Are local-government conventions worthwhile?
That’s a question people often ask, especially in the media, and one I’ve had some opinions on for many years. For B.C. members of City councils and regional districts, there are two major conventions each year — the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
I’ve felt for a long time that it’s worthwhile sending a few delegates to each, but not opening them up to every member of council or region every year. In recent years, the practice of both Kamloops council and the TNRD has been to put limits on the numbers who attend.
Last weekend, the annual FCM conference in Edmonton was attended by Coun. Arjun Singh from Kamloops, Mayor Neil Menard of Merritt, Coun. Marg Spina of Kamloops, and Directors Ken Gillis, Sally Watson and me from the TNRD. Mayor Menard and Coun. Spina were also representing the TNRD in this case.
TNRD CAO Sukh Gill also attended. The regional board now has a policy of drawing names from a hat to determine which directors go to FCM conventions over the four years of a term. So, with 26 directors, about a half dozen are eligible to go each year.
This year’s convention lasted from Thursday to Monday, though not much is done on the wrapup Monday, so many delegates depart at the end of the day Sunday, which was the case with most of us.
There are several aspects to the convention: workshops, regional meetings, political speeches, elections to the executive, resolutions, a 150-booth trade show, receptions and the all-important networking. As a bonus, you can’t help but do some bonding with your colleagues, too.
All in all, I remain of the opinion that FCM could be cut almost in half and still get the job done. Still, you do soak up quite a bit. I attended workshops on such things as community engagement, creating desirable neighbourhoods, getting the message out to residents, and talked with Canada Post reps about community mailboxes, chatted with a rep from a company about biosolid technology, and so on.
And, some important resolutions were passed. One called upon the federal government to work with other countries at the Climate Change Convention in Paris to develop an international treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Another asked the federal government to hold a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls and to support a national round table.
Another urged all governments to work on fixing Canada’s housing crunch. One of B.C. interest involved the English Bay oil spill in April — it called for a comprehensive emergency response plan for marine oil spills.
And, the FCM delegates endorsed a call for a federal leaders’ debate on municipal issues before the upcoming federal election.
In my view, resolutions are where the really important work gets done, because they flow through to senior governments and have a record of influencing government policy.
In September, UBCM will hold its annual convention, a sort of provincial version of the FCM. Debate on the many resolutions at that gathering can get hot and heavy, and deal with issues closer to home. That one also provides opportunities for local councils and regional boards to meet with cabinet ministers on issues specific to their communities.