Highs and lows at UBCM

Last week I was on the job at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference in Vancouver. Here’s a look at some of the highlights and lowlights.

Last week I was on the job at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference in Vancouver. Here’s a look at some of the highlights and lowlights.

Smart meters: One big item at the conference last week was the issue of BC Hydro’s smart meters. I was gratified to say to the protesters outside the conference that Nelson Hydro is an island of no smart meters. Instead, we use wireless meters which do electronic radio reading. The protesters say smart meters are a health hazard, personal information is hackable and saleable, and they will cost everybody more. BC Hydro says “not true” and issued fact sheets debunking the claims. I still don’t know where the truth lies!

Municipal auditing: Another big item was the issue of municipal performance auditing. Local governments already get financially audited every year, but the province wants to go a step further and look at the way services are delivered to see if there could have been ways to cut spending and increase efficiency by tweaking things. In spite of the opposition by many delegates, I’d actually embrace the process if it leads us to better servicing for our citizens. However it will cost us some staff time to meet the obligations of this audit — I fervently hope it’s minimal. Anyway it’s a done deal, just like the smart meters.

The Boomer effect: Dr. David Foot, author of Boom, Bust and Echo challenged us to look at the reality of the boomer cohort.  It looks like the cities, countries and provinces that have the most babies are the winners, as a large responsibility will have to be shouldered by younger generations. I was startled by his brash statements, but they bear consideration: high-concentration boomer and senior communities should be investing in hospitals, better car fuel, less transit, less policing, he said. We should be trading with countries like Turkey, Brazil and Iran who have high birth rates, e.g. a future.

CETA: The Canadian European Trade Agreement is developing at high levels and although it was good to see some reporting on the UBCM agenda, I came away with no take-home message, no insight on where they really were, heard lots of platitudes about how it was good for business in the country. Underwhelming and disturbing.

Ministry meetings: This is the most useful part of the conference in my view. Councillors and staff request face-to-face meetings with cabinet ministers and their staff, as well as with industry representatives that are available at the conference. There were 17 of these meetings lined up by the City of Nelson, to review and propose projects, to point out problems, always to keep us in their crosshairs, and keep the conversations going.  Nothing immediate comes out of these conversations, but the province usually follows up on them.

Do I like conferences? No. I would rather not leave town. But at each one of these meetings there is some useful learning, some opportunity to make comparisons with other local governments, and some opportunity to take the measure of the people who are supposed to serve us all, by looking them straight in the eye.

Nelson city councillor Margaret Stacey shares this space with her colleagues around the council table