This year’s UBCM convention theme is “in conversation”; elected officials in local government from all over B.C. have gathered under one roof to engage, to dialogue, to discuss and to learn. Throughout our communities, many emerging issues have inspired passionate feelings from our friends and families, which has certainly been translated into heated debate at this convention.
The convention program has been divided into debate sessions, educational workshops and clinics, resolution sessions and panel discussions with our various provincial ministers. In addition, I have been able to attend a number of meetings with ministers in order to support our community’s calls for increases in funding for health care for both the ER in Princeton and the building addition in Penticton.
For me, as a newly elected official, the access to information provided by these sessions has been invaluable. Many of the speakers have provided insights and innovative solutions to the trying times we are in, and during debate it has often been clear that both sides of each argument have merit worthy of consideration.
Below is a recap of the activities I’ve taken part in since Monday morning, with a few of the most salient points made at each presentation:
Monday, September 24
Study Session: Marijuana Decriminalization Debate
This session started with a panel of speakers: two worked in law enforcement, one was a doctor, one was a sociologist. First of all, there was complete agreement by all the speakers that marijuana use by minors was harmful and not to be encouraged. There are numerous reports which show that developing minds are adversely affected by chronic pot smoking, and that an addiction to marijuana, like alcohol and tobacco, is harmful to human health.
Most participants did not care if adults wanted to smoke pot, whether they personally voted “for” or “against” decriminalization. It was clear that there is a huge distinction for most between the growing of marijuana for personal use and the presence of organized crime in our communities.
Decriminalization could redirect dollars which are currently spent enforcing small-scale drug busts of young offenders into education and prevention.
Arresting and jailing young offenders essentially puts them into “gang school” (jail) during their formative years.
Our current “prohibition” stance causes the black market and fascination- think back to Al Capone’s gun-running days…
Regulation could create a safe supply for those who will use the drug no matter what.
A well considered regulatory scheme could become a source of revenue to local governments.
With our current lack of regulation, municipalities are being challenged to provide safety around issues like fire hazards, moulds, building violations- with decriminalization, acceptable standards could be entrenched and enforced.
With a crumbling economy, one of B.C.’s best-valued commodities should be supported in order to keep our communities afloat.
Organized crime uses pot as a commodity to trade for guns and coke; this would increase with decriminalization.
Possession charges are currently one of the only tools which law enforcement has at its disposal in order to make our communities safe.
No amount of regulation will prevent organized crime from continuing to profit and they are not likely to submit any taxes.
Addiction to marijuana is increasing in our school-age kids and should not be encouraged.
Unless marijuana is decriminalized world-wide, the “safe haven” provided by decriminalization would increase the presence of organized crime in our communities.
This debate was scheduled in order that attendees could consider the different sides of this issue in anticipation of the resolution session later in the conference. On Wednesday September 26, a resolution was put forward to the UBCM membership for consideration, which asked for the decriminalization of marijuana. When it came to a vote, the membership was almost equally divided, with the resolution passing (the “pro” vote won) by a very slim margin (two per cent).
My “pro” vote came not without a struggle; I do see that we may be endangered by organized crime in our communities; on the other hand, there are many “mom and pop” growers who should be able to make a living without fear of incarceration. In B.C. it is unrealistic to imagine that marijuana use or growing will go away any time soon, it’s one of the things we are best known for.
Tuesday, September 25
7:30 a.m. Forum Clinic
BC Ideas: Solutions for Stronger Communities
This clinic offered a heads-up to a great new web-based tool for social innovation. It takes the best from web-based sharing (like Facebook) and venture capitalism (like Dragon’s Den) and puts them together in search of solutions coming directly out of our communities in order to deal with our social problems.
“BC Ideas” grew out of 2010 Legacies Now, with the idea that this web platform could be developed to pair philanthropy with great ideas, sort of a dating service for social innovation in our communities. One of the most promising things that is happening with B.C. Ideas is that people with entrepreneurial ideas are coming up with projects, many of which may need “tweaking” to really work. Because of the open format of the site, viewers can check out each other’s projects and ideas and build and improve the projects that work. The first run of this program had a very short turn around time, beginning in July and ending in September.
