British Columbia

10 topics at this year's B.C. municipalities conference to keep an eye on

The annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention takes place from September 22 to 24 this year, held online instead of its planned Victoria location due to COVID-19.

They won’t be arguing in person, but delegates at the UBCM conference have plenty to decide on

The 2019 UBCM convention took place in Vancouver. The 2020 event will take place online. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The convention is virtual — but the debates will be very real. 

The annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention takes place Sept. 22-24 this year, and will be held online instead of its planned location in Victoria due to COVID-19.

But as in past years, hundreds of municipal leaders, including mayors, councillors and regional area directors, will discuss best practices and lobby the province through a series of proposed resolutions to change laws in the name of helping local government meet local needs. 

Of course, not all 193 resolutions will pass. And the government is under no obligation to change laws even if they do.

However, the annual resolutions provide not only an interesting litmus test for how local politicians are feeling about certain issues, but also a chance to see which policy discussions are being had across the province.

Here are 10 topics worth keeping an eye out for.

1. More power on climate issues  

In the past two years, many municipalities have declared climate emergencies but have been somewhat limited in the actions they can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally.

"We don't often have the legislative ability to implement policy that aligns with current science," said North Vancouver District Coun. Megan Curren, who put forward a number of resolutions that ask the government to give cities more power on the climate front.

This includes changing the Community Charter so municipalities can "prohibit" certain businesses instead of merely "regulating" them — think things like plastic bags — allowing local vehicle congestion charges, and allowing municipalities outside Vancouver to establish standards for electrification, heat pumps, water heaters and green roofs in buildings. 

"It's not saying that every local government has to do it," said Curren. "But it's giving local governments the clarity through the charter to take action."

A new modular housing complex in Maple Ridge recently opened over the objections of the local government. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

2. Action on homelessness

The increase in people on the street as a result of COVID-19 has amplified a growing concern in many municipalities that they don't have the resources required to effectively deal with the issue.

A number of resolutions seek to address that in various ways: One by Terrace asks that some shelters ban drug use so people trying to stay sober feel safe; another asks for the province to fund 50 per cent of the costs for a "social development specialist" in communities with at least 10,000 people; others ask for more money for BC Housing.

In addition, the City of Vancouver has a resolution calling on the province to declare a "homelessness emergency," complete with a plan to build or find affordable housing for 80 per cent of homeless people in three years.

A man wearing novelty cannabis sunglasses smokes a joint at Vancouver's 4/20 event in 2018. Local governments have long asked for a 40 per cent share of the tax revenue the province collects from the cannabis industry. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

3. Cannabis

After a couple of years of dominating policy discussions, the framework for legal cannabis across B.C. is mostly set at this point — but that doesn't mean cities aren't still pressing for changes.       

Despite assurances, the provincial government still hasn't given any cannabis-related tax revenue to local governments, who have long asked for 40 per cent of the share because of their responsibilities for policing and enforcement. 

One resolution deals with that request, while another asks the government to change a regulation that bans the creation of cannabis lounges, which the Central Kootenay Regional District argues "significantly limits the ability for the cannabis industry to thrive."

4. Regular requests

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. 

That seems to apply to a few resolutions that have been put forward this year, despite the government showing little interest in previous lobbying efforts by municipalities.

West Vancouver has a regulation asking the province to let municipalities put in their own speculation and vacancy taxes on empty homes, while New Westminster has a resolution asking the province to make public transit free for people under 19 years old, along with restorative justice options for adults caught not paying transit fares. 

Large fines for speeding in B.C. only take place when someone is caught going more than 40 km/h over the speed limit. (B.C. Government)

5. Increase fines for speeding

Get a ticket for going 20 to 40 km/h over the speed limit, and it will cost you $138.   

It's a number that hasn't changed since 1997, according to Central Saanich Coun. Carl Jensen, and he'd like it to change. 

"I think people are willing to accept that and to take the risk that they're going to pay that to get where they're going more quickly ... it's not enough of a deterrent," he said. 

Jensen has a resolution asking for the province to "significantly" increase fines for basic speeding infractions, comparing it to the $368 fine for a distracted driving ticket

"It's not something that requires added enforcement. This isn't about enforcement. This is simply about trying to make the choice to speed less attractive," said Jensen.

6. Tax exemptions for places of worship

Virtually all landowners in British Columbia have to pay property taxes, which go to local or regional governments. 

But one exception is "places of public worship", which have a statutory exemption in the province's community charter. Radium Hot Springs has put forward a resolution arguing that municipalities should have the option to force them to pay property taxes, should they choose. 

"Matters of worship are highly personal, and the financial obligations of places of public worship should only be shared among the citizens and taxpayers in a community with the consent of the local government body," argues the resolution. 

7. Indigenous representation

First Nations in British Columbia govern large areas of land and oversee even larger areas of unceded territory — but, except in a few cases, they operate completely separately from local or regional government. 

A resolution by the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District looks to change that, asking the province to consult with Indigenous people to explore changes allowing regional area directors to come directly from Indigenous groups in the territory.

A UBCM resolution argues that farmers markets provide critical food security during an emergency. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

8. 'Essential' farmers markets 

How important are weekend farmers markets?

In some parts of the province, they matter a great deal for people — so much so that there were outcries when they were temporarily shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

It's why both the Comox Valley Regional District and the City of White Rock put forward separate motions calling the local markets "a key resource in addressing food security during an emergency," and asking the province to mandate them as essential services during all states of emergency going forward. 

9. No pet bans for renters

It's a common lament in Metro Vancouver: Apartments that allow pets are hard to come by, and renovictions can put dog and cat owners in very precarious situations.

"We can't be separating families in a housing crisis, in a rental crisis. The SPCA has been reporting that more and more people are having to give up their animals because they can't find a place to rent with them," said Port Moody Coun. Amy Lubik.

Her resolution calls on the province to change the Residential Tenancy Act and Strata Property Act so people can't be rejected for rental units because they have pets, provided the animals "would not pose serious and specific concerns in regard to physical danger, noise, smell, or an adverse allergic reaction" for other residents.

10. ... and finally, a word on cardboard 

"Whereas cardboard is cardboard," begins the most existential of resolutions at this year's UBCM, submitted by the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District.

The resolution argues "all cardboard in the province of B.C. should be treated equally" and calls on the province to incorporate all cardboard into the Extended Producer Responsibility Program operated by Recycle BC. 

A reminder that resolutions come in all shapes, sizes — and even packaging. 

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