Pubdate: Mon, 25 Sep 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Frances Bula
Page: S1


Councillors and mayors will have first chance to suss out party's
stand on issues such as marijuana legalization at annual convention

B. C.'s mayors and councillors are pouring into Vancouver this week
with one main goal at their annual convention - to get a handle on
what changes the new NDP government will be bringing them.

The more than 1,800 attendees - a higher than usual number - are
looking for signs of what Premier John Horgan's team will do about the
impending explosion of retail marijuana, housing and mental health,
drug and overdose issues, say councillors on the executive of the
Union of B.C. Municipalities.

"This is the first opportunity for many mayors and councillors to meet
these ministers for the first time," Surrey Councillor Bruce Hayne

What he's hearing from others like him is that they are waiting for
answers to some overwhelming problems that weren't dealt with by the
previous Liberal government.

"When it comes to mental health and addictions, municipalities are
just being slammed right now. The fire-service calls for every
overdose, it's putting incredible financial strain on municipalities,"
Mr. Hayne said.

"And the other one that's putting incredible strain is marijuana
legalization. It's 10 months out and we have no idea what our retail-
distribution model is going to be and whether municipalities will have
a say."

The UBCM has three committees examining the issue, but there's no
consensus at this point among the cities, villages and towns about
what model would work best for marijuana sales.

The one thing they have been clear on is that they need financial help
to monitor the new industry.

Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang, a long-time NDP member, said the
mood going into the convention is "hopefulness and excitement," as
people look for some action on those and other issues.

Although the NDP have made a number of announcements about new
initiatives already, Mr. Jang said this should allow everyone to focus
on the big problems such as marijuana regulation, softwood-lumber
issues and more.

The program for the week-long convention, which will be attended by
local-government politicians and bureaucrats, illustrates the topics
that are preoccupying members of those groups.

There are several sessions on housing, homelessness, the problem of
short-term vacation rentals and their impact on local rentals. Both
councillors said members of the new government have reached out to
city politicians already, indicating a willingness to work with them.

That is a relief, said Mr. Hayne, who described the Liberal attitude
as one that focused on scrutinizing municipalities for overspending
rather than working with them on understanding the real cost drivers
in their budgets and looking for new revenue models.

The union of municipalities has been trying to get the government to
talk for years about a different model of revenue sharing, one that
would provide more consistent funding.

"Until now, it has been at the pleasure of the provincial government.
It's been very hit and miss," Mr. Hayne said.

The UBCM convention has always been a forum for provincial politicians
to tap into the major concerns in the province's 161 cities, towns and
villages, and to connect with local politicians directly.

In the years Gordon Campbell was premier, he often used the convention
as the occasion to make a major announcement that municipal
politicians would like.

Former premier Christy Clark did less of that and, in fact, provoked a
certain amount of grumbling with her announcements instead about new
initiatives, such as creating a municipal auditor-general to oversee
city spending.

One topic of concern at the convention appears to be bad behaviour at
councils. There is one session for convention attendees on "Uncivil
Civic Engagement."

As well, there is a session on a policy paper dedicated to the topic
of "responsible conduct," the result of concerns about "the issue of
questionable conduct by local government elected officials."

Reports of council feuds and complaints of bullying have erupted in
the last couple of years in Nanaimo, White Rock and Quesnel.
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