The provincial government should not use the municipal election next month as a hedge to avoid dealing with the concerns of municipalities, says local MLA Adam Olsen.
He made those comments Monday from Whistler, which is hosting the first in-person Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention since 2019.
The conference runs until Friday, Sept. 16, after starting on Monday, Sept. 12. Olsen acknowledged that this year’s conference may not see as many delegates as in past years because of the municipal election.
Potential delegates may concentrate on their election campaigns, more pressing issues at home, or simply not choose to attend because they may not be running again.
But if even fewer delegates are coming, Olsen said the provincial government shouldn’t ignore the concerns of current delegates in the hope that next month’s municipal election might reshuffle the deck in favour of less experienced and more pliable municipal officials.
“Personally, I have seen over the last few weeks some examples where the government doesn’t want to engage because perhaps they are going to see a different set of elected officials at the local government level and I think that is wrong,” he said. “I think that they need to be listening to the people who are elected right up to the moment that somebody else has been elected to that seat. In fact, this cohort of municipal councillors and Island trustees and regional district directors are the most experienced they are ever going to be.”
Olsen said this provincial government — like the previous provincial government (which depended on Olsen’s Greens for support) — needs to forge a new relationship with elected officials from local government. “They need to show a deeper respect for the work that mayors and councillors and elected officials do by supporting them with a new fiscal arrangement that reflects the reality of the work that we ask our local governments to do.”
Municipalities — which fall under the responsibility of provincial governments under the Canadian constitution — have long complained about limited taxation powers with property taxes being their main source of revenue and unpredictability in funding arrangements, all while handling a growing number of responsibilities under the larger heading of provincial downloading.
“We are downloading more and more on them,” said Olsen, adding that the provincial government needs to strike a more collaborative, less confrontational tone with municipalities.
Olsen, who served as a Central Saanich councillor before entering provincial politics, said a number of issues will create tension among delegates on one hand and provincial representatives on the other. “Health care, the housing crisis that we are facing, mental health, addiction, and the drug poisoning crisis,” he said in listing some of the issues likely to generate that tension.
While the convention features a number of panels dealing with a range of socio-economic and related technological issues, the convention has historically been a forum for municipal representatives to ask the provincial government for specific policies through a formal resolution process and informal lobbying.
“We have got some very challenging issues in our riding, specifically on the southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island,” Olsen said. “I will be meeting with (provincial representatives) in the coming days and weeks to really express my concern over some of the challenges that we are facing with health care on the Saanich Peninsula, the southern Gulf Islands, and some of the housing challenges. We are seeing it in our communities, communities are seeing it across the province, and yet we continue to hear the government talk about B.C. having the strongest economy in the country, yet millions of British Columbians are left behind.”
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