The annual convention of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) is an opportunity for local government (both Municipalities and Regional Districts) to get together to share best practices, learn from experts in various fields, and meet with Provincial Government Ministers and Ministry staff. By all accounts this year’s UBCM meeting enabled Council to advance our community’s agenda and priorities.
The week started with one of the more productive Mayors’ Caucus meetings I’ve attended. Only two topics were on the agenda: strong fiscal futures for Municipalities, and ways to collaboratively address the opioid crisis while reducing the negative impacts on community safety.
On the first topic, advice was given to UBCM on how to refresh a 2013 report on alternate financing models for local government (beyond simply property taxation); a report that collected dust under the previous provincial government. The current Minister of Municipal Affairs committed to the Mayors’ Caucus to work with local government to explore the timely implementation of recommendations contained in a refreshed report.
With respect to the community safety impacts of the current harm reduction approach to addressing the opioid crisis, it was clear the provincial government is hearing and sympathetic to our concerns. The Minister of Mental Health and Addictions announced more resources for local government and the Province’s new 10-year plan to address Mental Health and Addictions is focused on the right things: early intervention and improved treatment.
Quesnel was named one of the communities that will receive up to $150,000 to establish a Community Action Team (CAT) to collaboratively develop plans to address both the opioid crisis and community safety. This funding will enable us to continue the work of our Community Caring for People with Addictions (CCPA) roundtable. An additional $50,000 is also available to us for implementation strategies, including more robust needle pick up programs.
The Ministry of Children and Families had also clearly heard our feedback on the childcare spaces program they announced last year. The original program only provided $1 million to local governments to build more childcare spaces; the new program now provides up to $4 million. The City of Quesnel received funding from this program earlier this year to undertake the required needs assessment and we’ll be meeting with stakeholders early this fall to explore the feasibility of taking advantage of the new, more robust capital program.
In our meeting with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, we found a sympathetic ear for our concerns about the need to improve how our homeless shelter is being run, particularly in advance of the opening of the new Elliott Street supportive housing facility. We hand delivered a binder of letters of concern about crime and policing in Quesnel to the Minister and had a follow up meeting with the CEO of BC Housing, that he will work with us to help resolve our long standing community issues.
It was very clear from the discussions with other municipalities and the resolutions debated on the convention floor that something must change with respect to how the mental health, addictions, and housing programs are being delivered in every community if we are to maintain the social license for these much needed programs. A message Quesnel City Council has been giving to the provincial government and service providers for years.
In a one-on-one meeting with the Premier I was able to deliver this same message to him, while providing him with a copy of the letters of concern from our community as well. Like his Cabinet Ministers, the Premier is alive to our concerns and a willing partner in addressing them.