VICTORIA -- As has been constantly repeated, the province doesnt have any money to hand out right now, but that doesnt mean it will always be the case, hinted newly appointed cabinet minister Bill Bennett.
Bennett, who took on the community, sport and cultural development portfolio Sept. 5 after Premier Christy Clarks cabinet shuffle, told hundreds of local government representatives the province will be in a better financial position once new resource projects, such as liquefied natural gas sites and new mines, get underway.
Everyone would like to have some more dough. You need it. I know you need it, Bennett told the delegates of the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria Wednesday afternoon. If the province is generating more revenue, were in a lot better position to talk to about sharing for infrastructure and all the other needs you have.
But that doesnt mean the provincial government will ever be flush with excess cash.
Moneys going to be tight forever. Were never going to be in a position where we can throw money around, Bennett cautioned.
He said that when the government is in a position to bring back a provincial infrastructure funding program, they will do so after consultation with the UBCM as to what would be the best use of the money.
We have to spend it in ways that serve your taxpayers and our taxpayers in the most beneficial way possible. And we cant know that unless we talk to you, Bennett said.
But the need for financial prudency has to go both ways, he said, reiterating previous statements that communities need to look within for savings.
I suggest to you, respectfully, the fiscal climate should be considered when youre negotiating wages with local government employees, said Bennett. Were all going to have to work harder to keep the costs down at every level of government.
The minister again singled out Penticton and Prince George for their work with core services reviews to analyze their spending.
I know there are other communities in B.C. that are trying to do the same thing and I just want to say good on you. Its absolutely no fun, Bennett said, but added it was what taxpayers expect. And frankly my limited experience in politics indicates... voters are going to reward elected leaders who are attempting to hold the line on costs.
Prince George Coun. Lyn Hall, attending his first UBCM convention, said Bennett touched on all the areas the local government delegates are struggling to deal with, highlighting that MLAs are listening at the myriad of meetings theyve set up.
Were going to continue to talk, he said. And were giving [cabinet ministers] ideas on how we can partner and solve some of these issues.
Infrastructure continued to remain a major focus during the first official day of the convention.
Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie provided an update on the work the FCM is doing to help guide the federal governments new infrastructure funding program.
The FCMs Target 2014 campaign is aiming to get the government to agree to a new funding model before the current Building Canada Fund runs out in 2014.
Louie is the federations third vice-president and helping lead the charge on the groups standing committee on municipal infrastructure.
The key intent here is to design a program that is flexible enough to address your needs, he said, also stressing a new long-term agreement needs to be in place prior to 2014 so communities dont lose out on a construction season.