Hundreds of officials from local and senior levels of government gathered in Vancouver last week for the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention, giving several RMOW councillors a first-time look at the annual conference before Whistler hosts the five-day event next year.
One of the more hotly debated issues at this year’s conference, attended by more than 2,000 delegates, was financing for municipalities. A policy paper was presented that provided long-term recommendations for strengthening B.C.’s local government finance system, which was ultimately endorsed. The paper proposes gradually shifting away from municipalities’ reliance on property tax in light of increasing infrastructure and service funding demands.
“There was a lot of debate about it and flaws that were pointed out, like the fundamental issue being the province doesn’t have a lot of money right now anyway, so why would they at all think about giving the share of the revenues they collect to municipalities?” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “These are some big threshold issues, but it was endorsed as a very good first step in dealing with the issue.”
Whistler officials also met with ministers to discuss the province’s Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding program, which provides money to eligible resort economies to help boost B.C.’s tourism sector. Whistler, along with three other resort municipalities, made a presentation to Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond and Minister of State for Small Business Naomi Yamamoto, outlining the benefits of the program.
“It’s new portfolios for them, and both of them made a point of saying to me after the presentations were over that they were very impressed, and we informed them of the importance of the RMI monies not just for Whistler, but all 14 of the resort municipalities,” Wilhelm-Morden said.
With a successful test run of a festival-style liquor license at the post-event party for GranFondo Whistler earlier this month, Wilhelm-Morden met informally with B.C.’s Attorney General Suzanne Anton at the conference to discuss the province’s liquor laws.
“(The minister) knew all about the GranFondo experiment and asked me how it went. We had a conversation that lasted maybe 10 minutes about the liquor laws and the proposed changes to them, the Whistler experience and so on. She said she was very much looking forward to receiving Whistler’s submission,” Wilhelm-Morden said.
With the province expected to open dialogue on liquor reform this fall, RMOW staff is currently preparing a submission to B.C. officials providing feedback from GranFondo. This comes on the heels of the 2012 UBCM Convention, where a resolution sponsored by the municipalities of Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton was endorsed allowing for the open consumption of alcohol in fenced-off areas in view of minors at approved events.
With a surge in young families in the resort in recent years, Whistler’s mayor attended a seminar last Thursday (Sept. 19) on daycare by Sharon Gregson of Coalition of Child Care Advocates BC, and Lynell Anderson from the UBC research network, Human Early Learning Partnership. The presentation looked at ways to address the lack of affordable childcare in B.C., and proposed a plan that would deliver daycare services for just $10 a day per child.
“Effectively the plan (proposes) moving childcare into the Ministry of Education and having it looked at as part of educating our children … and it would have economic ramifications like increasing productivity of women and so on,” said Wilhelm-Morden, who has invited the presenters to the resort to outline their plan for council. “Here in Whistler we can assist with achieving that goal if council agrees by passing resolutions, endorsing the plan and then lobbying the provincial government accordingly.”
While only the mayor, Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey and two councillors attended UBCM in 2012, Whistler’s entire council was present for the political summit this year, at a cost of nearly $14,000 for registration and accommodation.
For first-time attendee Coun. Roger McCarthy, the experience was an illuminating one, despite having to leave the conference early to attend to a family matter.
“The thing I appreciated the most was the process, and understanding that we’re just a cog in the wheel, a cog in a machine that involves three levels of government and that we’re only one of them,” he said. “There was a lot of good trading of information and some really good issues discussed. For the time that I spent there I thought it was quite informative, and I’m not a guy that likes to sit in meetings.”
The UBCM Convention concluded Friday (Sept. 20).
Whistler hosts the 2014 convention, scheduled for Sept. 22 to 26, at the Whistler Conference Centre.