Towns tackle modern problems

Politicians convention to see a range of issues raised.

VICTORIA – Local politicians are preparing for their annual convention, to be held Sept. 25-28 here in the provincial capital.

One of the first orders of business this year will be a vote to raise the dues paid by local governments to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, to cover rising travel costs for staff to serve on provincial committees. The plan is also to change the name to Union of B.C. Local Governments, to reflect the participation of regional districts and aboriginal communities.

So what do these committees and conferences accomplish? The UBCLG, as it will soon be known, is mainly a lobby group for local politicians to seek changes to federal and provincial laws to keep up with changing times.

The resolutions offer a snapshot of modern problems facing local governments. A major theme is public safety, and this year it is the Columbia Shuswap Regional District renewing a long-standing plea for more provincial policing money for rural communities.

Surrey has a resolution seeking better notice and control of a growing number of medical marijuana licences issued by Ottawa. Local fire and police departments end up dealing with licensed grow-ops that spring up quietly and create electrical hazards, or expand production beyond their licences as this stealth legalization continues.

Pitt Meadows, home to a Hells Angels clubhouse and drug-related crime familiar to most urban communities, wants B.C. to follow Alberta’s lead and give police authority to remove known gang members from bars and clubs. Gangs tend to adopt certain establishments, and there isn’t much the owners or police can do about it.

This year, the debate may go further. Metchosin is seeking support to call on Ottawa to decriminalize marijuana, ending a “failed policy which has cost millions of dollars in police, court, jail and social costs.” No chance of that under the Stephen Harper government, but it’s worthwhile to send the message.

Another long-shot demand, sparked by the abduction of three-year-old Kienan Hebert of Sparwood last year, is for Ottawa to make its sex offender registry public for convicted repeat offenders.

Ashcroft councillors want to give emergency services authority to deal with another modern hazard: hoarding. Yes folks, it’s more than just a show on TV that exposes a creepy side effect of our bloated North American consumer culture. The Ashcroft resolution notes that obsessively piling stuff to the rafters is a growing problem. And as with marijuana grow ops, “local governments have little or no authority to enforce compliance with health and safety standards when a building is owner occupied.”

Another First World problem is the “pocket dialing” of 9-1-1 by mobile phones. This is more than just a nuisance, because local emergency services are obliged to respond to every call they get. And mobile phones can’t be traced to their location with any precision, creating time-consuming searches that weaken response to real emergencies.

Other resolutions tackle complex and important issues, such as the effect of hydro development on municipal water supplies. But alas, most will be lost in the convention noise, overshadowed by political posturing over matters best left alone.

Last year’s convention featured the low comedy of delegates voting with wireless devices to condemn smart meters, after displaying their ignorance of the subject.

This year, in addition to factually challenged railing about oil tankers, there will be a tough stance taken against shark’s fin soup, which will no doubt strike fear into the Chinese fishing fleet.

Once delegates vote themselves more taxpayers’ money to run this show, perhaps they should keep their grandstanding to a minimum.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter for Black Press. tfletcher@blackpress.ca