News

The Role of Local Government is Changing

February 17, 2021
Council Column

The City of Quesnel is not a social service delivery or planning agency. This is hard for some people to accept, as evidenced by the (sometimes very nasty) emails and calls we can get when critical social services are seen as insufficient in our community.

The City gets its main source of revenue from property taxes. Utility fees are the other main source, but, unlike property taxation, these fees are directly tied to the utility they are collected for (water, sewer, solid waste) while Council has more flexibility with how it allocates the general property taxes collected by the City each year.

The traditional role of local government was to spend all the property taxes it collected each year on programs and services that protected property (fire, police, bylaw), maintained infrastructure and amenities (roads, sidewalks, public buildings, parks, and City-owned playgrounds and recreation venues), maintained City-owned equipment, and provided services that benefit the community as a whole (development services, building permits, snow clearing, dust control, etc.).

In the past, when local government was focused only on providing localized services to local ratepayers, City Councils always fretted when they felt pushed to move beyond this simplistic approach to community governance; most often seeing any addition to this mandate (e.g. economic or social development) as a form of “downloading” by the provincial and federal governments. “Mandate creep” was always vehemently resisted by local Councils, and rightly so, as the level of government with the least ability to raise revenue and the most direct accountability to ratepayers is local government.

Over the past few decades, “mandate creep” has become the norm for local government. In part, due to the changing nature of our society, and, in part, due to decades of cutbacks and retrenchment by the Provincial and Federal governments, particularly in the domains of local economic development, social housing, and social programs, especially for people with mental health and addictions issues.   

However, this does not mean local governments have become a social service agency. Municipal Councils still do not have the direct mandate or sufficient resources to fill gaps in the social service system in their community. At best, they can be lobbyists and willing partners -- pushing higher levels of government to improve program delivery in their communities and providing a means for provincial and federal grants come into the community to support needed services and programs.

That is the role Quesnel City Council now plays in the social domain: as an active lobbyist for program improvements and as a willing partner with provincial and federal agencies and not-for-profits. For example, Council is currently facilitating the creation of more childcare capacity in our community, supporting our new Seniors Council, lobbying for more social housing and supports to address homelessness, working with Northern Health to address mental health and addictions issues, and supporting efforts to address food security.  

Council still does not have a mandated lead role in developing or creating social services, but we have a strong track record of applying our political capital and our ability to obtain grant funding when a community need is made evident to us by the social service agencies and organizations who do have the direct responsibility to deliver these services.

Mayor Bob Simpson

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