Local governments hold the keys to the provincial economic engine. They can no longer be treated as a political afterthought.
In July 2013 the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) released a report titled Strong Fiscal Futures: A Blueprint for Strengthening BC Local Governments’ Finance System. It provided the provincial government the opportunity to deliver a thoughtful response at the annual UBCM convention last week.
Premier Christy Clark chose not to do so. Her speech didn’t acknowledge the report or address local government finance reform. Instead the Premier used the gathering of BC’s leaders to promote Liberal priorities, specifically “the sound of money” being generated by the liquefied natural gas industry.
Afterwards, Clark said that she was interested in “the idea that local governments should get a piece of economic growth” and that “if we want local governments to be partners in growing our economy, that they have some incentive to do that.”
On this file, our premier’s priorities are askew. Local governments do not want a piece of economic growth; they are the locus of this province’s economy. Local governments do not need incentives to become partners; they are the generators of the economy. Local governments hold the key to prosperity in the province.
The UBCM represents the most important corporate interests in the province—cities, towns, villages and districts represent significant shareholders; the citizens. Yet the provincial government ignores this relationship and persists in accelerating growth without establishing dependable and equitable funding formulas for the existing infrastructure that is decaying everyday and the additional infrastructure required for growth.
Community governments make land use decisions, provide policing, fire, water, sewer and transportation services. These are the decisions that result in a good or bad economy. If they are considered anything less than full partners at the table we are in big trouble.
Twenty-two Liberal MLA’s have local government experience; many are still juggling mayoralty and council positions with their new provincial jobs. Could they have already forgotten the importance of local government?
Let’s make no mistake; the centralized, paternalistic approach of past generations is not working. Despite the provinces’ jurisdiction and authority, if our community corporations cannot sustain their operations and be given the opportunity to expand the provincial economy will decay just like the infrastructure it rides on.