Penticton waded in on several provincial issues during last week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, including hot-button issues on policing and third-party audits.
Hundreds of municipal leaders met up at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre last week for the annual convention, which allows mayors and councillors to rub elbows with provincial politicians on topics that range the spectrum of civic affairs.
During Monday night’s council meeting, Coun. Garry Litke said municipal leaders were taken aback by Solicitor General Shirley Bond’s announcement that the state of negotiations between the RCMP were in peril.
The western provinces had been negotiating with RCMP for some time, he said, until Alberta and Saskatchewan signed off on a plan this summer.
The federal government has since indicated that they intend to have B.C. sign off on the same deal, he said, which the province does not want to do.
“B.C. is responsible for the bulk of RCMP officers,” Litke said. “The agreement is for the next 20 years, so it’s really important to get it right.”
But the federal government gave the province an ultimatum: sign on by November or lose the Mounties by 2014.
“There seems to be no appetite to meet with us,” Litke said, adding many delegates were frustrated by the federal government’s inability to address rising costs in the force. “We have asked our employees to take zero per cent (pay increases) over the next couple of years, so the concept of compounding increases over the next 20 years, this is simply not acceptable to me.”
Litke said the issue made history at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, as it actually prompted every single delegate to vote in favour of calling on the federal government to return the bargaining table — the first time a resolution has received unanimous support of all present.
Mayor Dan Ashton also gave a rundown on the various issues he covered with provincial cabinet ministers, covering everything from the length of waterfront leases, water quality monitoring responsibilities and the high price of gas.
He was particularly encouraged with the meeting between Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom and municipal leaders from all “four corners of the province,” to discuss a third-party review of the B.C. Transit Service.
“There is an opportunity to rethink the province’s transit service,” he said, adding that he was able to advocate for more Handi-Dart services to Penticton customers.
But as for the hot potato no one wanted to touch — the province’s proposed municipal auditor general — Ashton said he’s volunteered the community to go under the financial microscope first.
“If the province is going to audit municipalities, I told them to pick Penticton first,” he said. “This whole community has taken it upon ourselves to be more proficient.”
Penticton put forward one resolution to be addressed at UBCM, and it pertained to a proposed 11-per-cent rate increase by Fortis, in line with B.C. Hydro’s request. The UBCM resolution committee recommended the convention endorse the resolution, noting the membership objected to B.C. Hydro’s proposed increases of seven per cent in 2004 and nine per cent in 2005. The resolution was passed by UBCM delegates.