessions did you attend that were particularly relevant to Nelson?
- What were a couple important things that you learned overall?
QUESTION 1: WHAT SESSIONS DID YOU ATTEND THAT WERE ESPECIALLLY RELEVANT TO NELSON?
Councillor Bob Adams
They talked about mobile business licences. Instead of a business having to buy a licence in Castlegar and Trail and Nelson they would have an area business licence, and I thought that would be good for the businesses. One firm that does business at the coast, he had to have 20 business licences and he went down to seven, so he went from spending $1500 a year to $300.
The other one was wildfire community protection, and we are well ahead of the rest of the province because we had our fire department do some burns up around the cemetery and on the way to five-mile pipeline, and we are doing well on those sorts of things. Fire and fuel management, positive landscaping thinning of the trees, I know our guys have done a lot of that work. We have lots of forest right beside the city.
The sessions will be pushing for four-year terms for councillors, rather than a three year term. It would save the city money. I am not so sure some people would want to be a councillor for four years. I don’t know if it would help get people to run or not.
Councillor Candace Batycki
There was lots of conversation about the extended producer responsibility program for recycling paper and packaging. That was a big one with lots of conversation– there are pros and cons. Nelson had already taken a position to participate because of our circumstances, but other governments called for more time to sweeten the deal from Multi-Materials BC, so the UBCM voted for 90 days more to improve the deal they are offering. Andy Shadrack put forward an amendment that the UBCM strike a working committee to do that negotiation, so that is an immediate follow-up that will have repercussions for the city of Nelson and for the regional district. We are all in it together.
I met with environment minister Mary Polak on invasive freshwater mussels— zebra and quagga mussels. They destroy freshwater ecosystems and they are not yet here in BC, but they are creeping every closer and are showing up in some of our neighbouring jurisdictions so it is a real concern from a tourism perspective on Kootenay Lake because it throws off the ecosystem and has effects on the food chain that we can’t foresee. And they get into industrial workings, especially dams, and locally and on the part of Nelson Hydro we are encouraging the environment minister to put some muscle into keeping out mussels. That was a totally unintended pun! The minister said they would take it to the Pacific Northwest Economic Region meetings coming up.
Councillor Robin Cherbo
We talked to energy and mines minister Bill Bennett. He deals with Nelson Hydro and our agreement with Fortis and BC Hydro. We want to get an agreement so we can sell power to Fortis during the freshet when we have surplus water in the spring, rather than sell it to BC Hydro. He offered to facilitate a meeting between Fortis and BC hydro and Nelson hydro. We would get a better price from Fortis than from B.C. Hydro.
Also, at Selkirk College the welding equipment is fifty years old. It has not been updated and we tried to get the minister of education to assist in this, but they can not offer any funds. The government has a big push on skills trades and these guys are learning their skills on old machinery. But we had no luck there, they suggested we go to industry, get someone like Cominco to assist in upgrading the welding equipment.
They were talking about putting photo radar cameras in school zones. I think school zones could be better marked out. In some places there is a flashing light on the school zone sign. It passed, and so it will go to the government.
Mayor John Dooley
We had 11 meetings with provincial cabinet ministers, and it was evident that the government is not putting more resources into any programs at this point. So the grants that are in place will be maintained, but any new money will not happen, for example money for housing, policing and libraries.
Councillor Deb Kozak
I am on the board of directors for Municipal Insurance Association and that sounds boring, but it is not actually.
MIA only insures municipalities for liability, and the membership passed that we would now move into property insurance. Many smaller communities can’t get coverage for things like flooding of municipally owned buildings.
I chair the risk management committee and we are looking at better ways of helping local governments with risk management because is smaller communities they may not have the staff resources to do that sort of intensive planning
Also, a resolution was passed that we go from four-year to three-year terms, for municipal elections. There was heavy debate a few years ago about this but it was defeated because of the concern that a four year term would be too long, and we wanted to be sure we could attract young people. The advantage of four years is it is less expensive for the taxpayer and less onerous for local governments to put on elections.
Councillor Donna Macdonald
There were interesting sessions about organic composting and different programs that are being introduced, and different technologies that are being used. That was very valuable to get some ideas and some contacts. Vancouver has just launched a big compost collection program and they have figured out how to calculate the carbon offsets that they are creating, that is going toward their carbon neutrality.
This can feed into our local initiative in composting which is inching along slowly. The more information I get, the more complex it gets but hopefully next week I can start go get it moving.
We had meetings with different ministers. We met with the Attorney-General and talked about the notion of some kind of assistance to our police who are dealing with emotionally disturbed people. The model they have in Vancouver is a car with a social worker and a police officer travelling together. That might be a bit too intense for Nelson but we are pushing for them to look at some model that would alleviate the cost and the pressure and the anxiety that comes out of that. That message was being raised loud and clear by Vancouver as well, that their policing is getting overwhelmed with dealing with emotionally disturbed persons. Across the country it is an issue.
We had a good meeting with the new minister of education who is a former library trustee so I did the pitch about the importance of libraries and all the new expectations of them, which we are keen to respond to but we need resources. He expressed his support for libraries and said there is no money.
In all the meetings with ministers the message was we don’t have any money, and the underlying message is that we are waiting for liquid natural gas to kick in and make us wealthy. They are reviewing ten LNG projects worth 50 billion plus. So I can see why they are getting excited.
