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Communities find common ground at UBCM

Housing, infrastructure discussed at convention
UBCM conference Affordable housing was a major talking point at this year's gathering of B.C. municipalities in Victoria. Photo courtesy of UBCM

The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention — held this year in Victoria from Sept. 26 to 30 — offered local mayors and councils an annual seat at the table with the biggest decision makers in the province.

But with a provincial election just around the corner (tentatively scheduled for May 9, 2017), are those decision makers more receptive than in other years?

"You get all the meetings you ask for," answered Coun. Jack Crompton, with a laugh.

This year the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) met with six provincial ministers: Shirley Bond (Jobs, Tourism, Skills Training and Labour), Steve Thomson (Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations), Peter Fassbender (Community, Sport, Cultural Development) Todd Stone (Transportation and Infrastructure), Stephanie Cadieux (Children and Family Development) and Mary Polak, (Environment).

The ministerial meetings were the highlight for Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who said they resulted in some "concrete directions" for the RMOW moving forward.

"For example, with minister Bond, we've just run into a bit of a road block with some of the new guidelines for (Municipal and Regional District Tax) and how the tax revenues from the MRDT are to be used," the mayor said, noting that she and Bond discussed MRDT last year.

"She said to me specifically, 'this isn't meant to be a lot of red tape for Whistler in particular, and if it turns out to be that way, let me know,' so I did," the mayor said.

"She was immediately reactive to our concerns with her staff, so that was terrific."

The meeting with Stone focused on traffic congestion and transit issues in Whistler, Wilhelm-Morden said.

"He was very interested in seeing some kind of corridor-wide committee formed — with Jordan Sturdy taking a leadership role on that — to deal with regional transit, so that was a specific direction that he gave," she said.

Many of the concerns that Whistler brought to the table — housing, transit, labour and sustainability — were shared by other communities.

"We saw a lot of the areas of concern for Whistler echoed throughout the conference, both in the resolutions that were considered and passed and the meetings," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"The fact that we all speak with one voice, it has to be compelling for the province when they hear these same comments over and over again."

Some concerns were more prevalent than others.

"Affordable housing was a major theme of the conference," Crompton said. "Our region is not alone in facing this challenge, and I think we'll need to be creative, but most of all we'll have to act."

Another big theme was investing in infrastructure, and how to take advantage of federal funding.

Crompton attended the convention both as a Whistler councillor and chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) board.

The SLRD board met with Premier Christy Clark and some key ministers to discuss the importance of roads to economic development north of Whistler.

"We made the case that investment in roads is key to Pemberton, Lillooet, Chilcotin Mountain Park and the region as a whole, in our efforts to benefit from our growing tourism economy," Crompton said.

Provincial Resort Municipality Initiative money has done wonders for tourism in Whistler and beyond.

"It's great to see that tourism success moving north, but we need the infrastructure to support it," Crompton said. "And so as a board we're convinced that safe roads are fundamental to the community and economic success of the northern part of the SLRD."

There are no specific commitments coming out of those meetings, but Crompton said the SLRD's concerns were definitely heard.

"It was interesting. As we were presenting to the premier and minister Stone, the Highway 99 Fountain slide (north of Lillooet) was actually dropping down the side of the hill," he said.

"So our case is being made in very real time as we're discussing it with them."

Aside from the near-ubiquitous concerns around housing, there were a number of resolutions related to sustainability, said Coun. Sue Maxwell.

"Personally I was excited about some of the ones around improving and expanding extended producer responsibility programs, like for cigarette butts and things like that," Maxwell said.

"I think it's a valuable experience to be able to network with peers and see different ways of doing things, and be able to build common understandings or maybe momentum," she added.

"For me it would be something around zero waste, taking a look and seeing if there are other communities that would like to work together to try to encourage the province to develop a zero waste strategy and do some of the role that only they can do."

There were about 150 resolutions considered at the convention.

Whistler-supported resolutions on a National Housing Strategy, the BC Conservation Office capacity, passenger rail service between North Vancouver and Prince George and a tax on short-term accommodation all passed, as well as one on creating new and affordable licensed daycare spaces.

There was also a resolution calling for the protection of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island, which could have implications for the Cheakamus Community Forest somewhere down the line.

"It kind of puts what we're doing here with the Cheakamus Community Forest in a bit of a different light, because of course most of our annual allowable cut is old-growth forest," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"So it's something to think about there."

The UBCM will now advocate for the endorsed resolutions with the provincial government.