Mayors from the Shuswap and throughout B.C. have put the provincial and federal governments on notice.
Last month, 86 mayors convened in Penticton for the inaugural, two-day meeting of the BC Mayors’ Caucus. Among the attendees were Sicamous Mayor Darrell Trouton and Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper.
Trouton says he went to the meeting expecting to listen to a “bunch of political jargon.” What he found, however, were mayors of municipalities large and small conversing casually about shared issues and concerns.
Cooper says she marvelled when she saw District of Wells Mayor Robin Sharpe chatting with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, finding out they share common ground. In fact, all of the mayors discovered common ground on a number of issues, key among them being policy changes at the provincial and federal government levels that impact municipalities.
“We all had a lot of the same issues with how government policies are, how they’ve been run, and how the federal and provincial government have downloaded on municipalities in order to be political I would say,” says Trouton. “It’s not efficient and it’s not effective.”
Cooper says she and her fellow mayors should be at the table when the provincial and/or federal governments make changes without prior warning that have a negative impact on a municipality’s budget after it’s been set. Caucus members are now calling for a the creation of a Premier’s Round Table, with the B.C. Mayors’ Caucus, to discuss public policy changes that affect local budgets and delivery of services.
“We’re trying to hold the federal and provincial governments accountable,” says Trouton.
Another goal of the caucus is to “eliminate the ad hoc granting process,” that has B.C. communities competing with one another for tax dollars to complete projects that are sometimes vital.
“The people pay their taxes and it goes into general tax revenue to the federal and provincial governments,” says Trouton. “In turn, we have to apply for grants, (we have) to go to them hat in hand to find out whether we can get a sewer grant for our community. Guess what? That’s your money to start with.”
Cooper shares Trouton’s frustration, adding that when provincial or federal funding is cut or eliminated, eyes turn to municipal councils.
“One of the things that we saw was in arts and culture, when they just suddenly said we’re not funding it…,” says Cooper. “This year there was quite a bit of money in our budget for the art gallery because, otherwise, they didn’t know what they were going to do… It’s a valuable service that we want to retain, so there, right away, that was quite a hit.”
What the mayors are asking for is a new partnership with higher levels of government that will be in the best interest of all communities.
“We’re the people elected here to represent our community,” says Trouton. “We know better than our provincial government, or Ottawa, knows what our communities need. Yet it seems like they’re dictating to us what we can have and can’t have.”
Trouton and Cooper are optimistic that the united voice behind the BC Mayors’ Caucus is a step in that direction.
“I hope it sends a strong voice,” says Trouton, adding the conference hopes to see results prior to the coming provincial election. It will be very interesting. This is the first time in history this has ever happened. There has been some downplaying by different levels of government. I know they’re very nervous by the direction that we’re taking.”
Cooper says the mayors’ caucus will supplement the Union of B.C. Municipalities, with the intent of giving mayors, and their municipalities, a stronger voice when dealing with the provincial government.
“If we go towards this with a unified voice, and we’re all together on it, then they can’t ignore us,” says Cooper.