British Columbia

Season of lobbying begins for B.C.'s local politicians

In Canada, city halls have much less power than provincial and federal governments — and a series of lobbying efforts over the next month will make that clearer than ever. 

But if higher levels of government don't listen, is it still worth doing?

Metro Vancouver is one of several government groups running advocacy campaigns in advance of the federal election. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

In Canada, city halls have much less power than provincial and federal governments — and a series of lobbying efforts over the next month will make that clearer than ever. 

"We don't have enough powers," said Metro Vancouver Chair Sav Dhaliwal. 

"We are the front line of climate change issues, the front line for the affordability issues. But we're always at the mercy of the other two orders of government."

Metro Vancouver has started a campaign called Local Government Matters in advance of the upcoming federal election. It is pushing political parties to commit to dedicated annual funding for major infrastructure projects, along with prioritizing affordable housing and climate change. 

Meanwhile, the TransLink Mayors' Council is in the middle of its own campaign pushing for dedicated transportation funding.

And next month brings the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention, where hundreds of resolutions will be debated by local officials — mostly centred on asking higher levels of government to enact certain policies.

The amount of lobbying will be more intense than recent years. But the power imbalance won't be any different. 

"I think the mindset of provincial governments around the country is that we exist at their whim, and they will share some of their resources with us when they can afford to, or when they feel like it," said Dhaliwal.

More city-province conflicts in B.C. 

Next month's UBCM convention will likely see a marked increase in tensions between local officials and the provincial government. 

While the last two conventions under the new NDP government were marked by mostly positive relations, the first resolution on the agenda this year was put forward by the UBCM executive and criticizes the province for a lack of consultation on a variety of issues. 

"We have significant concerns around some ... very big files for our membership, specifically around land-based issues that are of concern," said UBCM President Arjun Singh.

The resolution calls out the government for not consulting "in a manner consistent with the principles espoused within the Community Charter," specifically highlighting debates over how to protect the caribou population. 

While that conflict is mostly confined to northeastern B.C., there have been Metro Vancouver municipalities critical of the government for moving unilaterally on modular housing (as in Maple Ridge), or boundaries for its new housing speculation tax (as in Belcarra).

"I think that a number of municipalities have found ... actions taken without perhaps the consultation they might have felt would have would have represented fair and due process," said Belcarra Mayor Neil Belenkie. 

Belcarra Mayor Neil Belenkie said the province's speculation tax punishes local residents. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Is it effective?

At the end of the day, the province can choose to ignore the UBCM resolution if it passes, just as political parties can choose to ignore campaigns underway by Metro Vancouver and the mayors' council. 

But lobbying can have benefits down the road, even if governments don't react immediately. 

"It's another quiver in your arrow," Singh said of the UBCM resolutions. 

"But the expectation shouldn't be these things get adopted wholesale from [higher levels of government], we know that doesn't happen."

Mayors' Council chair Jonathan Coté said, at the end of the day, most cities know they're at the bottom of the government hierarchy — and that getting big projects done requires regular communication, regardless of whether it's immediately successful. 

"In transportation, you look at the history of all major projects, those have happened with partnerships with all three levels of government," he said. 

"I think the reality is it's always going to be a balance. And really, to get a lot of major things done on big issues ... you need all levels of government at the table and working working together."

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