Valerie Warmington

Valerie Warmington

COLUMN: UBCM considers wide spectrum

Nelson city council is in Vancouver at the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities meeting.

This week, Nelson city council is in Vancouver at the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities meeting where the goal is to create a strong, unified local government voice to spur provincial and federal action on issues of importance to BC municipalities and regional districts.

The issues that move forward will be decided by elected officials voting on a range of proposed resolutions. In reviewing this year’s long list of options, many appear relevant and important.

There is a strong environmental theme to this year’s resolutions and many Nelson residents are urging support for an environmental bill of rights. The proposed bill recognizes people’s right to a healthy environment including clean air, water and food; public access to environmental information, a voice in related decision-making and justice when environmental rights are breached.

A separate resolution speaks to the call for clean food by proposing mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms and a moratorium on additional GMO products in BC. Several key resolutions aim to strengthen local control over community-important watersheds. Another envisions a mandatory “health impact assessment” as part of the BC Environmental Impact Assessment Act.

Some resolutions recognize the dangers of fossil fuel combustion to human and environmental health. One proposes warning labels on gas pumps; another asks that the province divest of fossil-fuel-related municipal pension investments.

Several address the “deeply flawed and undemocratic” expansion of oil and gas pipelines, call for a stop to further expansion of tanker traffic off coastal BC, and seek enhanced spill preparedness and response capacity. Another energy-related resolution acknowledges the improving feasibility of solar and wind power generation and calls for provincial incentives for residential “grid-interactive renewable generation systems.”

Another theme is the provincial infrastructure deficit and in particular the consequences of downloading responsibility to municipalities without increased funding.

Poor investment in transportation infrastructure is recognized as leaving many rural residents without adequate public transit. One resolution calls for, at minimum, lifting the current funding freeze and reinstating originally-projected funding increases.

Another seeks remedy to the funding ratio for transportation infrastructure that disproportionately burdens smaller communities. Several resolutions call for additional revenues for infrastructure as an alternative to further increasing municipal property taxes.

The high cost of operating facilities such as pools and arenas sparked a proposal that the provincial government require Fortis and BC Hydro to reduce electricity rates for recreational facilities to avoid the loss of these important amenities in municipalities with populations under 20,000.

A separate resolution requests that parks infrastructure beyond basic sewer, water and roads be made eligible for provincial funding.

Poverty, homelessness and mental health are also prevalent topics this year with renewed calls for a provincial poverty reduction strategy and plan to end homelessness. Notably, the elimination of tax incentives for investment in rental housing has reduced unit availability resulting in high rental rates and rising homelessness. Capital cost allowances to stimulate investment in affordable rental properties and higher rates for shelter assistance are called for.

There are also requests that the provincial government provide additional resources for mental health and addictions through improved integration of health and psychiatric care, criminal justice reform and adequate access to affordable housing.

Related resolutions seek to ensure that criminal offenders are charged and sentenced but also supported by programs effectively addressing underlying addiction or mental health problems as recommended by the blue ribbon panel on crime reduction.

There many more interesting, important and progressive resolutions on a wide spectrum of topics to be considered this week. Wildfire prevention, emergency preparedness, public education, violence against women, rail safety, electronic voting, and the addition of unpaid bylaw fines to property tax bills serve to illustrate the breadth of issues covered. But for time and space limitations I would share more.

Instead, I will continue to research and consider where my votes will be best placed to move forward those resolutions that are most relevant, urgent and likely to succeed.

Nelson city councillor Valerie Warmington shares this space with her council colleagues each week.