Municipal leaders across B.C. set to discuss array of challenges at 2nd virtual convention
Pandemic, wildfires, housing and opioid crisis all front and centre in annual UBCM conference
It's the one time of year where all local politicians in B.C. gather together — but for the second year in a row, it's happening virtually.
The annual Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention is taking place this week, allowing mayors and councillors to lobby the provincial government and trade best practices on local government.
Like last year, it takes place with an election campaign underway — federal this year, instead of provincial — and continued uncertainty during a pandemic, but organizers are confident the event will have plenty of value.
"I really think that we're prepared a little bit more right now," said UBCM president and Vanderhoof Coun. Brian Frenkel.
"Last year, you know, we had to start facing what an economic recovery would look like … but we've made it through, and now we're trying to look through the other end to see what will happen."
Province back at the table
Conventions in past years have often focused more on a particular theme, such as affordable housing or reconciliation, but this year's conference is more "spread out," in Frenkel's words.
Part of that may be due to the host of challenges municipalities across the province are facing, including economic recovery from the pandemic, wildfires and climate change, and the ongoing housing affordability and opioid crisis.
"It's been really difficult on a lot of people and we're here to support local governments and all the services that they provide to their citizens," said B.C. Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osborne, the former mayor of Tofino.
While the province was mostly absent from last year's convention due to the election, this year marks the return of the cabinet town halls, where delegates can ask any cabinet minister questions.
An address by Premier John Horgan is also scheduled for Friday, and is likely to contain some sort of significant policy announcement, similar to previous years.
Cancelled environment fund
The convention also typically serves as a temperature check on the relationship between the province and municipalities. Although the amount of praise for the NDP government has diminished during its time in office, overt criticism is still relatively rare outside of a few municipalities.
"They still are listening to local governments. There's been a huge increase in the attempt to engage," said Frenkel.
At the same time, a special resolution brought forward by the UBCM executive involves a continued disappointment with the province over the sudden cancellation earlier this year of a climate action program.
The Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program provided carbon tax refunds to municipalities provided they disclose how they used the money to further their climate goals, with the majority also reporting their greenhouse gas emissions.
The resolution asks the province to bring forward a replacement, and Osborne hinted one was already in the making as a result of lobbying.
"[It] was an important tool for local governments and we know their role in fighting climate change is absolutely central," she said, before listing off other climate initiatives overseen by the province.
"We know there's more work to do and we're listening and taking it all into consideration, and hoping to have more to say in the weeks and months to come."