Council takes message to UBCM

Elected officials and senior staff from local governments across B.C. are descending on Vancouver this week to make community issues heard at the provincial and federal level.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities annual general meeting runs Wednesday through Friday at the Vancouver Convention Centre, featuring a large contingent from Prince George and region.

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Coun. Murry Krause is up for re-election to the UBCM board of directors, sitting as next in line to be the group's first vice president.

Two more successful UBM elections and Krause will be the head of the provincial body in 2016, which would be a huge boon for the region, said Mayor Lyn Hall.

Regional District of Fraser-Fort George board of directors chair Art Kaehn is also up for re-election to the UBCM board.

He has sat as the group's electoral area representative for the past few years.

Hall said the annual event is important because the UBCM, an umbrella group with nearly 2,000 delegates scheduled to attend, represents the voice they have with the provincial government. It also allows a forum for local governments to speak to each other.

"UBCM just gives you an opportunity to voice your issues to almost every municipality in the province," said Hall.

Though the official conference business doesn't begin until Wednesday, Hall is already in Vancouver where he is attended his first B.C. Mayors' Caucus meeting on Monday.

The group, which was co-founded by Hall's predecessor Shari Green, will be a chance for Hall to not only hear from Lower Mainland and Okanagan mayors but also join the chorus of mayors from this region in expressing their concerns.

"It's a big table of folks so it's important that we get our message out there, too, and they know what kind of issues we're facing," he said.

Local government officials will also bring their issues directly to provincial politicians during one-on-one meetings with cabinet ministers.

The Prince George group is meeting with International Trade Minister Teresa Wat, Education Minister Mike Bernier, Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson and Social Development and Social Innovation Minster Michelle Stilwell.

North Central Local Government Association reps are meeting with Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Minister Coralee Oakes.

"Red tape exists at all three levels of government, but in the north in particular, our communities are challenged when it comes to economic diversity and attracting businesses," said NCLGA chair Brian Frenkel, in a press release.

"Instead of simply waiting for the province to do all the work and deliver a ready-made, how-to guide for municipalities, we're saying, 'Let's work together to get this done.'"

The regional district board of directors isn't sitting down with any ministers themselves, said Kaehn. Instead, the group is taking on a supportive role for its member municipalities.

"Every year, you don't always have something you're going to charge in on the white horse and charge down to UBCM, and this is one of those years where we're going to support our neighbours because we have a stake in the issues that they've raised," said Kaehn.

It's a different environment when meeting with ministers at UBCM, as opposed to hosting them in your own community, said Hall.

"You get about 10 or 15 minutes so you really have to be concise and to the point and get your message out and you have to choose the more important topics to discuss there," he said.

On a larger scale, municipalities will also attempt to sway their counterparts to back potential policy decisions.

More than 150 resolutions are up for debate this week, ranging the spectrum from making changes to highway speed limits to calling for the federal government to reinstate the mandatory long-form census.

The NCLGA has sponsored 20 resolutions while the city of Prince George submitted an emergency resolution last week pushing for more action from the federal government regarding Syrian refugees.

Hall said he has his eye on a variety of resolutions about infrastructure, pipelines, legal requirements for public notice and recycling.

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