At a party this weekend, I was chatting up a striking lady (no worry, Ms.NWimby was right beside me), and I mentioned my interest in local transportation issues. She then started to complain about trains. This is not unusual in mixed company in New Westminster: she was sick and tired of the long whistles, the loud whistles, the middle of the night whistles. Why didn’t New Westminster do something about it?

At this point, I usually repart that there is an issue with jurisdictions: in Canada we have Local Government, who are below the Provincial Government, who are under the Federal Government, who are superseded by the Jedi Council. The Jedis answer to the Railways.

But this post isn’t about the railways, it’s about jurisdictions.

There has been a bit of chatter recently around homeless shelters, and the point that New Westminster has them, Burnaby doesn’t. Chris Bryan at the NewsLeaders (Burnaby and New Westminster) has called Burnaby out on the issue several times.

However, Burnaby’s Mayor Corrigan is resolute: homelessness is not the municipality’s jurisdiction, it is up to Senior Governments to provide these services. If the Province and Feds don’t deal with the issue, that is no business of his, and certainly not something he wants impacting his Property Tax rates! New Westminster’s Mayor Wright is just as resolute: it is the Senior Government’s responsibility, but if they drop the ball, the City cannot just sit and watch people die on the streets. So for both of them it is a matter of principle.

For me, it is pretty easy to see who is on the higher moral ground, and where the leadership is.

I gave New Westminster Council the gears a little more than a month ago over the Shark Fin Soup Ban. It was, in some ways, a similar issue (and no, I am not comparing homeless people to fish). The subject is well outside of Municipal jurisdiction, and contains a moral question that might compel action, real or symbolic, regardless of that jurisdictional nuance. However, unlike the Shark Fin Soup issue, the action taken by New Westminster on homelessness is not a symbolic one, but directly helps people living right here in our community, and comes with a real cost to New Westminster taxpayers. It might even be unpopular with some of the more, um, “frugal” taxpayers in the City. There is a potential political cost to making that decision, and it therefore requires some leadership.

There is a recent parallel issue where Mayors Corrigan and Wright apparently agreed: the supplemental funding of TransLink. Here they both agreed that no more municipal money was going to be used to maintain and grow the regional transportation system, and that new funding had to come from some Senior Government master plan. This despite the fact that they represent two of the Cities that benefit the most from TransLink operations and will be impacted the most bythrough-traffic increases that will undoubtedly results as TransLink is choked off from being able to provide better service to peripheral areas. So here the choice to not do what the senior governments should (in your opinion) be doing saves money for local taxpayers money, but costs your citizens and the region in livability. Tough choice.

I don’t want to live in a community where people freeze to death on the street for need of a safe place to sleep, and I am not the least bit concerned that some small portion of my property taxes go to providing basic emergency shelter needs. I wish we had a Provincial strategy to deal with homelessness and our social services were funded adequately by both senior levels of government so we don’t have homeless. I would even offer that my portion of the F-35 money would be better spent on this. But all the wishes I make are not going to help if no government shows leadership and steps in to deal with the problems. I could be talking homelessness or TransLink right now.

What I can’t countenance is Mayor Corrigan sitting on his hands and refusing to invest even a small portion of City land or any local resources to help homeless people in his City, and hiding behind jurisdictional issues. He may feel like he is on high moral ground on this issue, but I don’t see any leadership coming from up there.

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