The “cupboard is bare” message from the B.C. Liberals to civic politicians gathered in
Victoria this week is familiar — it’s the same tune they played exactly 11 years ago, for entirely different reasons.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities confab and elbow bend is a combination of workshops, debates and the political version of speed-dating in which mayors — usually with councillors in tow — crowd into a room with the cabinet minister of their choice and spend 15 minutes asking for money or, at least, policy support before they’re shown the door to make way for the next group.
When I talked to him, enviro minister Terry Lake had just finished the 11th of 37 such meetings he must endure before the conference wraps up tomorrow.
The UBCM isn’t only about money, just mostly. It’s also a chance for municipal reps to learn and to seek consensus on issues of mutual interest.
Now here’s the scratchy record part. On May 16, 2001, the B.C. Liberals delivered a stunning blow to the scandal-prone NDP (those who are old enough might recall something about Glen Clark’s house renos), winning 77 of 79 seats.
Claude Richmond and Kevin Krueger won in Kamloops. Bill Bennett was another, defeating the incumbent New Democrat in Kootenay east. And then there was Rick Thorpe, an accountant from Westbank.
At that September’s UBCM meeting at the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, mayors and councillors — including Kamloops — showed up for their traditional audiences with ministers, asking for provincial support for roads, sewers, sports projects and programs, as they always did.
Thorpe, freshly sworn in as minister of enterprise, told them to forget it. The days were over, he haughtily declared, of the province “writing cheques” for municipal politicians.
Jaws dropped all over the room. Civic governments seek funding from senior levels of government for worthwhile services and amenities to lessen the burden on local taxpayers.
Thorpe treated them as if they were lazy teenagers wanting to borrow the keys to the car.
The Liberals came to office after four years of an under-performing economy under the NDP, and pledged to make it right. Having received an overwhelming mandate, there was no need for niceties when dealing with the city halls of the province.
Eleven years later, in the twilight of their turn at government, the Liberals renew their vow of poverty. Bill Bennett, the out-again in-again cabinet minister now serving as minister of communities and other stuff, is uncharacteristically diplomatic in his messaging.
“We don’t have a lot of money at this point,” he told a Daily News reporter earlier this week.
Lake is onside with Bennett. “I don’t think it’s surprising to anybody that the cupboard is pretty bare these days,” he told me.
In 2001, the Liberals could turn from that cupboard and point the finger at the NDP. Who do they point it at now?
CONSERVATIVE WATCH: The hunt for a couple of Conservative candidates to run in Kamloops quietly continues. Former councillor Peter Sharp confesses he’s considering seeking the nomination in Kamloops South.
That’s as much as I’m able to report, as Sharp is adamant he hasn’t made up his mind and isn’t going to be rushed into it.