Last week I attended the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) for the second time. UBCM is an annual gathering of locally elected officials from all over BC – mayors, councilors, and area directors – all hoping to achieve as much as they can for their communities and for the province in 5 intense days.
UBCM has many aspects to it – there are workshops, panels, plenary sessions, resolution sessions, ministerial meetings, speeches, lunches, and receptions – all of which offer the possibility for serendipitous meetings with the people who are in a position to help with issues or dreams that you have for your community.
For me, it’s a non-stop lobbying session for Shawnigan. Here are a few highlights.
On Monday, I attended a session on forestry practices in BC, based on a survey conducted by UBCM. The results of the survey showed consistent concerns and issues from around the province, with 85% of respondents expressing that they do not feel that there is adequate consultation of local communities around forestry practices. We have a significant amount of forestry land in Shawnigan, and I have heard many concerns from residents that echo this sentiment, and in particular concerns about impacts to water quality from logging in our watershed. I raised these concerns with the assembled panel, which included BC’s chief forester and several FLNRO employees. It was interesting to see consistency from local governments around the province on this issue, and the ultimate question from the session was, “How does local government get recognized as a legitimate force that actually knows what’s needed in our communities.” It was good to see representatives of the timber companies on hand, particularly Timberwest, and I appreciated the thoughtful discussion all around.
On Monday evening I went to the Forest Futures event, where we heard about the significant loss of old growth on Vancouver Island. On Tuesday I spoke at a rally for old growth, which was a way to raise awareness about a resolution that came to UBCM on Wednesday, which called for the protection of old growth forest on the island. The resolution made it to the floor, and was passed with a strong majority.
Meetings with ministers are an important component of UBCM – an opportunity for local government representatives to speak directly with ministers about concerns or visions they have for their communities. On Tuesday morning, we had a meeting with Minister Polak, attended by Chair Lefebure and four CVRD directors. I raised our ongoing concerns about the contaminated landfill site in our watershed, including the non-compliance issues identified by Ministry of Environment. Minister Polak’s responses were the same as they have ever been. I didn’t expect much more, but at the same time I think it is important that we continue to convey our deep disappointment with the provincial government on this issue.
On Tuesday afternoon, there was a session called “Soil Movement: Contamination and Invasive Species”. Ministry of Environment staff reported on their proposals for addressing these challenges. CVRD had already formally submitted a report identifying our concerns with the proposed changes to the rules and regulations around the movement of contaminated soil in BC, and I reiterated these to the panel and had a follow-up conversation with MoE staffer Kerri Skelly.
On Wednesday morning we heard a keynote speech from Dr Samantha Nutt, who founded the charity War Child. She was one of the most inspiring speakers I’ve heard in a very long time, and she had all of us riveted as she told us her “why”: stories of children living in war-torn regions who suffer in ways that none of us ever want to imagine. Then she brought it home. In the areas where mining is happening in regions of war-torn Africa, and in particular the mining of coltan (a conductive mineral that all of us have in our phones and computers), the incidences of violent rape are clustered around those mines, which are often controlled by warlords. The abuse of the mine workers (who are often children) translates to abuse of the girls and women who live in those regions. Dr Nutt reminded all of us that working for positive change is necessary in this world that is so replete with injustice.
On Wednesday afternoon I attended the “Panel on Responsible Resource Development”, which included Ministers Polak, Bennett, Coleman, Letnick, and Thomson. As I did the year before, I asked the ministers to do a review of the professional reliance model, given what we have seen play out in Shawnigan. And just like last year, they dodged the question. Afterwards, the mayor and councillors from Spallumcheen asked to speak with me – they have had similarly frustrating experiences with MoE, and were keen to discuss our shared issues.
Thursday morning I met with Line Roberts from Island Coastal Economic Trust to discuss potential economic opportunities for Shawnigan, and then it was back to the resolutions session, where we debated and endorsed a number of interesting proposals from local governments all over the province.
By this point, after four 15-hour days, I was starting to lose my voice. Fortunately, I wasn’t too hoarse on Friday morning to speak to the resolution brought forward by CVRD to call for a review of professional reliance in BC – I shared with the assembled delegates our four-year nightmare in Shawnigan, and the blatant conflicts of interest that have underpinned the entire process that has resulted in a contaminated landfill in our watershed. The resolution got resounding support, and will be sent to the provincial government along with all of the other endorsed resolutions of this year’s UBCM.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to attend UBCM each year, and to be there as a champion for Shawnigan. I am hoping to see some extraordinarily positive developments emerge from some contacts and conversations at this year’s conference – as things develop, I will keep everyone posted. I have returned home exhausted but optimistic, and excited for the incredible future we have as a community.
(I will be posting videos of my speeches soon – stay tuned!)