Government rope-a-dope

Political gamesmanship on show at Union of BC Municipalities conference.

When it comes to making an elusive target, you’ve got to hand it to the B.C. provincial government.

Last week’s annual Union of BC Municipalities conferences in Whistler provided local government representatives a chance to network and craft resolutions which may then be lobbied to provincial and federal authorities.

But Premier Christy Clark and several of her ministers proved adept at dodging both punches and accountability while coming out swinging with their own time at the podium.

When presented with a surprise UBCM-commissioned study that indicated the series of ferry rate increases had cost the province millions in lost revenue in the last decade, Transportation Minister Todd Stone casually dismissed it as unsubstantiated and “irresponsible”.

And when faced with a call to roll back rate increases and service cuts — never mind funding coastal ferries as part of the highway system — he came back with a “solution” of coastal communities begging the federal government to release its gas tax refunds for use in paying for ferries. Of course, those funds are currently used to help municipalities restore or replace crumbling infrastructure, money unlikely to be replaced from the province’s apparently hollow coffers.

Speaking of irresponsible reports, Clark then dropped her own haymaker on the municipal lawmakers, a provincial report showing unionized municipal employees have received pay raises far in excess of those given to their provincial counterparts.

Regardless of the veracity of the report, leaking it at this time, in this venue, was a cynical political ploy. It was designed to put the audience on notice that the government, having quelled those pesky teachers for the next five years, will gleefully poke its union-bashing stick into the spokes of this fall’s municipal elections.

At this stage, it seems a solution in search of a problem. What many UBCM attendees really wanted was action on funding coastal ferries as part of the highway system and more say in pipeline construction and tanker traffic through their yards.

What we didn’t hear was delegates bemoaning the pay rates of their municipal employees.