As municipal leaders gather in Vancouver this week for their annual provincial gabfest, there is no shortage of things for them to talk about.
Gang violence, transit, transportation, housing, economic development, jobs…the list goes on and on.
The Union Of B.C. Municipalities annual meeting may seem like a dry issue for most of us— kind of like a week-long council meeting without the “excitement” of local flavour— but it serves an important purpose.
The old adage that there’s strength in numbers holds true when it comes to municipalities in B.C.
Contrary to what many may think, municipalities are not a “true” form of government in this country— at least not in the recognized way.
They exist at the whim of the province. Granted, that whim comes with enabling legislation that not only allows them to exist but lays down certain rights and responsibilities, but it’s still a subservient position.
In the pecking order of politics, municipal government is at the bottom.
But it is also the most accessible level of governent to those being governed.
When 160 municipalities get together and demand change, the province tends to take notice.
It doesn’t always listen but a demand from the UBCM does get Victoria’s attention.
So, it’s no wonder Okanagan Valley mayors held their own annual tête-à-tête last week prior to heading to the UBCM gathering. (See story A4).
There, they hammered out positions on the issues they see as front and centre— continued funding for B.C.’s combined cop unit that is going after gangs, provincial money to to stop forest fires before they start by cleaning up potential fire fuels, intersection safety on our roads and the subject many of them took to Victoria two weeks ago, more say in how their respective transit systems are run.
The aim this week will be to get other municipal leaders to agree so Victoria will then have to listen.
But that has not always been the government’s strong suit.
Still, with an economy that has yet to rebound and still reeling from the voters rejection of the HST and a hole that decision will blow in its budget, this may be the year the folks calling the shots in Victoria pay a little more attention to the “little” people.
A few years back, the Liberal government made a big deal of announcing it now recognized municipalities as a form of government.
And in recent years it has participated in partnerships on everything from social housing to roads to infrastructure (albeit because it did not want to foot as much of the bill as it has in the past).
So it’s time for the newfound spirit of cooperation to be expanded and for Victoria to not only listen to municipalities, but to start acting on some of its requests.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.