QUESTION 2: WHAT ARE A COUPLE OF IMPORTANT THINGS YOU LEARNED AT THE CONFERENCE?
Councillor Bob Adams
Because I am on the aboriginal education advisory committee for the school district and for Selkirk, I went to a couple of aboriginal sessions. They were interesting for me and if I can turn it around and make it interesting for everybody and help the aboriginal kids do better in school, I will be quite happy.
When you go there you get to talk to people from big cities and small towns and you find out stuff that way too, and it is not just going to session and sitting there.
There was a session I went to called What Does Rural B.C. Need to Succeed? Everyone outside the lower mainland thinks the province spends all its money in the Lower Mainland because that is where all the people are. But they are looking at rural areas of BC and there was a video called Rural BC, Backbone of the Province. We need a rural BC minister, that was what they were going to push for, that was quite interesting. Flexible funding so each area can make investments they need in their area, not something where the province says, “Here is some money for this or that”, and if they don’t need it, well just give us the money anyway and we will spend it the best way we can.
Councillor Candace Batycki
The resolution that generated quite a lot of discussion was one to make B.C. GE free (genetically engineered organisms). There was lots of passion, and that was a very educational experience for me and everyone, hearing from people with different perspectives. That one did pass, but it is a thorny one.
There was a presentation from the environmental assessment office. There are lots of big projects in B.C. now, and the song from Victoria is the future looks bright with LNG—optimism, optimism—and the resource industries are cranking back up and we are all going to have lots of money. So they have mandated the environment assessment office to “get to yes.” And to cut read tape and get these projects moving, we heard that over and over, it is the theme in Victoria now.
The Walrus Talks, this was very interesting, there were quite strongly progressive voices in my opinion, and it was sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers— an interesting savvy positioning on CAPP’s part.
Councillor Robin Cherbo
Stephen Lewis said the federal government blocked a bill to allow generic drugs for HIV and AIDS to be sold. It has something to do with the pharmaceutical companies. He was appalled because children and mothers are dying in Africa of HIV AIDS.
We had a Kootenay trade booth, towns from Golden right through to Grand forks for municipalities, and everyone said it was the best trade booth at the convention, selling our region and pushing for buy local.
Mayor John Dooley
I went to was the Walrus Talk (a forum sponsored by Walrus magazine.) They had a forum with five different speakers talking about the art of conversation. For instance if you come from a position of no, and I come from yes, how do we have a conversation and a respectful one, and where to we agree and where can we improve, and how can we have that conversation without it being a stand-off. Communication skills, ways to have a conversation. It was inspiring, a very good added value piece to the UBCM.
I went to a reception put on by the Chinese Consulate for mayors. It was very interesting listening to the Consul General talk about the current and projected trade between China and Canada, and based on what she had to say there will be significant uptake in trade. This bodes well for future employment for our young people. There is a staggering amount of investment being made by not only China but other countries from southeast Asia in Canada. It will impact our mining, hydro, oil and gas, lumber, all the major resource sectors. And it will have major impact on tourism. Because of the rise in the middle class in China, manufacturing in their own country will be absorbed by their own people, and they will be looking for more resources to meet that demand.
It refreshing and wonderful to hear Stephen Lewis. He was the keynote speaker. He read our (the UBCM’s) resolution book before he came and he had specific comments about some of our resolutions. He talked about the climate change charter, how it could be a model for the rest of Canada and he thinks the carbon tax is brilliant. He believes we can change the patterns around climate change but if the US China and India don’t get their act together we are doomed. He referenced our resolutions around the protection of water to the millennium development goals from the UN, and talked about how we are so lucky in Canada because the most critical needs in the rest of the world are water and sanitation. He said in Uganda his organization funded a latrine, so they named a latrine after him, the Stephen Lewis latrine.
He talked about mental health and addictions, he talked about how important this was in terms of the Insite model in Vancouver, worth fighting for, and he told us Bill 65 will make this impossible. One of his stats is 61% of people with addictions have hepatitis C.
He talked about the Canada Europe Trade Agreement and about how government used the senate to block the generic drug proposal for AIDS, to protect the trade agreement and the drug companies.
His speech was confirmation and inspiration to work for the harder things.
Councillor Donna Macdonald
The composting stuff I talked about earlier (above), I learned a lot there.
I am on the board of the BC Library Trustees Association and we had a booth at the trade show and I spent a couple of hours volunteering there. We were trying to engage people, talking about how their library is doing and helping them be aware of their libraries. That was really interesting. People generally are really supportive and understand that libraries are not obsolete and they are just evolving into new roles.
The provincial government supports libraries to around 4 or 5 percent of their budgets overall. For smaller libraries most of the funding comes form local government, so it is important to keep them front and centre.
There was a session with updates on different initiatives the government is involved in like re-writing the Water Act. They expect to have draft proposals by later this year, then a review period, then legislation in the spring. What is driving it is the need to regulate ground water with all the fracking that is going to happen.
And the environmental emergency branch is working on land-based spill preparedness, probably driven by pipelines.
The resolutions sessions were interesting. You don’t know how impactful they are, but it is certainly an education listening to them. One of the big resolutions was that the membership approved the four-year term for councillors that they had previously turned down.