Downloading or an Opportunity to Lead?
Last week Council approved, with one dissenting vote, to provide up to $15,000 toward a collaborative effort with Northern Health and BC Housing aimed at developing a comprehensive strategy to address the needs of people with mental health and with substance use issues in our community. The funding that all three partners have committed to this initiative has enabled us to hire qualified consultants to help us accelerate and deepen the process we started earlier this year.
During the debate about funding this initiative some Council members expressed concern that we were being asked to fund what is clearly a provincial responsibility, that is why one Council member voted against this initiative. Downloading is a legitimate and long-standing concern for local governments, particularly over the past decade or so as provincial and federal governments have cut programs and services they historically provided in our communities.
Earlier this year, I was also challenged about this issue when I presented our successful physician recruitment initiative (another partnership between the City of Quesnel and Northern Health) at a conference. A member of the audience asked me if the City’s involvement in this program wasn’t simply “mandate creep;” that is, wasn’t the City going beyond it’s legislated mandate by getting involved in matters that were clearly the constitutional responsibility of the provincial and federal governments.
In my estimation, the responsibility of locally elected Councils and Regional District Boards is to ensure the resiliency and sustainability of our communities. If that is true, then there is no such thing as “mandate creep,” as our mandate encompasses every aspect of resiliency: social, environmental, and financial. Rather than viewing partnership opportunities with provincially or federally funded agencies as “downloading,” I prefer to see these as opportunities to show leadership and to find creative and collaborative ways to address the very real challenges confronting our communities.
By providing nominal amounts of our local taxation to collaborative initiatives we not only fast track the process of finding solutions, we can also leverage significant resources into our community that may otherwise have gone elsewhere. That clearly happened with our now award winning doctor recruitment initiative, and Council’s deliberate leadership on the affordable housing front has also successfully attracted significant investment from the province in much needed housing projects.
There are also utilitarian reasons for Council to commit our limited financial resources to collaborative initiatives that are clearly provincial or federal responsibilities: the outcomes can reduce the City’s annual operating costs and/or increase our tax base through resident and investment attraction. For example, if we can find community-based solutions to substance abuse it may result in reduced policing costs, which is one of the City’s highest annual costs.
Finally, by showing leadership through participating financially in collaborative, solutions-oriented initiatives with provincially and federally funded partners, Quesnel City Council is becoming known as a willing partner in the development of proactive programs and services for our community. This positions us to use our political leverage more effectively with the senior levels of government.
This week I’m in Victoria for follow-up meetings with a number of Ministers and with the Premier. I believe we’re making good progress with the new provincial government precisely because we’re not allowing our concerns about “downloading” to prevent us from demonstrating leadership and developing community-based solutions that we can present to the Province for funding.