British Columbia

'There's been some glitches': relationship between NDP and municipalities shows signs of strain

On the eve of the annual convention for local politicians in B.C., there's a slight disconnect between what the Minister of Municipal Affairs is saying, and the head of the organization representing municipal governments. 

On eve of the 2019 UBCM, a number of resolutions focus on disputes with governments

The B.C. government is obligated to respond to every single resolution passed at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. (CBC)

On the eve of the annual convention for local politicians in B.C., there's a slight disconnect between what the Minister of Municipal Affairs is saying, and the head of the organization representing municipal governments. 

"There's been some some glitches that we want to identify and make sure that they're very aware of," said Arjun Singh, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM), which begins its annual conference on Monday.

"We have been working really well," said Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson.  

"When you are working in a relationship, you pay closer attention to the relationship. And so I'm thrilled to see that we are all paying attention to making sure that we're working well together."

Two years ago, the change in provincial government was hailed by many B.C. mayors and councillors as a restart, with the NDP committed to listening to the desires of municipalities. 

And while the relationship is still generally positive, this year's convention features a noted increase in the number of resolutions critical of policy enacted by the current government.

Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson says municipalities putting forward resolutions critical of government policy is part of the process of the province listening to local concerns. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Local autonomy

Much has been made of the City of Maple Ridge's campaign against a modular housing site approved by the government over its wishes, or mayors who have opposed the province's speculation tax

And while Maple Ridge has its own resolution on the table for the convention, (entitled Local Government Autonomy), a number of municipalities put forward their own resolutions around land-use decisions, causing the UBCM to put forward a special resolution, entitled (Provincial Consultation with Local Governments).

"I think the general principle is that we always get better outcomes when we work together collaboratively ... and on a couple of processes that have been significant this year, that hasn't happened, quite frankly," said Singh, who emphasized that a good relationship generally existed with the government. 

Some of the issues have arisen over the government's pledge to follow the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which in some cases has meant Indigenous groups have been consulted before — or instead of — municipalities. 

"We're being considered stakeholders, as opposed to an order of government, and we just want to signal to the government that those are concerns for us," said Singh.  

What's the point of a resolution?

In total, there are 215 resolutions being debated at the UBCM convention, which Robinson said was a record number. 

"What that tells me is we have engaged people who care about making a difference in this province, and in their communities, and that they have ideas about what we collectively need to be doing," she said. 

While all of the resolutions are non-binding, the government has to respond to every single one in writing. 

UBC political scientist Carey Doberstein said the scene of hundreds of politicians passing resolutions that ask other politicians to do something might seem inefficient, but for smaller governments, it's often the best way of getting issues or concerns on their radar. 

"The way to think about it is, what is the alternative way in which local governments can get the wishes of their constituents to senior levels of government?" he said.

"The alternative is on an individual level they can lobby, they can send letters, they can try and reach out to the relevant minister ... but a passed resolution by the membership, which consists of all the municipalities in British Columbia, plus a number of First Nations communities, that really tells the provincial government something about what should be on their radar."


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