The Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention for elected officials was most interesting this year with the meeting of new government ministers.
Fernie met with several ministers, highlights include the meeting with Housing Minister Selena Robinson. Minister Robinson spoke to the UBCM membership as well on the importance of partnerships saying the new provincial government wants to listen to local governments’ distinctive viewpoints and concerns. She acknowledged the pressure of the housing crunch falling on local governments and said that the Province is committed to being a key partner on this issue.
We met with Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena regarding changes to be made on the highway through West Fernie and to get assurance that the Lizard Creek Bridge replacement is still on track and we were assured it was.
CAO Norm McInnis and I spent most of the first day with the mayors and chief administrative officers of the resort communities that included Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Lisa Beare to discuss the RMI program, no firm commitment but sounding promising that it could continue.
A meeting was also held with Airbnb representatives regarding the bylaw to be brought forward by the City regarding short term rentals.
I joined the mayors of the Highway 3 coalition and the regional district to meet with ministers in regards to more improvements to Highway 3 and having more charging stations implemented along the route and on the topic of local agriculture.
The meetings were mostly to inform new ministers of projects and requests for our areas, all were very cordial and interested in what we had to say.
Rich Coleman, Leader of the Official Opposition spoke to the UBCM membership stating how important it is for leaders to hold a shared passion for public life despite challenges. He encouraged elected officials to stand up to “nimbyism” so that supportive housing and addictions treatment facilities could be built. He added that the province presently spends $2.8 billion annually to support those with mental health and addictions issues. He added that there was a need for the Province to support central communities with substantial funding to rebuild so that “they know we care about them and that people who fought the fires should be honoured, thanked and remembered”. In our region the RDEK is organizing such an event to thank the volunteers.
Delegates attended a session on “Leading through Crisis, Flooding and Fires 2017”, getting information into the future of fire prevention and mitigation in B.C. With more than 1200 fires, 1.2 million hectares of land burned, 4000 evacuees and costs nearing $500 million, this summer is said to be the worst wildfire season in B.C.’s history. Madeline Maley, Executive Director of the B.C. Wildfire Service, said that a full review of BCWS and the Fire Smart program is being conducted along with the development of a research and expansion program for stopping wildfires and also looking at ways to involve the public and work with other authorities across the country to develop innovative solutions to wildfire mitigation. It was also mentioned that controlled burns could be reinstated as they are an actual method of dealing with grasslands and forest stands that pose threats.
Other sessions included one on cannabis legalization and a tour of a dispensary that three of our councillors attended.
The week was completely full from early morning to late evening with the many receptions offered. It culminated with the election of the UBCM board that now has four members from the Kootnays. President is Director Wendy Booth from the RDEK, AKBLG chair and RDEK director Rob Gay Mayor of Invermere Gerry Taft, and Mayor of Nelson Deb Kozak. Congratulations to all.
The week ended with Premier John Horgan delivering the closing address. When he walked on the stage he was given a resounding standing ovation. His speech was well received and ending on a touching account of his experience of going through cancer.