From UBCM with thanks

The issue of resources for municipal governments is building momentum.

I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving. We have much to be grateful for.

I spent the weekend at Johnsons Landing, where we have a small cabin. It was not directly affected by the landslide in July, but as members of that community, we were affected by the devastation of landscape and lives.

The Thanksgiving potluck at the community hall was a reminder of the sorrow and uncertainty people have felt, and continue to feel. And yet we give thanks for what has endured, and for living where we do.

You only have to think of massive landslides in the Philippines or northern Pakistan, where they don’t have EOCs, disaster financial assistance and unmet needs committees. People everywhere, I’ve found, are resilient, even under extreme duress, but it’s so much easier when meaningful help and resources are available.

That was an underlying current at the recent UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) convention in Victoria. Yes, we face challenges; witness the 200-plus resolutions addressing municipal concerns. But we live in a beautiful, prosperous province, if only we use our resources wisely and justly.

The issue of resources for municipal governments is building momentum. Under provincial law, municipalities have limited revenue sources under their authority — mainly property tax and user fees. In other countries, additional tools are available to local governments — sales, income and fuel taxes, for example. What are the best options for BC communities to ensure we have the resources we need to efficiently provide services? The conversation continues on that.

And that was the theme of the convention — in conversation. A highlight was the keynote presentation by CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti. She talked about the gray place, in between the black and the white places where we make judgements and assumptions. In that gray in-between is where we learn, where we can hear and understand other people and other beliefs, where we find knowledge and compassion.

Tremonti talked about difficult interviews — Henry Kissinger hanging up on her, Maher Arar choking up — and she confessed how hard it is sometimes to get to the gray place, beyond her own judgments.

That’s a very human trait; it’s so much easier to react and judge with certainty, than to wade into the gray. Tremonti’s honesty was truly inspiring and we’re lucky to have fine journalists like her.

Council did its share of conversing with government ministers and opposition critics. Many are brand new in their jobs, so they got a crash course through dozens of 20-minute meetings over the course of the convention.

The conversation around marijuana decriminalization and regulation was lively. I found the Monday morning panel to be very helpful in understanding both sides — those who support a new approach, and those who don’t believe it will work.

The wording of the UBCM resolution was important — to support decriminalization and investigate how regulation would work. There are no pat answers being offered, but there is a wealth of research to be considered and examples to be studied.

Clearly this is a long-term project, one that is engaging the global community. Recent polls show a high level of support for decriminalization and regulation, and that was reflected in the vote at the UBCM. Prohibition is a failed policy was the message; let’s look for better options, based on an evidence-based, public health approach. Then we can be in the gray area, and have real conversation about the way forward.

On a lighter note, one resolution that had people laughing was a call to require all bunnies sold in BC to be sterilized. The “safe sex for bunnies” joke will, I’m sure, become a UBCM legacy.

However, the delegate from the district of Langley said it’s no laughing matter. They spent $350,000 repairing their landscaping after getting rid of bunnies (no details provided on that!).

That’s what makes municipal government so fascinating. You never know what issue (or animal) will land on the table. You never know what the next conversation will be.

Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the UBCM conversation.

 

 

Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor who shares this space with her colleagues around the table

 

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