General · 25th September 2013
Well we are officially into the fall season and I am just back from the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Vancouver. This was the most intense and productive convention that we have had in years. I met with more Ministers and ministries than I could have ever hoped for and even with the Premier. The following will be a bit of an account of whom I met with and the topics we discussed and my assessment of what progress was made.
I worked his topic into every meeting I had to show the essential nature of the service and how each Cabinet member needs to support our actions to make the system affordable for our communities. I felt it necessary to keep pounding this one home and I think it actually did some good.
The first major meeting of the week was to be with the Minister of Transportation and the Premier. The group I was a part of, the Coastal Regional District Chairs, had a long pre-meeting to get our "script" fine tuned for the Minister and the Premier. After the actual meeting we had another long meeting to de-brief and plan our actions post-UBCM.
The meeting went very well with the usual introductions and chatter about government priorities and lack of funds. We certainly were prepared for all of that and we pushed the UBCM resolution for ferries regarding putting ferries into highways, that passed unanimously (B 12 if you look it up online). We stressed that this is the only way that they will ever make the system sustainable and affordable and the only way to increase economic development and sustain our populations on the islands, including Vancouver Island. We have, as one of our members, the representative from Metro Vancouver, formerly called the Greater Vancouver Regional District. This is an incredible boon to our cause since they have the major population in the province and support us 100%. We certainly stressed the economic aspects of the communities we represent and the hardship that is being placed on each and everyone of them. In the end, the Premier looked me in the eye and asked, "What would you do, Jim?". That was an easy question to answer. I slid a copy of the resolution over to her (she sat right adjacent to me at the end of the table) and said, "This is the only way you can solve the problem." And then I reiterated the absolute need to treat the ferry system equitably as it is part of the terrestrial component of highways, and to make the ferry system part of the overall highways system and fund it accordingly.
The text of what I read to her as the only solution was the following: "Therefore be it resolved that the provincial government recognize the coastal ferry services as essential extensions of our provincial public highway system and ensure that ferry fares are reduced and core service levels are maintained at current service levels until such time as the provincial government implements legislation that recognizes our coastal ferry services as essential extensions of our public highways system and creates equity between B.C.'s terrestrial and marine, interior and coast highway systems." She was, surprisingly, somewhat receptive and announced that she is assigning the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transportation with the task of meeting immediately with our group to try and come to a solution. His name is Jordan Sturdy and he is not only an MLA, but also the Mayor of Pemberton. So our group has our work cut out for us.
My meetings with the Ministry of Transportation were incredibly successful and to my surprise one of the Assistant Deputy Ministers was the same one who came to Quadra and toured the Kanish View Estates Road with me and days later ended an 18 year battle to get that road accepted into the Highways inventory for operations and maintenance.
We discussed the dismal condition of the roads on Quadra Island and the outer islands and of course lack of funding was what I was given as the reason. We did not stop the conversation there and I pushed very hard for some very simple but essential services to be funded so that Emcon can do the work we need to have happen. First on the list was line painting for all of the roads. Paving of most of the roads on the south end and a few of the main arteries in the northern neighbourhoods was also discussed. Ongoing maintenance of potholes, shoulders, ditching and brushing were also front and centre.
And the big ticket item was the section of road from Rebecca Spit turn off to Heriot Bay. I have pushed for a complete rebuild with usable shoulders for cyclists, pedestrians and people with strollers. I put this to them as a major safety issue and cited all of the horror stories I was aware of.
They agreed to get their engineers up to the area immediately and to go from there to implement a solution that meets our needs. I was amazed at the fact that they were totally briefed on the issue from previous meetings that I had had with the staff from the Courtenay office. Those staff have been advocating in their own way on our behalf, being careful to not be "political". That is my job as far as they are concerned. So the ground work is done and I have every confidence that the staff whom I met with will follow through with what needs to be done. In fact, the Regional Manager said that my visit with him at UBCM has made the issue of Heriot Bay Road a "real" issue and a high priority and has put a face to the issue. He explained that he has the responsibility for the entire south coast, lower mainland and Vancouver Island and must prioritize all work and we have made it onto the list.
Respect for Local Government Zoning
This was another one that was pounded home in every meeting with every Minster I spoke with: sometimes in private meetings and sometimes in public forums. It was wonderful to say the same thing over and over in a different way with a different slant tailored to the particular situation each time I was able to bring it up.
My meeting with our Minister for Community Development, Sport and Culture allowed me to present the full pitch as it did with the Minister for Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO). He is the one ultimately in charge of the issuance of tenure applications. My thrust was mainly to do with the lack of respect for local government jurisdiction over land use planning and zoning and how premature issuance of tenure applications is causing us incredible difficulty in general. Minister Steve Thompson (FLNRO) committed to coming to Quadra to have a discussion of this very issue and how we can come to agreement on how to proceed in the future.
