I wrote last week about the political part of the Lower Mainland LGA annual conference, here is the rest of what happened, including the Sessions and Resolutions.
A major part of the annual meeting are workshops and panel sessions where Local Government leaders can share and learn. Considering about half of the attendees this year were new to the job of being a Mayor of City Councilor, these formal sessions (and the ample informal networking time) is really valuable. This is the briefest summary of the sessions this year.
Local Government Partnerships & Innovation
This was a panel discussion with representatives from three Municipalities taking innovative approaches to their unique challenges: Abbotsford taking an Airport the Federal government didn’t want anymore and making it a local economic driver; Whistler working to bring community-based health care work in their unique community; and Chilliwack taking an aggressive approach to Downtown Revitalization.
The last item sparked a lot of interest in the room, and was also the subject of a pre-conference tour. The centre of the discussion is a block branded as District 1881 that over more than 15 years went from this:
The Streetview images don’t fully represent the texture of the change, as the first photo has a lot of end-of-life buildings, many boarded up stores and low value leases inthe few remaining. The new Centre is certainly attractvie and higher value (arguably gentrified?). There were some good lessons from their experience here, some not particularly useful now (“buy up land before the prices are driven up!”), and some very useful, though sometimes hard to achieve (“be clear on your vision and stick with it, even through changes in council and government; build partnerships early”). I had some good discussion with colleagues from Chilliwack after the panel to get more details, and will be following up.
Everyone’s Responsibility: Codes of Conduct & Ethics in City Hall Description
This was an interesting and timely panel ad most local governments (by direction of the Province) are reviewing their Codes of Conduct now, we have new Councils across the region, and we were meeting in Harrison, one of the municipalities that is currently facing scrutiny for its council conduct challenges. The Panel included a member of the Provincial government who works in local government oversight, a Councillor for Squamish, which is a municipality with a “model” Code of Conduct, introduced last term, and a Lawyer who guides Cities (including New West) on Code of Conduct issues.
This was an interesting conversation that spoke about the importance of a strong CoC, and also admitted that a CoC was not a panacea for all forms of organizational dysfunction. So many of our systems in local government organization rely on good faith participation, and the development of a CoC is one of these. The importance of developing a CofC when things are going well was emphasized, because trying to bring them in during time of maximum disruption (when they are needed the most) does not work – they have to be in place ahead of time. Lesson learned.
Running a Positive Election Campaign: Reflections and Lessons Learned from the 2022 BC General Municipal Election
This panel brought elected types from Vancouver, Burnaby, Squamish, and Langley together with the observer of all things Municipal, Justin McElroy, to discuss the campaign of 2022, and the potential for positive messaging as a positive force in elections. There was a*lot* here about the battle of ideas, and the absolute quagmire that is election period Social Media. Perhaps one of the insights that stood out was Justin’s advice/observance that elected people who are still talking about the election 6 months later are probably the ones who will not survive, which evokes a bit Nenshi’s comments: stop campaigning and do some work. There will be lots of time to campaign three years from now. Perhaps the most interesting moment was when the question was asked about the role of “Kennedy Stewart’s Road Tax” in a positive campaign, but you had to be there to appreciate it.
We also had a great closing keynote from Bowinn Ma, the Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, speaking about the lessons learned from the atmospheric river floods, Lytton fire, and other major events of the last few years ,and new ways the Provincial Government is working to help local governments be prepared for the next shitty climate-change-driven catastrophe (my words, not hers), including the Climate Ready BC website
Except for years where there is a spectacular speech implosion, the resolutions session is the most noteworthy part of most Lower Mainland LGA meetings. This is the part where municipalities put forward resolutions they hope the membership will endorse, mostly calls for Senior Governments to do things, like change policy, legislation or revenue streams for local government. In 2023 we had 35 resolutions debated, and you can read all about the here. Most were successful, but some failed. I am only going to speak to the ones that New Westminster took to the session. For the rest, you will have to find some other mayor’s blog. This is a really fun debate process for those who dig local government policy wonking, and want to make change.
R9 Equitable Communities
…be it resolved that UBCM call upon the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada to provide resources and policy direction to enable local government to implement analytical processes for the assessment of systemic inequalities (i.e. Gender-Based Analysis Plus) across local government capital investments, operations and strategic initiatives to ensure all citizens can participate fully in civic life and to make measureable progress towards dismantling system inequality in our communities.
This passed non-controversially.
R10 Exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
…be it resolved that the LMLGA and UBCM request that the BC Government request Health Canada add “public park spaces designed for and used by children and youth” to the list of exceptions to the Controlled Drug and Substances Act exemptions.
This resolution was divisive, and was eventually amended to remove the work “park”, which left it asking for a ban for all public spaces. As this effectively results in full recriminalization of decriminalized drugs, this derailed the motion completely. The amended motion was endorsed by a slim majority of delegates, but in this form will no doubt be ignored by the Federal and Provincial governments, a classic example of cutting off ones nose to spite one’s face.
R16 Vacant Property Tax on Commercial Properties
…be it resolved that UBCM urge the Province of British Columbia to provide local governments with an option to introduce a vacant property tax applicable to commercial properties
This was another hotly-debated resolution, but with a solid majority of delegates voting in support. This will no doubt be ever more hotly debated at UBCM, and the rural-urban divide on this issue may be more pronounced than one might expect.
R28 Bringing Equity to Traffic Enforcement
…be it resolved that UBCM calls upon the provincial government to implement a means-tested traffic fine system, similar to Finland, Switzerland, Sweden or the UK where fines may be calculated on the basis of the offender’s income.
Perhaps surprisingly, there was little debate on this issue, and reflecting the public opinion polls on the matter, this resolution was supported by a solid majority of delegates. Again, I expect this to have a rockier ride at UBCM, but the level of support was positive.
So all in all, New West was 3 for 4 for our resolutions, and our memberswere the re to support solid resolutions for other progressive councils from around the region – this is an area where Port Moddy asnd Squamish really step up and take some regional leadership.
In what became a running joke for some during the resolution debates, was the frequency with which the term “slippery slope” was used as an excuse to not endorse a regulatory change. This is a bit silly, as all regulation is, buy it very nature, a potential slippery slope, which is why the framing of it is as important as the request for it. But I also note that the “slippery slope fallacy” is the only logical fallacy we common name as we are committing it. In debate, we rarely say “this is a total non sequitur, but…” or “I would like to offer the strawman argument that…”, but we have no shame in saying “If we approve this, it is the thin end of the wedge!”.
Maybe I’ll save the rhetoric lecture for UBCM…