NCLGA at UBCM: Excellence in Action
'Excellence In Action' seemed a fitting theme to the UBCM convention this year. With over 1600 registered delegates, 173 resolutions, multiple venues and innumerable meetings (both formal and informal), a lot was jam-packed into the short, four-day convention. Our biggest thank you goes to Gary MacIsaac and his fantastic team for putting together such a seamless, well-organized and fruitful event.
Some highlights of the NCLGA’s time in Vancouver include several high-level meetings we had around some very important regional issues. More on that below.
Ministry of Small Business and Red-Tape Reduction: Our meeting with Minister Oakes, her Deputy Minister and Assistant Deputy Minister was fantastic. We discussed ways in which our members can work closely with her Ministry to help reduce local government red tape and increase the relevance and strength of small businesses in our region. We also spoke at length on the issue of broadband redundancy and the importance of internet services for entrepreneurs and small business owners. This brand new Ministry is definitely poised to help make some progressive and meaningful changes, and we are delighted to see a fellow northerner leading it. As everyone knows, one of the key ingredients to a robust future for northern communities is a diverse economy. Joel McKay, representing Northern Development, also attended the meeting to inform the conversation.
Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services: For this meeting, we were very glad to have Janine North, CEO of Northern Development with us. Minister Virk was accompanied by two representatives from Network BC, which made for a very robust discussion. In essence, some areas in central and northern BC fall well below the provincial average when it comes to internet connectivity. Some communities don’t have any internet service, while some have poor service. Regionally, however, our biggest concern isn’t just the quality or existance of service, but redundancy. Broadband service to North Central BC follows a single route (along telephone poles) leaving us very vulnerable to damaged lines and costly impediments to emergency and health services, industry, government, etc. Having a second line of broadband cable travelling into the region would end this vulnerability. It would also increase our capacity to attract new business, provide better educational and health services and connect many First Nations communities who currently have no service. Minister Virk and his team see a lot of progress on this front moving forward, and we are already making follow-up arrangements to work with his Ministry in the coming months.
Agricultural Land Commission: Red flags went up when it was discovered that foreign companies were buying farm land in northern BC and planting trees on that land to reach their carbon offset targets. Obviously, the idea of reducing carbon emissions is generally good. But we have some serious issues around using agricultural land to grow non-food bearing trees. The controversy around agricultural land use has morphed into an issue of ownership. We are discovering that foreign companies and even foreign governments are buying agricultural land in BC for a variety of uses (in many cases to the detriment of BC farmers and consumers). Unfortunately, British Columbia is one of the last jurisdictions in Canada that doesn’t have any rules governing foreign ownership of agricultural land.
Our time with Frank Leonard, Chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, was not as fruitful as we had hoped. As a further difficulty, we have met with Minister Letnick, who indicated that he is waiting for recommendations on the issue from Frank Leonard. But when we met with Frank Leonard, it was implied he takes direction from Minister Letnik. Regardless of our situation, we were grateful for both meetings, and we continue to be committed to helping find a successful solution to the problem of foreign ownership in BC. And we are never confused about where our directions come from -- our members!
Social Development and Social Innovation: Gold medals and world records aside, anyone who has been in a meeting with Minister Stillwell knows that her energy and enthusiasm are infectious. For this meeting we had Nancy Harris with us. Nancy works with Spinal Cord Injury BC and spearheaded “Measuring Up the North,” which helped establish a legacy of accessibility committees in many of our member communities. There is a lot of distance between where we are and where we can be when it comes to the issue of accessibility, but we are confident that through collaboration and information sharing we will get there quickly. Universal accessibility isn’t something that takes a lot of effort, and it doesn’t even cost a lot of money (relatively). It is fundamentally a lot of small changes (literally from the door knobs we install to our employment principles).
More info on Minister Stillwell’s “Accessibility 2024 Initiative" can be found here.
We were also able meet with staff from the Premier’s Office, industry reps and several NGOs. And from the groundbreaking meeting between the Province and the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance to the election of 6 Northerners to the UBCM Board, NCLGA members seemed to fair quite well in Vancouver this year.
Our association accounted for 26 of the 173 resolutions at this years AGM. Although some very slight amendments were made, all 26 resolutions were endorsed. To view the entire list of resolutions, please visit: http://www.ubcm.ca/assets/Resolutions~and~Policy/Resolutions/Resolutions%20Decisions%202015.pdf
Also, a heartfelt congratulations goes out to all seven members of the UBCM Executive from our association's area. We look forward to the great work you'll be doing!
In short, our time at UBCM left us feeling optimistic for the year ahead. We look forward to reconvening in Victoria in 2016!