Province commits to RMI as 'ongoing' program 

Elected officials converge on Whistler for UBCM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - conventional wisdom Resort Municipality of Whistler Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey speaks at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention on Sept. 10.
  • PHOTO by braden dupuis
  • conventional wisdom Resort Municipality of Whistler Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey speaks at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention on Sept. 10.

While the annual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Convention typically coincides with announcements from the provincial government, one in particular made on the first day of the 2018 conference—taking place at the Whistler Conference Centre this week—will be of particular interest to Whistlerites.

The Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) program, which pumps money into the province's resort communities to enhance tourism offerings, will remain in place for the time being.

Details are scarce, but a spokesperson for tourism minister Lisa Beare said the B.C. government is committed to RMI as an ongoing program, and more details about 2019 funding amounts will be confirmed in the spring.

"It's a relief," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"That funding is so important to us, and without it we would be drastically reducing some of our programs and projects, so we're very pleased to hear that news."

More than 2,000 delegates from across the province are in Whistler for the UBCM convention this week, as elected officials of all stripes and statures take in sessions on topics ranging from affordability and housing to crime and cannabis, and vote on resolutions of importance to their communities.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has meetings lined up with nine provincial ministers, including minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson.

"We will be talking to him about secure multi-year wildfire management funding, because that is really what we're interested in," Wilhelm-Morden said.

On Sept. 10, the province announced a new Community Resiliency Investment Program that will direct up to $50 million over three years to local governments and First Nations to help reduce wildfire risks.

"I'm not certain that there's new money going into that program in addition to what was announced in the budget earlier this year ... but what they have done is they've accelerated the funding available in that program and expanded the scope of projects a community can apply for funding, so that was very good news," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"The applications for that funding open (Monday, Sept. 10), so no doubt we'll be taking advantage of that."

Other topics on Whistler's agenda for the convention include housing, transportation, regional transit and cannabis, the mayor said.

This year Whistler has put forward two resolutions of its own, to be voted on during the resolution sessions on Thursday and Friday: one relating to the collection of unpaid bylaw fines (asking the province and ICBC to collect traffic-related fines on behalf of municipalities) and unaddressed ad mail (asking Canada Post to include local governments in its list of exemptions for delivering unaddressed ad mail, allowing local government to use unaddressed ad mail to reach their citizens, and; asking Canada Post to develop a system that allows residents to opt in for ad mail rather than having to opt out).

THE VIEW FROM PEMBERTON AND BEYOND

The Village of Pemberton (VOP), meanwhile, has advanced three resolutions of its own: One asking the province to invest in tourism infrastructure and staffing at the same level as it does marketing; one asking the province to set aside funding to help communities meet Canada's 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets; and one asking the province to consider at least a 50/50 share of cannabis tax revenue with municipalities, and that the feds and province work directly with local governments to form a tax distribution network.

The VOP also floated the request for a greater investment in tourism support at last year's convention.

"We had a good conversation, but that's why we're doing it again," said Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman.

"That's my style ... Until I get attention, I'll keep pounding on the door."

As it stands now, areas like Pemberton are seeing record numbers of visitors and little in the way of enhanced management—the situation found at Joffre Lakes on any given weekend being just one example.

"The recreation sites, it concerns me that fires aren't getting put out, even when they are allowed. Last year Keyhole Falls was shut down because of bear-human conflict, and that all stemmed out of people not managing their garbage," Richman said.

"We love (tourism) here. It's a big part of our economy. We're fiercely proud of our area so we like to show it off ... but we also want to make sure the environment is being protected."

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) also has six resolutions on the table, relating to increased awareness for FireSmart, stable funding for reconciliation efforts with First Nations, adding basic dental care to Medical Service Plan coverage and mandating fluoridation where necessary, and designating telecommunications as a utility (allowing local governments to assist internet and cell providers with capital financing).

The SLRD is putting forward the same resolutions as Pemberton in regard to tourism funding and biodiversity goals.

Aside from those, the regional district is focused on road improvement in the north part of the region and wildfire mitigation and response, said SLRD chair Jack Crompton.

"We expect that there will be changes to the way wildfire is addressed based on this summer and last. We want to be right in the middle of that conversation," Crompton said, adding that one specific change he'd like to see is better communication between the different agencies and levels of government

CANNABIS, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS AMONG TOPICS DISCUSSED

As much as UBCM is a forum for action, it's also about learning and making connections.

Sessions on the first day of the convention included panel discussions on green innovation, affordability and Indigenous affairs, as well as a reception for delegates hosted by the Craft Cannabis Association of British Columbia (CCABC).

With cannabis legalization a month away, the reception was a perfect opportunity for the CCABC to bend the ear of local politicians.

"To have them all in the room together at one time is an incredibly rare opportunity, otherwise we have to go region by region," said director Sarah Campbell, adding that municipalities are key right now.

"They have the final say on whether these licences get approved or not, so we need to have them be onboard with what we see as the potential future opportunities."

There are 12 cannabis-related resolutions on the UBCM floor this week, but the big issue to the CCABC is surrounding micro-licenses and land use.

"Of course land use is a concern for everyone in B.C., and so there are issues around (local governments) understanding what types of facilities we're talking about, and the small footprint, as opposed to the large facilities," Campbell said.

"Sustainable farming practices are a differentiating factor for the new micro-licenses. We just need the politicians to be more educated about what's coming."

In one of the first sessions of the convention, Squamish Nation councillor Chris Lewis and RMOW Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey sat on a panel on advancing local government relations with Indigenous peoples.

Furey spoke about the RMOW's 2011 Official Community Plan (OCP), which was challenged by local First Nations in court and eventually quashed.

"We tried to learn about each other, and tried to sort of capture some common understandings and workable outcomes. We weren't able to achieve that," Furey said of the 2011 OCP discussions.

But looking back on that process, Furey said he could see why the effort wasn't successful.

"Over the last number of years, we've worked harder to get to know one another as individuals and communities, not just in formal sessions, but in informal places as well, and getting an idea about each others' aspirations, our worries, our community dynamics, thinking about the future," he said.

"That part, it sounds easy, but it's been a lot of hard work, and really we've only in the last number of years moved beyond the sort of polite conversation to really getting down to the hard task of community-to-community relationship building."

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