City hall reporter Charelle Evelyn will be in Victoria to cover the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention next week. Her stories will appear in The Citizen and online at www.pgcitizen.ca. She'll also be posting breaking news updates from the convention on our Twitter feed.
VICTORIA - Municipal politicians are converging on the provincial capital for the 2012 Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) annual convention starting Monday and running through Friday.
The week-long event is the main stage for forming policy and deciding what issues to advocate at the provincial and federal level.
Forums, panel discussions, annual general meetings and a variety of networking receptions will fill the days of those in attendance from cities, towns, villages, electoral areas and regional districts across the province.
Attendance by a good showing of politicians is critical to cover as much ground and make as large an impact as possible, according to Prince George representatives.
"People question why we are all going or why there's not a lesser number of people going and I don't necessarily disagree with that," said Mayor Shari Green, who is leading a contingent of eight from Prince George city council. All members of council, with the exception of Coun. Cameron Stolz, who is unable to attend due to other business commitments, are making the trip to Victoria.
Joining city council will be representatives from the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George.
With the large scope of the convention, Green said it wouldn't be possible to effectively hit everything that's going on with fewer people.
"UBCM is massive. It's five full days of activity," the mayor said. "It's long days, you're exhausted at the end of it and we would not be able to cover all of the aspects that are being offered if there were just a couple of people going."
A sample of the convention agenda has the second B.C. Mayors' Caucus on Monday, forums for electoral area directors, mid-sized and large urban communities and a variety of provincial policy sessions on Tuesday, policy sessions, cabinet minister panels and official convention business on Wednesday, speeches and addresses by provincial party leaders and workshops on Thursday and more policy sessions squeezed in before addresses by Premier Christy Clark and federal heritage minister James Moore on Friday morning.
In the running
Having the numbers also helps to bolster support for local representatives in the running for executive positions.
Coun. Murry Krause is standing for re-election as a director-at-large on the UBCM board, a position he has held since 2010. Krause first entered the executive with an acclaimed seat as the president of the North Central Local Government Association in 2009.
"He's very highly regarded at UBCM and I know that they will seek to ensure he continues the work that he does for them," said Green.
Krause chairs the union's First Nations relations committee and sits on the healthy communities committee. Through his seat he has helped to spearhead work to address child poverty. In April, Prince George was announced as one of seven locations in the province piloting a community poverty-reduction strategy.
Looking to join Krause on the executive is regional district chair Art Kaehn, who is running to represent nearly 200 electoral area directors on the board. This is a position that provides a louder voice for the smaller, rural communities.
Kaehn, who has represented local government for nearly 24 years, sat on the UBCM executive last year as president of the North Central Local Government Association.
"Once you're on the board, it's not just your home community. Of course you advocate for it, but it's looking for the best for the whole province," Krause said.
The convention gets down to the brass tacks during the plenary sessions, which begin Wednesday morning.
UBCM membership will vote on a series of more than 200 resolutions. Though submitted by individual municipalities, the endorsement of an individual resolution helps set policy for the entire group.
The regional district is helping to support a resolution brought by Mackenzie, Vanderhoof and Burns Lake that would put pressure on owners of contaminated brownfield sites to remediate them upon request by a local government.
Prince George has three resolutions in the mix, two of which are expected to be endorsed without much hassle.
One of them, brought forward by Stolz, is looking for UBCM to lobby the province for resource revenue sharing agreements for local governments that ask for them.
The other, spearheaded by Coun. Brian Skakun, asks for support in the pursuit of getting a portion of the province's gas tax revenue to help with road rehabilitation projects.
"Right now, they take 14.5 cents a litre from everybody across the province," Skakun said, explaining that if the province shared two cents per litre, it would add more than $3.5 million to the city's budget for road repairs.
Skakun is the chair of the city's intergovernmental relations committee, which serves to create the resolutions that are advanced to bigger arenas such as the North Central Local Government Association, UBCM or Federation of Canadian Municipalities conventions.
The resolution sessions will be a large focus for him and he said there is a flurry of activity between members to bolster support for their resolutions.
"We get hit up with what seems like emails daily from other municipalities and regional districts asking for support for their resolutions," he said. The Prince George resolutions have also been sent out for support.
Those extra backers will come in handy for the city's third resolution, which a UBCM committee has already recommended the membership shoot down.
Coun. Dave Wilbur will speak to his motion to have the UBCM support asking for more flexibility with the money parceled out from the federal gas tax revenue.
Currently, local governments are allowed to use the money for the capital costs of sustainable infrastructure and to promote the use of public transit, cycling and pedestrians but not for anything considered an operating cost.
"The battle is on," said Wilbur, who has at most two minutes to make his case. He said the fact the union is already betting against the idea doesn't stop him from arguing to the rest of the membership that it should be considered. "Because it's not just needing more, it's using what we've already got more usefully."
The Canadian Infrastructure Report Card released earlier this month by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities says local governments across the country are facing a $179 billion infrastructure deficit.
"When we start spending money on green infrastructure - and I happen to be a supporter of that - I think we have to figure out what our priorities are. And if our priority does not include an electric car over repaving a road that's falling apart, then spending it on an electric car is intuitively wrong," he said.
The fight for more money to fix crumbling infrastructure isn't confined to the resolution session floor.
The convention allows officials the chance to have face-to-face conversations with cabinet ministers and state their respective cases.
City councillors are meeting with both Finance Minister Mike de Jong and Transportation Minister Mary Polak.
The conversation with Polak will revolve around opportunities to share road paving contracts with the ministry.
"If they're doing something inside the municipality that's nearby road work that we've got on our list there is a cost-saving benefit to trying to work together or merge a contract," said Green. They will also discuss the aggregate supply in the region. Having access to a secure source could open the door to more competition when it comes to companies bidding on the annual paving contract.
In addition to continuing to make the case for getting a share of provincial gas tax money, the meeting with de Jong will be used to ask for a PST administration office to be set up in Prince George.
"[The PST] is something that's coming back. It is what it is and there are jobs associated with that," the mayor said. "And much of the PST collection comes out of the north, as we know, so we would like to see some of the processing of that handled in our region."
Regional district directors are meeting with Minister Bennett to advocate for the reactivation of the Community Recreation Program and Minister of Education Don McRae to learn more about the modular school program - which is of interest in Willow River.
Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick will be approached to discuss diminishing resources in the region.
"It's very important, especially with the farmers' market and all the enthusiasm around the small farms, the intensive farming that's been going on in this area, we feel that the ministry needs to reach out more. And when you keep cutting staff, it's pretty hard to do that," Kaehn said.
They are also collaborating with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to sit down with Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman and Environment Minister Terry Lake to talk about rural sustainability in the corridor between Kamloops and Prince George.
"We're going to get a chance to talk to them about tourism, backcountry, roads and hydro," said Kaehn.