The new B.C. Mayors Caucus intends to address and hopefully solve the ever-increasing burden of provincial and federal government downloading that is crippling local governments across the province and taking more cash out of the pockets of property owners.
But with an impervious B.C. government running amok, only pausing when forced to by the courts and law (BC Rail, HST referendum), it’s unlikely the 86-member caucus will have any kind of positive effect but instead just create another expenditure for the taxpayers.
Merritt Mayor Susan Roline says her trip to the first annual B.C. Mayors Caucus in Penticton earlier this month cost Merritt taxpayers a few hundred dollars and was well worth the money. The caucus aims to create an information sharing network among B.C. mayors and municipalities, “fore policy agreements” that would be brought to the doorstep of Ottawa and Victoria, and pursue mutual support in the delivery of municipal services, resource sharing, and economic development.
Provincial downloading, where governments pass on responsibilities to the next level of government, does happen here in Merritt. The community came together last fall to keep the homeless shelter open. It was previously funded by the province. Downloading like this is why the mayors are meeting, to create a “new deal.”
But B.C. municipalities like Merritt already have membership in congresses like the Southern Interior Local Government Association (where council resolutions first go) and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (the second phase before a council resolution is brought to the province).
Councillor Harry Kroeker says sending a member from council to one of the annual conventions can cost $1,000 to $1,500, and usually more than one member attends.
One has to wonder what the value of membership in the UBCM has when last fall the province completely ignored the majority vote by UBCM delegates to place a moratorium on the B.C. government’s controversial “smart” meter program.
And now the mayor and council have added another congress to the mix with membership in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Memberhsip in the FCM only costs $350 annually. But in an internal memo May 16, Mayor Roline suggested that two councillors would attend the FCM’s annual convention, with the mayor attending two out of three years.
“It’s one glorified holiday,” Kroeker told council during the May 22 regular meeting.
“I see lots of downsides to this,” said Coun. Alastair Murdoch.
But Roline touted the benefits, mainly the City’s opportunity to access funding from the Green Municipal Fund, a national endowment.
Regardless, Merritt would have to compete with every other municipality in the country. And cities don’t need to be FCM members to apply for such things as grants.
Some councillors were asking why the city had cancelled its previous FCM membership in 1986. I asked Bob Baird, who sat on that council, what he thought. He said the City of Merritt accepted FCM membership as a trial but later cancelled because it was too expensive and not beneficial enough.
Council voted 5-2 in favour of adopting membership in the FCM. Kroeker and Murdoch opposed.