If you lobbed a rock through any downtown Victoria restaurant last week, chances are you’d have hit a visiting politician.
Representatives from more than 200 municipalities, First Nations and regional districts descended on the Victoria Conference Centre for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference for four days.
Attendees tackled 203 resolutions – down from 224 in 2011 – on issues ranging from the endorsement of marijuana decriminalization to infrastructure spending.
Provincial and federal ministers held panel discussions with mayors and councillors, while Premier Christy Clark and opposition NDP leader Adrian Dix used the platform for pre-election posturing.
In short, it was a lot to digest.
“The UBCM serves a couple of different functions,” said Jamie Lawson, political scientist at the University of Victoria. “Increasingly, (UBCM is) the voice of service delivery and infrastructure,” he said, adding the conference provides a venue for municipal leaders to share ideas and to build political clout.
“It’s also become a kind of place where the provincial premier can deliver a state of the union address once a year,” he said.
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, former UBCM president, said the conference is useful for gauging the pulse of the province.
“These (resolutions) form the basis of policy and then, with one voice from all the local governments in B.C., you go to work to try and affect provincial and federal policies to match ours,” he said.
The most recent example of this occurred last fall when the province’s RCMP policing contract came up for a 20-year renewal.
After UBCM passed resolutions around the ballooning costs of RCMP services at their 2010 conference, Minister of Justice Shirley Bond authorized the appointment of 10 local politicians to the RCMP contract management committee.
The committee has a say in proposed cost increases or service changes from the RCMP, and gives municipalities a two-year opt out clause and five-year review of police services.
Coun. Dave Hodgins was glad to receive the support of UBCM last week on Esquimalt’s resolution to seek greater consultation from the federal government over cell tower placement.
While he was impressed with the accessibility of ministers and the sharing of ideas during the conference, he was frustrated by some presentations.
He called a provincial Police Services presentation from assistant deputy minister Clayton Pecknold “basically just a regurgitated survey of issues,” and said the province needs to focus more on solutions.
“We heard nothing about action,” Hodgins said.
Leonard said the resolutions can and do create change, pointing to previous successes where resolutions convinced higher-level governments to give municipalities more gas tax and 100 per cent of traffic fine revenue.
“It takes time, but we’ve had some incredible examples over the last 10 years,” he said.
Notable resolutions passed at UBCM 2012 convention:
• Call for provincial ban on possession, sale and distribution of shark fin, and federal ban on importation of shark fin
• Opposition to more oil tanker traffic through coastal waters without proper safeguards, and opposition to Enbridge pipeline and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects (narrowly passed)
• Call for federal government to decriminalize marijuana and research its taxation