Politics. At its worst, exclusionary, contemptuous and destructive, like the current federal ruling party’s ongoing onslaught on Canadian institutions. The termination of the Health Council of Canada is just the most recent example of the Harper Tories’ war on the environment, science, the arts, and now medicine — anywhere real progressives might have had any historic influence.
At its best, politics is inclusive, allowing for a plurality of positions and values to be heard, respected, valued and accommodated. Local politics, with its emphasis on face-to-face interactions, challenges us to work with the range of perspectives and positions, and consider all ideas. Not an easy task, but one we must rise to if we value our communities, our land and water, and indeed our planet. Happy Earth Week everyone!
Last week I attended my first Association of Kootenay-Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) annual conference, held this year in the Columbia Valley, near Invermere. In BC, local and municipal governments are organized into five area associations, ours being the AKBLG. All BC local governments (except the Jumbo Resort Municipality) are also members of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), and most belong to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
These organizations all develop unified policy positions through a resolution system. Local governments propose resolutions, and at the conference everyone present votes on them. Resolutions that succeed at AKBLG proceed to the UBCM conference in September, and resolutions that succeed there inform UBCM’s work with “other orders of government and other organizations involved in local affairs.” At AKBLG, resolutions were passed on issues ranging from farm gate meat sales, to tax assessments of brownfields, to urban deer.
In addition to the resolution sessions, I also attended information sessions on wood biomass heating systems, community forests, lake management, implementing sustainability plans, and an interesting keynote on “place-making” whose take-home message for me was about authenticity: if a community is a great place to live, it will be a great place to visit. Our communities are not theme parks!
Since we are in a provincial election campaign, we were encouraged by various speakers to ask specific questions of our candidates. The UBCM election platform includes a focus on municipal funding, noting the over-reliance on property tax (“a 1950’s era revenue source”) in a time of increased downloading from the province and feds to the municipal level (with rising costs for police and fire specifically mentioned). With only eight cents of every tax dollar collected going to fund municipalities, we need a better revenue-sharing approach with other governments.
So, provincial candidates, what will your parties do to reform local government finance? What is your plan for providing the resources necessary to implement, monitor and enforce provincial regulations, and stop downloading to municipalities?
Of course I have my own questions for our provincial candidates. What will their parties do to address climate change with the political courage this issue demands? Will they protect BC’s lands and waters from oil sands pipelines and tankers? How will they protect biodiversity in BC? How will they support the expansion of community forests? How will they reform water governance? What will they do to keep the Jumbo Valley wild?
I believe the creation of the Jumbo Resort Municipality, with its appointed mayor and council, and lack of any actual residents, was an affront to democracy. The UBCM has been asked to intervene in the judicial review case brought by the West Kootenay EcoSociety, and while no resolution hit the floor at the AKBLG, there was plenty of conversation on this issue. I hope the UBCM executive will decide to intervene, but whatever they decide, I know it will be after a spirited conversation, face-to-face, the way it ought to be.
Candace Batycki is a Nelson city councillor who shares this Wednesday space with her colleagues.