I was able to bring this up with the Minister for Agriculture, Pat Finn, and also work in the ferry issue regarding the shipping of our incredible seafood products to world-wide markets (and even to our convention!). He was very agreeable that we need to ensure that the markets are not hindered by impediments such as the ferry.
With all of the work that has been done by the tour operators regarding the conflicts in forestry and eco-tourism, I felt it was a good opportunity for me to bring that issue up over and over with any Minister that had anything to do with the topic. My comments were not anti-forestry in any way, but pro-tourism and were tailored to trying to find a compromise that works for both industries. Eco-torism has taken off in this area for both First Nations and non-first nations operators. There is a real need to solve the impasse that we seem to be in with the industrial forest companies. Once again, I did get commitment to take another look at this to try and make things work.
Park purchase of Merrill Ring lands
It was a great honour to be able to approach the two Ministers that are currently key to this purchase: the Minister of Environment and Parks and our Minister for local government. As you may be well aware, I was able to convince our staff and Board to find a way to contribute $100,000.00 from our Parks reserve funds to this purchase. There is a glitch, as usual, due to legislation. However, we do have a solution and it requires a Ministerial Order from our Minister. So, in my meeting with the Minister of Environment I stressed the need for her to support our Minster for local government in that issuance of a Ministerial Order. She committed to absolutely support her. Then when I met with our Minister, who has to sign the Order, she also expressed support and gave us the details of what needed doing in order to get that Order. I talked with our CAO, Russ Hotsenpiller, immediately after that meeting with the Minister and he put his staff in motion to write the necessary letters and they were out the same day! So, now I just need to see if she signed the Order. She is well aware of the urgency.
Connectivity (Internet and cell)
I had two official meetings with both the Minister and the Ministry, along with GoBC and NetWorkBC, both part of the Ministry responsible for internet and cell services. Of course there are no programs immediately accessible according to the Ministry, but they strongly encouraged me to lobby the Minister to get more money into programs. So, that is what I did. We had a very good meeting and as it turns out, they are all in close touch with the same people that I have been dealing with over the past few years regarding improvements to our islands. Most of the work will now happen behind the scenes and they were very glad that I have a good relationship with Telus.
Official Opposition meetings
I met with a large group of the Opposition MLA's and discussed most of what I had met with the government about. It is incumbent on me to ensure that they are aware of the issues that concern us in our areas. They are fully briefed on the concerns and the suggested solutions. I was very pleased with their attention and interest and I did ask them to work collaboratively with government to come to solutions.
Resolutions of interest dealt with at the convention
B 12: Coastal Ferries: Fiscal Fairness and Long Term Strategy (contained a bit more detail then what I read the Premier, but essentially the same and unanimously passed by the convention!)
B 14: Review of Road Maintenance Standards
B 30: Derelict and Abandoned Vessels
B 34: Provincial Communication with Local Govt. Regarding Licenses and Permits (the topic of many of my conversations with Ministers and ministries. This is a major issue province wide)
B 72: Genetically Engineered Plants and Animals (basically a prohibition on these organisms and making BC a GE Free Zone)
B 80: Mineral Tenure Act Modernization (this is an issue that frustrates all local govt.'s as they have no control over tenures at this time and community wishes do not matter. This one just sailed through!)
B 82: Support for BC Association of Agricultural Fairs and Exhibitions ( a great one for our fall fair organizers)
B 111: Regulation of Foreign Ownership of Farmland (ensuring a food supply for us at home and protection of our agricultural land)
B 121: Reinstating Riverview ( this one was heavily debated and I was pleased to actually save the resolution from defeat by eliminating one word as an amendment, that did not change the basic intent but satisfied the opposition)
This is a sampling of the types of issues that are dealt with at UBCM. These resolutions are now UBCM policy and the Executive must do what it can to advance them both provincially and where necessary, federally. There were 143 resolutions and we finished all but a few, which are then referred to the Executive to deal with on our behalf. I was very pleased that I was able to attend almost every minute of the sessions in spite of the rest of my time being allocated to meetings with Ministers and ministries. You can view the entire book of resolutions at ubcm.ca
Long Service Award
Last but not least, I received my 25 Year Long Service award, given by the UBCM to local government elected officials. This is quite an honour for me and it is a great honour to continue to represent you: then, now and into the future at the local, provincial and federal levels. I look forward to the next few years of serving you. (see the press release elsewhere regarding this award)
Had enough? I think it is time to stop. Feel free to call me between the hours of 8:30 am and 7:00 pm, Monday through Friday (please, not on weekends, folks!) at 285-3355, or you can fax me at 285-3533 or you can email me anytime at jimabramxplornet.ca or by mail at Box 278 in the Cove, V0P 1N0... Lots of choices.
Please do not use my residential phone number for SRD calls. All business calls should be on 285-3355. Many thanks!
Jim Abram Director,
Discovery Islands - Mainland Inlets (Area C), SRD