NEWS: Seeking Solutions for Municipalities

By Think City Staff

It’s been ten years since the last leadership change in Victoria, yet BC’s municipalities face many of the same problems that were around a decade ago. In some cases, these problems have only gotten worse.

Homelessness has risen. The infrastructure deficit has grown. Residential property taxes and related fees are rising at an unsustainable rate. Public participation in civic life has declined.

Citizens and their local councils are well aware of the difficulties they collectively face, but, for the most part, are powerless to do anything about them. Under our nineteenth century federal constitution, BC’s local governments are still creatures of the province.

Today, as in 1867, the municipal buck stops on the Premier’s desk. That’s why Think City is asking the six declared candidates for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party for their views on specific democratic and economic reforms they would make at the local level should they win the top spot at their party’s convention on Feb. 26.

Take for example the 2008 civic elections. Across the province, municipalities were plagued by numerous cases of electoral violations, unethical conduct and maladministration during the last round of civic elections. Some of these cases resulted in police investigations, inquiries, and legal challenges.

In addition to these specific concerns, BC’s local elections continue to be marred every election cycle by remarkably low voter turnout. Many mayors and councils are elected by only a few per cent of citizens. In the province’s biggest city, Mayor Gregor Robertson received less than 17 per cent of eligible voters support.

When Think City surveyed nearly 3,700 British Columbians last year, a majority of citizens said they wanted the province to make major changes to how we finance and administer elections. From banning union and corporate donations to direct votes for regional representatives, from giving local governments the power to reform their own electoral systems to setting campaign donor and spending limits, a majority of BC’s citizens said they wanted significant changes made to the how we conduct municipal elections.

Economically, the situation is dire for many of BC’s local governments. In Think City’s Local Prosperity report released last November, authors James Fletcher and Doug McArthur warn that “our municipalities have seen a steady erosion of services, an unsustainable increase in property taxes and user charges, and a growing infrastructure deficit as necessary projects are deferred.”

The province’s current model for financing local governments is simply not doing the job. New legislative tools are needed to give BC’s municipalities the means to both raise revenues and develop their local economies.

If no changes are made, British Columbians will continue to suffer “higher housing costs, reduced disposable income, a less competitive business environment, higher unemployment, increased traffic congestion and longer commutes, a lower standard of public services, and a slow erosion of our quality of life,” say Fletcher and McArthur.

Many municipalities are struggling to maintain their aging bridges, sewers, community centres and water systems. How are they going to afford the infrastructure needed in a growing province?

What aid will Victoria provide to rural towns coping with declining resource sectors and industrial tax revolts?

When is BC going to take big money out of local elections and restore the public’s faith in how local politicians are elected?

These are the kinds of questions that Think City wants to the BC Liberal leadership candidates to answer. The results of the questionnaire will be published on Feb. 24 and posted on our web site here.

To view the questions, please click here. Think City will also administer the same survey to the leadership candidates for the BC New Democratic Party in March.

My perception of Vancouver's dilema

I'm always suspicious when I read these type of emails that are completely negative. That says partisan politics. I don't have trouble with the Liberals in general, nor NDP nor some of the concerns of the other parties - I favour a party that supports my overall view and then want to work with them to improve it. My greatest concern with our beautiful city is the structure of how income is received/generated overall. Their hands seem to be tied in generating it outside the usual fees and taxes format. To me, the City is like the baby in terms of yearly available funds, the Province the child and Federally the parent that holds the key to the vault. What funds will daddy transfer to the Province this year, what will the city get and who makes the choice and what is it based upon - is it the amount of funds generated in Canada overall or based on the federal government's biased choice of asset investments and expenditures like the Military, large number of their additional staff and pet projects or politically motivated funds to provinces/cities that favour their view of religion or political party. In turn, cut funds to programs they don't support. In the grand scheme of it all, how is it that our city sees no difference financially during lean or prosperous years unless we get a parcel of funds for a specific project. How can a city like Vancouver that's known world wide become vibrant, move ahead and make future plans with this archaic method of funding. Once we resolve this, we can begin to plan, make changes and see the results.

To my perception, It is no

To my perception, It is no wonder things in the province is getting worse. The government wants to control municipalities while passing off the funding to them and the people of British Columbia. and giving bonus's to companies for making millions! Changing the tax structure so ordinary people trying to make a living have to subsidize business. They tell us this will help employment, when,? It hasn't happened yet and there is no guarantee it ever will. Greed and profit drive business so they should be paying their fair share of the taxes. It is a great pity we have such a polarized Legislature. I have no trust in the liberals, I have some problems with the NDP . I lean towards the GREEN PARTY yet think I would lose my vote. I said this to a friend one day in the last election, he replied " You have to give your voice". A lot of people think like I do, I love this great province it is not just a province of corporations, It is a province of people, young, old, rich and poor and we all deserve to have our voice heard be it only on the ballot sheet at election time.

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