Province needs to support local governments

It is always nice to reconnect with my political roots in local government. Yesterday I met with the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) to discuss their current priorities.

In 2012, I resigned my seat at the Central Saanich Council table to run for the B.C. Greens in Saanich North & the Islands and unfortunately many, if not all, of the reasons why I made that decision remain unresolved.

Leading up to the 2013 general election I was frustrated by chasing conditional grants designed to advance the provincial government political agenda, rather than having the resources we needed to address municipal priorities.

A myriad of annual downloads from the provincial government adds increasing strain on the property tax bills of our citizens and this is further aggravated by hearing the provincial government boast about “keeping taxes low.” Meanwhile the increasing centralization of power in the Premier’s Office has resulted in a regressive, non-productive relationship between the provincial and local governments and it needs to change.

The salt in the wound is that so many of my former municipal and regional district colleagues now occupy a seat in the provincial legislature. Approximately one third of the Members of the Legislative Assembly were once elected locally. The members of the government side of the house know the problems that exist, yet apparently they have no influence in the caucus chamber to address them.

Local government is the most important level of government in Canada. Senior governments should be supporting our cities, towns, villages, districts and neighbourhoods, not actively burdening them with extra costs and providing little access to the resources they need.

Our Mayors and Councillors are the closest elected officials to the citizens. They meet in the local town hall and discuss important public policy issues. Local governments are the most responsive level of government and the decisions they make have a huge impact on our daily lives.

Water, sewer, roads, sidewalks, zoning, community and neighbourhood planning all affect our quality of life, property value, and our overall health and wellness. Decisions made in the local Council chamber directly impact the economy, our social interactions and the stewardship of our environment.

But let’s be real, when a federal government decides to push a pipeline with their jurisdictional authority, it is the local governments that have to make it happen. When a provincial government decides to build a liquefied natural gas industry from the ground up, it is the surrounding municipalities and regional districts that have to handle the tremendous boom, then bust, that occurs.

For as long as I am part of the B.C. Green Party I will be advocating for a new relationship with local governments. I will be pushing to re-distribute the power now concentrated in the Premier’s Office, while strengthening the responsibility and accountability of municipal and regional governments. I believe we need to fundamentally change how our communities are resourced because a reliance on property taxes to fund critical infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, is not sustainable.

I will actively encourage the B.C. Greens to work closely with local governments, through the UBCM to ensure that their priorities are central in provincial decision making. Unlike our current government, I would start with the Strong Fiscal Futures report prepared by the UBCM in 2013 as a framework for the new relationship.

Transforming the relationship between local and provincial governments is necessary. If we are going to embrace a 21st century economy, local governments must become an equal partners with the province not a dumping ground for unwanted provincial responsibilities.

Adam Olsen

Stellys Cross Road, Brentwood Bay, BC, V8M 1J7