Canadians for
Check Mark  Direct Democracy (CDD)

Direct Democracy -- the right of citizens
to hold referenda on any issue


BC Community Charter

Introduction

On May 10th and 11th 2002, UBC and Langara College Continuing Studies presented a public forum:

THE COMMUNITY CHARTER: STRENGTHENING OR WEAKENING THE CITIZEN VOICE AT CITY HALL?

For an overview of the Forum  see Thought and Afterthought by André Carrel

The British Columbia government announced last Fall that they were developing a Community Charter "to give communities the powers and resources to make local decisions locally". A Minister of State for Community Charter was appointed, and a discussion paper circulated, which will result in a White Paper to be tabled in the Legislative Assembly in May 2002.

We opened this section of the website on May 12/02 and we will develop it through until the legislation is passed, estimated to be January 2003.

The Draft Legislation of the BC Community Charter (150 pages) is now at:
http://www.mcaws.gov.bc.ca/news/2002may/02-16.htm http://www.mcaws.gov.bc.ca/charter/index.htm
http://www.mcaws.gov.bc.ca/charter/ch_draft_charter.htm

Hard copy can be obtained from government from (604) 660-2421; (250) 387-4023

The Text of speeches by Panelists:

  • André Carrel, former Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Rossland, author of Citizens’ Hall: Making Local Democracy Work and consultant for local government
  • Darlene Marzari, Chair of the Georgia Basin Network, former Minister of Municipal Affairs
  • Allan Warnke, professor of law and government at Malaspino College, former Liberal MLA and a member of the Committee on the Canadian Constitution and Recall and Initiative
  •  
    Video files of: Question and Answers with Hon. Ted Nebbeling (edited; in order):


    Many thanks to Nichola Hall of UBC and Leslie Kemp of Langara College for sponsoring this Forum


    Thought & Afterthought
    by André Carrel
    Trail Daily Times, May 22nd, 2002

    The Premier calls it the “cornerstone of this government’s policy towards local government.” The Community Charter will not have an immediate impact on residents in British Columbia’s communities, but its long-term impact may well be more profound than the radical and emotionally charged changes in provincial health care, education, and labour policies.

    It is assumed, albeit erroneously, that local governments determine the local interest. The Charter promises a new relationship between the province and municipalities. It promises to turn the assumption into virtual reality by presuming that municipalities are a legitimate order of government under the Canadian Constitution.

    The Charter promises to protect municipalities from provincial “downloading.” Downloading, according to the Charter, is not limited to dumping a responsibility on local governments; it includes provincial abandoning of a service at the community level. The Charter does not promise that downloading will not happen, it only promises that when the provincial government dumps a responsibility on a local government, it must also provide the financial means to enable the municipality to assume that responsibility.

    The Charter also opens access to new sources of revenues for municipalities – more ways to charge user fees, traffic fines, amusement taxes, etc. The government does recognize that, for small towns, municipal gasoline taxes and hotel room taxes would not work. Unconditional grants will therefore remain in place for the little guys, but at what level remains to be seen – and property taxes will remain the principal source of municipal revenues.

    The Charter will radically change municipal councils. No longer will councils need to study the Local Government Act to find out how to do what needs to be done. The Charter will expect that councils define local interest, set priorities, find the money, and figure out for themselves how to serve their communities’ interests. The scope of local interest will only be limited by the greater provincial interest, as defined by the provincial government. The challenge for councils will be to balance costs and benefits for their communities as they proceed to negotiate solutions to conflicts between the “greater provincial interest” and their “local interests.”

    What if the provincial government decides that it is in the greater provincial interest to rationalize, centralize, downsize, or privatize an established community service? Would that be downloading? What if a municipal council responds by declaring that maintaining such service in the community is in the local interest? How will such conflicting views be reconciled? Should the province pay compensation to the municipality? Would it?

    The provincial government’s penchant for the corporate world is evident in the Charter. The way councils are to run their communities’ business is structured on corporate principles. Fewer referenda, fewer counter-petitions, more closed meetings, "consequences" for councillors who speak out of turn, and more power to mayors. The need for accountability to residents and taxpayers is to be satisfied by annual reports. (How much accountability was provided by annual reports from Enron, BCE, Nortel, Chapters, etc. before their bubbles burst?)

    Running a government like a private business reduces citizens to consumers and spectators. With more closed meetings, more power to mayors, and councillors having to toe the line, the local interest can be defined efficiently and without much time-consuming public consultation. With power concentrated in council, and with efficiency and expediency given more weight than democratic principles, residents and taxpayers can be kept in the dark about negotiations with other governments or private interests until a deal is done. Citizens will be as “out-of-the-loop” in local affairs as they are in provincial and federal affairs.

    Some people applaud the radical changes made by the provincial government, some people are infuriated. Either way, we would do well to remember that “Mr. Campbell's government” is a direct consequence of “Mr. Clark's government.” There is a lesson to be learned from “one-man” governments. People who pay the bills and live with the consequences of government policy decisions will have to be on their guard if they want to prevent their municipal councils from becoming “Mr. X's” or “Ms. Y's” local government. If we let our guard down, control over the business of local governments could slip out of the hands of voters, residents, and taxpayers.
    The Charter is open to public discussion until August (get a copy from your MLA’s office). By January 2003 it will be law. Take a look. Complacency could reduce municipal councils to servants of efficiency. Is that not what we allowed to happen to hospital boards and school boards?


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