The annual Union of BC Municipalities conference wrapped up on September 26. This event sees delegates from every local government in the province come together to learn and discuss issues important to our communities.
Not only do they work with each other throughout the conference, but they also work with those of us in provincial government, and so I was also in attendance this year.
To be sure, the relationship between local and provincial governments is an important one. It is defined in the country’s constitution as well as day-to-day practice. When disagreements between the two arise, staying professional and respectful ensures the sustainability of that relationship.
For the first time in my experience, I saw the Liberal government break with their practice of collaboration and antagonize municipalities at this event.
The big issues: ferry fares, employee compensation and giving provincial tax money to a town with no people.
First, a recent report commissioned by the UBCM found that the Liberal government’s continuous increase in coastal ferry fares has had negative impacts on BC’s economy. Namely, due to skyrocketing fares between 2003 and 2013, BC Ferries lost out on a 19 per cent growth in passenger volume, which would have added $2.3 billion to the provincial GDP, and $609 million to federal, provincial and local government tax revenues.
The Liberals’ response was not to say, “That’s more than we thought based on our research. We will look into this.” Rather, the minister responsible, Todd Stone, said the report was “unsubstantiated and sensational,” and called the UBCM “irresponsible.” Not collaborative words coming from a Minister of the Crown.
Then, the Liberals released their own report on municipal employee compensation. You would think that they would work with the UBCM on such an issue that directly impacts them and the way in which they can spend your tax dollars. But they didn’t.
Rather, Christy Clark stood in front of assembled delegates and chastised them for their compensation levels decided in collective bargaining processes.
Moreover, not all municipalities have the same wages for staff. Vancouver’s Chief Administrative Office has a higher pay than Nelson’s and way more responsibilities too. Lumping all local governments, big and small, into the same situation is what I would call irresponsible.
Interestingly, while Christy Clark points fingers at local governments for how they spend tax money, she is giving over $1 million of your taxes to the fake town of Jumbo over the next five years.
No one lives there, so Jumbo’s mayor and council provide no services to people. They just pass building permits and zoning that the region doesn’t want. The UBCM saw through Clark’s doublespeak as they voted to oppose the funding of fake towns like Jumbo.
I think our provincial government can do better than what we saw at this year’s UBCM. You might ask, “OK, what would the NDP do?” (sometimes, when I do my job as an opposition member of our government by holding them to account, I get asked that). Fair question, and the answers can be found in our 2013 election platform.
However, on a day-to-day basis with three years until the next election, the more important question is what will the Liberals do?
Will they govern with democratic ethics and for the benefit of all British Columbians, or will they seek out ways to benefit their friends and corporate donors, and antagonize anyone who challenges their decisions? I hope for the former, but experience says it will be the latter. We can do better than that in our province.
—Michelle Mungall is the MLA for Nelson-Creston. Her column appears monthly.