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Officials talk resiliency, housing and more at LMLGA conference in Whistler

Politicians came together for first time in two years to discuss policy and priorities in a post-pandemic world
LMLGA by Robert Wisla
Provincial and local officials at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association in Whistler last week.

Dozens of local government politicians converged on Whistler between May 4 and May 6 for the Lower Mainland Local Government Association’s (LMLGA) conference and annual general meeting.

The LMLGA is one of five regional associations that make up the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), which will host its own conference in Whistler this fall. The AGM brought together more than a hundred politicians from the 30 municipalities and three regional districts that make up Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the Sea to Sky.

The event offered a chance for regional politicians to network with each other and for municipalities to bring forward resolutions that will be voted on at the UBCM AGM, which will then be brought forward to the provincial and federal governments.

The overarching topic this year was community resilience. Following the worst natural disasters in British Columbia’s modern history, the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing opioid epidemic and an ever-increasing housing crisis, resilience is in dire need for British Columbia’s municipalities.

Disaster days

Conference goers were treated to a diverse slate of panel discussions related to the event’s theme, with topics ranging from how municipalities can build resilience to natural disasters to taking on the challenge of climate change from a municipal perspective.

The wildfire and flooding seen across B.C. in 2021 featured prominently in the conference, as damage from the disasters—estimated to cost billions—continues to be felt across the province.

A panel on natural disasters featured Chilliwack Councillors Jason Lum and Chris Kloot, the Village of Lytton’s recovery director, Ron Mattiussi, and B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

"It can be a lot worse than we ever imagined. And that's hard, right? Because we're so conditioned to look at options,” said Mattiussi. “We have some scenarios, and we just throw out the worst-case scenario because it's possibly too dramatic. And I just think we're at a point where throwing out the worst-case scenario may not be the most advisable step.”

One clear positive to take from B.C.’s disastrous 2021 was the level of collaboration shown by so many agencies, said provincial Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming.

“It illustrates the point of how important the integration and the collaboration is between all of those that are involved, Fleming said, noting that at a time when highway and railway connections were severed, “we came together, federal, local, provincial governments, transportation companies, and got things done really quickly to restore that economic lifeline, social lifeline ourselves and reunite our province.”

That type of collaboration will be needed to achieve the diverse solutions municipalities need today, Fleming added—but building for resiliency doesn't just stop at provincial highways.

“People want safe, integrated, efficient transportation networks so they can spend more time with their family and friends and less time in congestion,” he said. “These are resilient communities that can help shape the proper approach and the population of B.C.”

Sustainable design

A discussion on climate change featured Maya Chorobik and Elisabeth Baudinaud of the Community Energy Association, Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton, Resort Municipality of Whistler climate action coordinator Luisa Burhenne and Renata Rovelo and Julia Stafford with the Squamish Nation.

The key takeaway from this panel was that more collaboration between different levels of government and First Nations needs to take place, and that sustainability should be top of mind when building and designing our urban areas.

A handful of resolutions focusing on the environment were passed at the conference, including: Increasing provincial incentives for installing solar panels and solar hot water; training B.C. workers in deep energy retrofits and climate-smart construction; expediting the development of single-use plastic regulations by the end of 2022; increasing funding for electric vehicle infrastructure; creating new strategies to deal with acidic wastewater discharge; and signing a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty.

The Village of Pemberton brought forward two resolutions that focused on issues facing some of B.C.’s smaller but rapidly growing communities.

The first advocated for reimbursement for highway rescue services, as local fire departments in smaller communities are often called to assist with accidents on major roadways, such as Highway 99.

The second resolution called for the province to develop a new “transitional funding model for RCMP services for small communities that would see incremental adjustments as a community grows to 5,000 people and then beyond 10,000 and finally over 15,000 residents.”

When a municipality hits the 5,000 mark, the costs of RCMP policing services increase. With Pemberton’s population rapidly growing, it is possible the municipality could pass the 5,000 mark within the next decade.

Follow the leader

The BC Legislature was well represented in Whistler on the final day of the conference, with both the BC Green leader Sonia Fursteneau and BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon in attendance, along with NDP Ministers Nathan Cullen and Fleming, who both spoke of their government's priorities.

In his speech, Municipal Affairs Minister Cullen outlined his government's many significant investments in municipalities, including more funding for municipal infrastructure and increasing the climate adaptation fund to help municipalities adapt to climate change. Cullen also made clear he wants to work closely with the municipalities.

“We need to do more to help you. We put a few more tools in the toolbox, trying to speed things up a little bit,” Cullen told delegates. “We need to be partners. We each take our responsibility to this, and I see all those exciting projects and developments and we’re building housing, and we need to do more.”

In a speech of his own, Falcon also stressed the need for more investment in municipalities.

“I can tell you, with a growing province, we have to make those investments, and we can't just talk about it. We can't just make announcements about it. We can't just have press releases about it. We gotta get it under construction and build,” Falcon said.

“That's why we have a Canada Line today. That's why we have an Evergreen Line. That's why we have the Sea to Sky Highway that you enjoyed on the way up here ... because we invest in infrastructure.”

While the other politicians gave stump speeches, Furstenau focused on the conference's topic by talking about the need for resiliency in communities, and recounted stories from her experience with recent wildfires.

“Ron Mattiussi spoke to you about how it will be worse than you could ever imagine. I can tell you I never imagined being in a minivan with my kids trying to outrun a wildfire, while the skies turned orange and black and the windshield wipers couldn't get the ash off the car,” she said. “I never imagined that. But boy, did it ever make me think about resilience, and about the kind of work that we have to do in our communities to create resilience.”

Read more about the LMLGA and its resolutions at lmlga.ca