Tuesday, September 28, 2010

UBCM Day 2, morning, Tuesday Sep 28, Forums Day

Tuesday at the UBCM and still technically a 'pre conference' day, but an important one.

The day kicked off with the Large Urban Communities Forum - a gathering of local government of cities with a population of > 25,000. (Might not seem large by lower mainland standards, but in BC as a whole, there are MANY MANY cities with less than 25000 population).

Opening the session was a presentation by former Milwaukee mayor, John Norquist. Mr. Norquist is decidedly American in his confidence and his presentation. Clearly a visionary and a man with an opinion ! His presentation concentrated on the failures of urban engineering design with respect to the automobile - how engineering for streets has led to the decay of community, created abandoned and derelict cities and precincts, and demonstrated many examples of the reclamation of urban highways back into community. Particularly, John showed vivid examples of the destruction of elevated/grade seperated highway/roadway systems and how traffic and roads were being integrated into the community instead of destroying it.

Its hard to know where or how these scenarios would play out in a small town environment, aka Port Moody, where there are only two streets which serve as a commuter corridor, as opposed to Mr. Norquist's comments about how traffic 'finds another way'.. sadly, we don't have another way in the local setting, although, there are of course options in the regional context !

Next up, Hon. Ben Stewart, Minister of Community and Rural Development. This is essentially the provincial government ministry that deals with municipal/provincial issues and relations. Mr. Stewart is relatively new to this portfolio and discussed his recent travels around the province and his meetings with representatives from various communities around BC.

The minister stated that affordable housing is a top priority of his government, citing a statistic that 64% of pre-tax income, on average in BC, is going to mortgage / housing costs. He discussed the added affordability of housing on transit corridors , alleviating the expense and need for a vehicle or second vehicle. He acknowledged a number of recent achievements by cities throughout BC - Prince George being a top ten community for investment, Prince Rupert container port 'resetting' the vision of the community, Penticton's success in agriculture tourism.

When questioned from the floor regarding infrastructure deficits, affordable housing funding and other finance related issues, Mr. Stewart emphasized that the province has seen significant drops in revenue since 2008, that there is only one taxpayer, and the provincial government doesnt have a bottomless pit of money to meet all of the requests throughout the province. I think everyone appreciates this, although at the muncipal level, we have the same pressures and fewer tools at our disposal.

Next up, an update on the liquor control and licensing act changes. There has been some rumours and speculation circulating regarding the changes / proposed changes to the act, and representatives were on hand to explain the legislative changes and their impact.
Most importantly, it was repeatedly emphasized that the changes regarding muncipal involvement in liquor licensing, are enabling legislation - meaning, it ALLOWS something to happen but doesnt require it. Several changes are made, in regards to public safety, streamlining and good governance. Being considered are different processes for different types of liquor establishments, with one specific example given being a golf course wanting to add golf cart service, having to go through the same process as a 500 seat night club. Several of the examples given made good sense to revisit. The branch will continue to meet with the UBCM working group.

Ubcm pre conference sessions Monday Sep 27

Monday at the ubcm is a pre conference day, the official start of the conference isn't until Wednesday.. But, pre conference sessions are a good opportunity to have some more in depth discussions with representatives from around the province, on their challenges and successes.

Of course, the emphasis everywhere is on green and sustainability, so I chose to attend two sessions - a green cities session and a sustainability session.

The sustainability workshop was quite broad ranging, with discussions starting around brownfields, and industrial land conversion/ remediation. Various perspectives were discussed, from port alberni, Victoria, Vancouver, and many more. The discussions tended to move to taxation issues as well as the cost of enironmental remediation and liability. Transferance of liability for brown fields was a hot topic, and the ability for buyers of lands to assume or not liability for past activities.

There was also significant discussion with provincial staff about species at risk. Species at risk definition varies in different parts of the province, and in this conversation it really drives home the rural / urban differences. Many rural communities spend considerably more time and resources on wildlife issues than we do in the urban cores, although the same issues exist of different scale for all of us.

The question / answer session and subsequent discussion was very valuable again to share the experiences of different cities and regionss.

The afternoon session was the green cities workshop, centered around the work of the Green Communites Committee and the climate action accord. Prince George, Delta and Saltspring Island presented on their initiatives and projects, and their successes and challenges rolling out their GHG reduction plans in their communities. Again, there was a great exchange of ideas and mutual learning. The province discussed carbon offset credits and the Pacific Carbon Trust, a company created by the province which will pre-qualify offset credits for government that adheer's to the criteria established. The green communities committee talked about the framework for Smart Tool web pilot for calculating GHG reduction and credits.

Most disappointing at this workshop was that discussion was around Reporting, Offsets and Measuring GHG's, but nothing around REDUCTION - the offset discussions can become very circular , for example, Port Moody, having curbside organic collection could report this as a reduction but in the framework could in theory also sell offsets to others as this would be a 'qualified' offset. A little weird and confusing, but the GHG offset discussion in general tends to get that way sometimes !

Good conversation and networking at both of these workshops, all in all , a pretty good day !