Now that the first intake has been completed, another will begin. The competition element to this program will be judged over the coming weeks, but Bruce Dewar, CEO for the project, says that the impressive scope of submissions has meant that the philanthropists are interested, and the organization has been granted more money to follow up with another round of solutions. His informal survey of participants to date has shown that many feel that they have benefitted from participating, whether they “win” or not. The suggestions of the larger community have been invaluable to the development of their ideas.
When I return to the Similkameen, I plan to give a power point presentation to our communities and would encourage anyone who thinks he or she has an idea that could lead to positive change to attend. I will explain in more detail how the program works and show you how to get started.
Tuesday, September 25
Meeting with Minister of Health, the Honourable Margaret McDiarmid
I went as support for Area “H” Director Brad Hope for his presentation on the ER closures at the Princeton Hospital. We are hopeful that as a retired GP from Trail, the minister will be aware of the challenges and the area we live in. She has promised a visit to our region which we look forward to.
Janice Perrino made a submission to the Health Minister regarding the expansion of the Ambulatory Care facility in Penticton, which was built to serve a population of 10,000 more than 50 years ago. Now that hospital serves a population of 90,000 which explains why patients are often found lining the hallways. We look forward to Minister McDiarmid touring this facility during her visit.
Tuesday, September 25
Electoral Area Director’s Forum
This forum began with a presentation by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI):
Most questions posed to MoTI were respecting roads falling into disrepair and/or nobody servicing or repairing them. The MoTI representative had to explain that in order to take care of our roads and resource roads, the province has a fixed budget: this means that increasing the numbers of roads cared for decreases the quality of all existing roads.
Then a presentation was made on the federal changes to our Riparian Area Regulation (RAR) and the use of Qualified Environmental Professionals (QEP’s) to do Environmental Assessments.
This deregulation and offloading of government oversight is very scary. Regulation by Department of Fisheries and Oceans, no matter how onerous it could be, did mean that fish bearing streams and waterways were protected. This, in turn, protects our drinking water supply. With these shifts in regulation we now see the “QEP”, hired by the developer, writing the recommendations to develop or not. Whose best interest do we think that QEP will satisfy? If he or she wants work they will obviously write the kind of report that supports development. Some call them biostitutes….
There was also a presentation by the Ministry of Community, Sport and Development which developed a regional district primer since there are so many things to learn about the legislation and regulations governing these large rural areas between municipalities. This document is aimed primarily at CAO’s who must administer staff and assist elected officials who, together, look over numerous small water systems, sewer systems, waste management, parks and recreation, libraries, community centers, trails, building, planning, and bylaw enforcement.
Tuesday, September 25
Community Poverty Reduction Strategies
This provincial policy session introduced UBCM members to an initiative which was introduced this year by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. A pilot program in five communities was begun this year to see if families would benefit from having a single “navigator” assigned to them to help guide them through the system, enabling them to access services available.
Mayors from these different communities had varying responses to the success of program. In the cases of communities with large First Nations populations, there was a lack of trust and an unwillingness to engage with the government program. Since many of these families have had negative experiences with governmental interference in their lives or those of their parents or grandparents, it is not surprising that they were less willing to engage than in some other places. One mayor, whose city includes a high number of immigrants, found that the program really helped her constituents, many new to Canada, and unfamiliar with what services might be available to them.
This initiative is seeking communities to add to the program; a diverse representation is encouraged in order to see if this targeted approach can have a profound effect on those wishing to get out of poverty.
In order to give fair coverage of all the subsequent sessions I have attended, I will stop now and write you a part two later.
Suffice it to say that there is an enormous amount of learning to be done at a conference like this one, and to simplify any of these complex issues which lie at the heart of the health and capacity of our communities would do a disservice to the many individuals who are working on all our behalf daily, with the intention of making our communities better places to live.
– Angelique Wood