Park Place Lodge

Another convention has come and gone; this one titled Forging Gold Medal Standards was held in picturesque Whistler and was filled with study sessions, tours, forums and speeches.

Annually the municipalites and districts of British Columbia gather to network and learn about what is happening in our province. Top political figures attend and give speeches and receptions and hold meetings with mayors and councillors.

It began on Monday with a speech by UBCM president Harry Nyce and continued with several sessions including one on affordable housing where Rich Coleman emphasized the need for “streamlining approvals by fast tracking approvals, waiving public hearing for some developments, pre-zoning land for small more affordable housing and applying consistent technical building standards across the province, providing incentives like density bonuses, reducing DCC’s for smaller units, providing tax exemptions and reducing permit fees, also to reduce barriers such parking requirements and developing a provincial website with resources and comparative data”.

Fernie mayor and council met with several ministers to discuss issues pertinent to Fernie, in these sessions Minister Bennett sent his two assistants to sit in on so they could take notes and give support on his behalf.

The issue of missed home support visits was brought up, as was succession planning for  the eventual retirement of the Elk Valley hospital surgeon.   “What intent do you have for the OR?  Is there a vision for maintaining surgical obstetrics in Fernie? Can we see the actual document for the vision?  These were some of the questions put to Dr. Halpenny from Interior Health.  The issue of developing a more economical model of transportation of medical transfers was also discussed in depth.  It was pointed out by council members that the ambulances are leaving the community several times a day due to broken legs etc on the hill and from biking and there was concern expressed that with non- ambulance drivers it could be detrimental to those being transported if the contractors become “taxi drivers” with no experience and training, this doesn’t provide the same form of medical coverage that trained ambulance personnel have.

Minister Bennett was singled out for his great work with UBCM this past year especially with the local government elections task force.  President Nyce expressed his admiration for Bennett, saying that this past year he had gotten to know the Minister working with him and then announced and presented to Bennett the prestigious lifetime membership award from UBCM.

Carole James, leader of the Opposition spoke saying that there is an old saying “May you live in interesting times,” commenting that “the old way of doing business has to be over, it is a victory for democracy, but the referendum has to be held as soon as possible, instead of cancelling the fall session we should be working on this now, listen carefully to what the people are saying, increase minimum wage, revenue share with local governments, fairness and respect is central at decisions that affect communities, we want BC to be known as the place that got it right”.

Fernie’s Chief administrative officer Allan Chabot was the facilitator for a plenary session on success stories and issues regarding economic development, health, safety, transportation and finance as they affect small communities.

One interesting topic was about updating one of the oldest pieces of legislation regarding water.  We need to conserve was the message, we don’t have unlimited quantities of water and BC residents are said to consume more water per capita than everyone. More wise consumption means water meters it was said during the meeting with  Barry Penner, Minister of the Environment.  “We must also protect species at risk, plants, insects, furry animals and birds, we have to put more restrictions on what you can take out” Penner stated.  When asked “Is water a human right” Penner didn’t reply.

Premier Gordon Campell gave a long speech touching on the Olympics “Best Winter Olympics in the history of the games. Loved those red mitts, never quite sure what people were doing with their fingers, unlike today”, the Premier joked to laughter from the crowd. He then added that 3.5 billion around the world saw BC for the first time.  “When we work together there’s nothing we can’t accomplish, more gold medals won than any Olympic games”.

The Premier announced that three Totem Poles will be placed on the grounds of the Legislature to tell the “story of the Olympic volunteers and the character and spirit of the Olympics.”  He said they would learn from mistakes and build on strengths, focus on goals and excell in healthcare, urban sprawl, providing the best quality of life for kids, creating clean smart vibrant communities, doing smart investments in housing, expanding international tourism, “reach high, the time to act is now, this is not the time to stop, we need to keep building on success, improve Highway 3, open Highway 36 Skeena, economic opportunities in northern BC with supply of wood products to Asian countries, mining is a critical cornerstone of  our economic future, natural gas is a national priority, we must build towards a true reconciliation with First nations, everyone should prosper. We must follow stewardship practices, protect parks and stop decommissioning of resource roads so they can be used.  It’s important to learn from our mistakes.  The HST didn’t forge the gold medal performance the way it was introduced, my skating partner Colin Hansen and I needed more practice, but there was no time, it would have taken two more years, people don’t think we told them the truth, we will learn and listen, if 51% say to go back we’ll follow, whatever you want, but it has consequences on people, jobs, community, economy, forestry, mining, it will impact tourism and small business, but this government will be guided by what the people decide.

After the Minister’s speech the convention was over for another year.

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