Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen directors and Bill Newell, Chief Administration Officer (CAO) are attending the 2014 Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention this week. The UBCM convention is the venue each year where local governments elected officials get the opportunity to meet with provincial ministers regarding local issues.
The regional district is interested in building a sustainable community and with this objective in mind, met with Minister Bond of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training to discuss assistance with the development of a “cycling precinct” for the South Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys to promote sport tourism.
CAO Newell reported that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, through their Bike BC Program, has a cycling infrastructure partnership program the regional district might be eligible for.
The grant could potentially provide up to $100,000 if eligibility requirements are met.
Regional District Directors and CAO also had the opportunity to meet with Minister Stephen Thomson of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to discuss Community Forests. “The regional district is a partner in three Community Forests Corporation in the Similkameen Valley and we were able to discuss our concerns about the debilitating impact of the pine beetle and the spruce beetle on our harvest in our forest license areas, and have submitted a request to expand the license to more profitable areas,” noted Newell.
Also attending the UBCM is Area “G” Director Angelique Wood, who reported her work at the convention this week as electoral area director and Southern Interior Local Government Association second vice chair. The following is a summary of her meetings to date.
Minister of Health, Terry Lake
As SILGA representatives we take the messages of the local governments in the Southern Interior and speak with a united voice asking for the things we need in common. Throughout the province, the issues of doctor recruitment and retention are an ongoing challenge, particularly in smaller communities. Add to this an emphasis on trades training for 2022 in our high schools and we are not encouraging our young people to consider careers in medicine. Minister Lake agreed that a “road show” with younger doctors talking about their experiences could encourage students to consider medical careers could be an effective tool for students to imagine the possibilities and as a group, we offered to work with the province to deliver such an initiative to our interior communities. Minister Lake also announced a series of grants to develop age-friendly communities, with a late October application deadline.
Minister of Highways, Todd Stone
An ongoing complaint throughout our province is the disappearing road lines which do not last a season and make driving a challenge, particularly in bad weather. Unfortunately the provincial government is mandated by the federal government to use ecologically safe paints in order to prevent the environmental degradation which happens with the longer lasting paints. We were assured that the province continues to work to try new strategies and this year the lines were getting painted three weeks earlier than usual in a bid to make the roads safer, sooner.
I was also privileged to join the Mayor’s Coalition for Highway #3, a group representing every municipality from Princeton to the Alberta border. This group has consistently brought forward a few points about the Crow’s Nest highway which they feel need to be addressed. The group was very well received by the premier, Minister Stone and Minister Bond. The main requests were for better signage and a tourism “branding” strategy which would identify for people the beauty and charm of Highway 3. It is well understood that an increase of traffic to highway #3 will lead to economic development opportunities for every community along this route.
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson
I met with Steve Thomson and his staff on two occasions, along with Area “B” Director Bush and Mayor Bauer.
We met first to talk about our Lower Similkameen Community Forest and the limited supply of economically viable timber within our Timber Supply Area (TSA). Much of the terrain around the Similkameen requires cable harvesting to be viable, and much of the remaining timber has been so ravaged by the pine and spruce beetle that it is “standing pulp”. Being some distance from the processing source means that the gas and harvesting costs are just at a break -even point which keeps our community forest from being profitable. The minister and staff want to see the community forest succeed and committed to working with our foresters to try to develop our opportunities.
Our other meeting with FLNRO was focussed on the Grist Mill, a heritage site housed within the ministry. The province has been trying to devolve its responsibilities while seeking an operator who will make it a self-sustaining site. We had our MLA Linda Larson’s support at the meeting where we asked that consideration be given to the present operator, Chris Mathieson, who has been instrumental in garnering community support and really turning the Grist Mill around. We pointed out that without a five year commitment, it is not possible for Mathieson to create rational business plans or even seek local partnerships or loans. Further, with the issues of deferred maintenance to the tune of $1.2 million, it is not reasonable to expect a commitment from anyone until an agreement is worked out as to the government’s role in this restoration work.
We presented a folder of letters of support and I encourage you to pen a letter or email to the Honourable Steve Thomson with your views at the addresses here: FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca by email or PO BOX 9049, STN PROV GOVT, VICTORIA, BC, V8W 9E2. Telephone: 250 387-6240
Movie Night: Keeping our Seniors Healthy and Here October 1: Doors Open 6:30pm Hedley Senior’s Center
Two short films and a brief presentation from the Lower Similkameen Community Services Society will be part of an ongoing conversation in rural B.C.: how do we keep ageing individuals in the communities of their choice, healthy, happy, and involved?
Lots of us grapple with this problem and we recognize that working together, and understanding the resources available, can help us keep our limited volunteer pool going strong. These films are an introduction to a lecture and workshop coming to Hedley on October 18/19 with the speaker Mike Lewis, author of The Resilience Imperative.
There have been a lot of issues to face our community this year. I am always happy to answer questions if you would like greater elaboration: firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-499-0503