We talk; does government listen?

One of the admirable features of democracy is the fact that the citizenry can (and may) provide input to their government representatives, in the expectation that these representatives will listen, ponder, and then can be counted on to enact policies that follow the will of the voters.

Although it’s extremely unlikely that any single citizen’s demand will suddenly appear as law based on a letter to his MLA, there do exist channels through which priorities already considered by local governments such as the City of Terrace can be publicized for government scrutiny and consideration. One of these channels is the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM).

With offices and staff in Richmond and Victoria, this organization endeavors to represent local governments in BC through advocacy, policy development, communications, training, and communications.

The UBCM understands the operations of local governments, their responsibilities, their authorities, and the challenges that broadly face them. They also support well-defined relations among member cities, and between local governments and the provincial and federal governments that hold hierarchical powers within the Canadian constitution.

Once a year, the UBCM holds a convention to consider anew the various challenges with which municipal governments must contend. These may be to do with local services to citizens, encouragement of business, care for the environment, relations with First Nations, health issues, land use/development (e.g. industrial development, affordable housing, etc.), and justice and policing. Dozens of topics and suggestions, often in the form of resolutions, are considered by municipal representatives gathered from throughout the province.

Every municipal member of the UBCM has the right to bring resolutions to the convention. Given the wide variety of geographical, economic and cultural characteristics of BC’s political communities, these resolutions may be widely divergent in direction and in their significance to the broader membership.

Several months following the convention, the UBCM publishes a report on the business done there. 2017’s convention consisted of two days of pre-convention meetings followed by two days of business. The recently released report on the 2017 event runs to over 200 pages.

Of interest to Terrace citizens may be some of the resolutions Terrace representatives brought to the convention. One resolution involved amending the formula for the split in funding responsibility between local regional hospital districts and the provincial government in providing for the construction of a new hospital (a hot button topic here). Another resolution concerned legislated timelines for accessing Trauma 3 Level of Care throughout the province.

Our neighbours in Kitimat sponsored a resolution seeking a legal requirement for very high engineering standards for pipeline safety, and another recommending that the provincial government implement policies and regulations to “facilitate and stimulate value-added resource development.”

Reading through the UBCM report is a vivid reminder that democracy is a long, slow, tedious process, but one that is nonetheless inspiring because of its comprehensive inclusivity. It also clearly illustrates the complexity of real democratic governance. Although we may decry the undue influence of lobbyists, whose access to government decision-makers often seems something of a short-cut and can often barely pass the sniff test of “Is this bribery?”, citizen access to governments can be amplified when such organizations as the UBCM bring communities from across the province together to make united recommendations.

As always, the reminder that “democracy is not a spectator sport” applies.

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