Local government, including the City of Terrace and the Kitimat-Stikine regional district will be convening in Whistler Sept. 10-14 for the annual Union of BC Municipalities Convention (UBCM).
The convention is the main forum for policy-making in the province, providing an opportunity for local governments of all sizes and from all areas of B.C. to share their experiences and take a united position through passing resolutions on issues of the day, greatly influencing policy decisions from the provincial government.
Below are a selection of proposals put forth by Terrace and neighbouring communities.
Relief from soaring electricity rates
With electricity rates on the rise, Terrace is bringing a motion to the UBCM to relieve some of the pressure from low-income residential customers.
The resolution calls for the provincial government to direct BC Hydro to develop an electricity affordability program and a northern subsidy program to help with costs over the winter months. Terrace city council’s position states that because “rates have increased significantly in the past 10 years and are expected to increase in the next decade,” it’s now “difficult for low-income households to pay.” According to BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, around 170,000 BC Hydro customers in B.C. earn below $32,000 a year.
BC Hydro residential electricity rates have gone up more than 70 per cent since 2001 according to the NDP government, and went up by three per cent in April despite Premier John Horgan’s attempt to freeze rate hikes for a year, which was turned down in March by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
The resolution has the support of the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA), which noted that UBCM has not yet specifically asked for an affordability program for low-income residents before, but have objected to rate hikes in the past. They have also opposed two-tier rates for electricity before, specifically in regions like the Nisga’a villages in the Nass Valley or in the Hazeltons where natural gas is not an available cost-saving option.
Accountability for criminal behaviour
Terrace city council is asking the provincial government to implement legislation that requires elected local government officials to be disqualified after being convicted of a serious criminal offence.
It also asks that an “elected local government official be required to take a paid leave of absence from the office upon Crown approval of charges until the court process is complete.”
Currently, there is no provision in BC legislation to disqualify elected officials from holding public office or even a way to recall them from the position after a conviction is handed down from the courts.
The motion was originally brought forward by Terrace city councillor Stacey Tyers in March and was endorsed by NCLGA, though Tyers said the provision barely passed after some local government officials voiced concerns about the mandatory paid leave portion.
“I kind of knew they would. They think it’s a violation of people’s charter rights. I obviously checked that with several lawyers and a few judges before I even put it forward,” Tyers said back in May. She said she spoke with the executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) about its legality, who said there is a huge precedence for paid leave during legal issues so there is no presumption of guilt.
Leading up to the UBCM convention, the province stated in part, “With respect to indictable offenses, the legislation prevents those who have not completed the sentence for an indictable offence – unless the person is released on probation or parole and is not in custody – from running for or continuing to hold local government office.”
Profit sharing from cannabis sales
To help offset the costs for municipalities dealing with the sale and cultivation of legalized recreational marijuana in October, Terrace city council is asking the provincial government to help with the initial and ongoing costs of regulation by sharing tax revenues.
The motion asks for at least 50 per cent of the provincial share of the tax revenues be allocated to local governments to help support the administrative costs of regulating cannabis legalization.
“Local governments will be on the front lines of implementing bylaws, regulating bylaws as well as ensuring the amended criminal code is enforced. [The Federation of Canadian Municipalities] estimates that up to 17 different bylaws will be impacted… resulting in significant staff time.”
UBCM has also indicated that local governments will only be receiving eight to 10 per cent of the overall tax revenues, which they say will make it difficult for local governments to enforce the changes made to existing laws and regulations.
Additionally, UBCM’s membership has endorsed resolution 2017-SR1, which among other things requested that the province provide funding to address “responsibilities and increase in administrative burden” related to the regulation of non-medical cannabis.
Help for rural libraries
The Village of Burns Lake wants to ensure libraries in rural areas receive enough money.
The village’s position takes the form of a formal resolution already endorsed by the resolutions committee of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) and it will now be voted on by delegates attending its annual meeting.
The resolution, a product of local consultation between the village and the Burns Lake public library, notes that public libraries have generally fallen behind budget requirements.
That happened in 2009 when the provincial government of the day cut its public library spending by more than 20 per cent. Since then, funding has remained stagnant at $14 million annually.
The resolution calls on the provincial government to restore grant levels to pre-2009 levels.
And it calls on the provincial government to “commit to forming a task force to work with public library associations to ensure that funding formulas do not allow urbanization to threaten public library association sustainability.”
With the area battling some of the worst wildfires in decades, the Village of Burns Lake wants the provincial government to take more financial responsibility in measures to prevent future wildfires from threatening structures and infrastructure.
At issue is a provincial program called the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative which is managed by the UBCM.
Through the initiative, local governments can receive money to clear away trees which, if they caught fire, could threaten structures, encourage residents to clean up their properties of fuels, train local personnel, develop efficient communications and emergency plans by local governments and generally make residents more aware of wildfire dangers.
But in its resolution, the village points out the result is “the cost, responsibility and expertise of wildfire mitigation on Crown land, areas surrounding local governments and land inside local government boundaries, being shifted onto local governments which is creating significant additional pressure on local government finances and staff resources.”
In that regard, the village wants the UBCM to “lobby the provincial and federal governments to discontinue downloading wildfire mitigation costs and responsibilities onto local governments and First Nations … and take responsibility for wildfire mitigation costs on Crown land and areas surrounding local governments.”
Official position to Greyhound void
UBCM delegates are to meet Sept. 10 for a special session titled: “Not in Service. Greyhound Leaves B.C. Behind” to discuss solutions and options.
Local governments across the province are expected to formally respond to Greyhound’s departure from B.C.
The UBCM executive is also planning to introduce a motion for delegate consideration but its exact wording won’t be determined until the convention is underway.
The provincial government has so far started a subsidized service called BC Bus North in the north as an interim measure to replace Greyhound but there’s been no decision yet regarding the rest of the province.
The Greyhound resolution as crafted by the UBCM executive will be introduced for discussion and voting Sept. 12. Special resolutions required 65 per cent of delegates voting in favour in order to pass.
-with files from Flavio Nienow and Rod Link