Mayors from 86 B.C. municipalities met in Penticton for three days last week and emerged united in the view that relations between municipalities and higher levels of government need to change.
“We have come away united in our acknowledgement that the status quo is no longer an option in our communities,” said Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, one of the organizers of the first ever B.C. Mayors’ Caucus. “B.C. communities are front line service providers in our communities and we are seeking a new partnership with provincial and federal governments.”
Municipalities, she continued, can’t continue to stretch limited resources to cover increasing downloaded responsibilities from federal and provincial governments.
“There are a number of public policies that have been implemented at the federal and provincial levels that have impacted our budgets. All we are saying is that if you are going to make those policy changes, then there has to be a revenue source attached to that,” said Watts. “There are many issues, whether you are dealing with ALR land, whether you are dealing with the diking district, whether you are dealing with environmental issues and cleanup and they have all devolved down to the local level.”
The caucus identified 11 items as immediate pressing concerns that need to be addressed, including creating a Premier’s Round Table with the B.C. Mayors’ Caucus to discuss public policy changes that affect local government budgets and delivery of services; eliminating the ad hoc granting process in favour of one that is sustainable, accountable, quantifiable and allows for long term planning by local governments; expanding the mandate of the Municipal Auditor General to include an examination of the financial impacts of downloading on local governments and developing another round table on aging infrastructure that includes all levels of government participation.
“It was significant that this group, which represented every corner of the province and every size of community from large to small, was coming together for the first time and acknowledging the concept of joint economic development on a community by community level. We saw a spirit of economic co-operation rather than economic competition,” said Mayor Jack Mussallem of Prince Rupert.
“The unity amongst all the mayors was phenomenal. There are opportunities amongst ourselves to make a difference in how we can deliver those services.” said Mayor Dan Ashton, also a member of the steering committee. He felt that groundwork had been laid to accomplish even more.
“B.C.’s strength is built upon the strength of its communities. What we’ve seen is a recognition that we must continue to work collectively,” said Ashton.
“By coming together as peers, we have, for the first time in B.C. history, established a single voice that is strong in our conviction that we need all orders of government to work together for the best interests of all of our residents,” said Watts.