Canadians for
Check Mark  Direct Democracy (CDD)

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


BC Community Charter

Speeches given by:

Allan Warnke, Former MLA Richmond-Steveston 1991-96
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

“Speaking Notes: The BC Community Charter”
by Darlene Marzari


What will the citizen voice sound like after the community charter wriggles its way onto the order paper????   I’ll answer the question first so as not to keep everyone in a horrid state of suspense... and then I’ll give you my reasons ... ; the citizen voice shall remain largely as it is right now ... depending on the council or the region where it wishes to be heard ... so if it’s unheard now I dare say, the charter will not give a council ears ... and if a council listens now, the charter will  not  remove its ears ...

This is not encouraging; I’m sure ... but for the business of local government itself being heard and recognized; by the province, the charter will probably be another step in an already crowded process which all of us up here will be or have been elaborating ...

It has long been a sore point with municipalities in this country that they were relegated to minor institutional status in the B.N.A. Act. In fact  they rank in the same paragraph, I'm told, as asylums ... A proper place some of you may comment ... but I remember, as a council member, being somewhat outraged at the thought that the most responsive and accountable level of government, the only level that is not allowed to run deficits, the only one that goes to referendum for simple capital projects, the only one that deals with land use planning in real live neighbourhoods and is the first response to peoples’ needs, should be treated as an nonentity by the country’s constitution, and often as a political nuisance by the provincial government.

The voice for the l60 municipalities and the 27 Regional Districts has been the UBCM and the strongest voice for municipal; recognition came from a recent past president of the UBCM, Joanne Monahan ...  And the provincial response when I was in a position to do something about it as a protocol of recognition that was finally signed by the next guy in the job ...

Now this protocol was pretty well worded I think and pretty much stated the principle quite loudly that cities are partners in the business of government – not creatures of the province....

quote here ...

A few other recognitions were also in the offing at the time – the Treaty process for example pulled in municipal representation at the treaty tables of the province ... ; probably the only such construct in the country; The Growth Management Act; which enables regional districts to plan for future growth forces the province to the table during the process to negotiate useful contracts with the regions and their municipalities for the necessary infrastructure to make the plans work on the ground ... A few others should be noted here – see the UBCM document ...

Now before all this starts to sound like the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, let’s talk about how all these good intentions and protestation of good faith turn into real partnership ...

... Basically, it can’t in the true sense of the word, because of the Federal constitution ... but regard and respect, co-ordinated planning and appropriate funding at the right time can go a long way.

Updating the Municipal Act; or even renaming it is always an option ... ; It reads like the bible – you can find within it enough contradictions for a municipality to have a field day ---  if you can read it.

Incremental legislative modifications to the Act to remove nuisance requirements are part of a decade-long process.   We are all good at pulling together funding for special projects like the Stanley Park Causeway or the Annacis treatment plant ... projects that are one-off and come with neat and tidy photo ops for all concerned ... But sustained funding or a sharing of resource revenue????

The unconditional grant programme lasted for over twenty years, sharing the gas and oil tax ... but never with certainty, and never before municipalities had already set their budgets for the year.

The troubles cities are facing in Canada are massive  and both federal and provincial governments have not provided the kind of ongoing guaranteed revenue to deal with them – and the property tax; is not always the best tax to use; It is not based on ability to pay and is clumsy when it comes to dealing with regional pollution issues. In the States, the federal government throws millions in gas taxes back to the cities as incentives for cities that have started to clean their air ... ; here, the feds have stuck to piecemeal approaches for special capital or sometimes social projects .

Too bad cuz for a minute there I thought the Sgro Report on municipal funding by the feds was going to shake the world ... Why the FCM was even discussing the transfer of tax points for a millisecond ... ; Oh my money would be lifted right out of the provincial treasury before it even got there!!

Might we watch provinces be relegated to the roles of regulators and distribution centers to get capital out of the cities to build schools and hospital in the hinterland while the cities with their infinitely more accountable and efficient administrations and council structures handle the social and economic and environmental issues of their regions inside a regional district system which is already a ward system (though it must become an elected body); where administrators actually meet to coordinate services rather than reporting through archaic silos to remote ministers for permission to share resources with the guy in the next office.

Ah such a dream ... ; the enlightened city state, governed by a council of councils with responsibilities properly delegated rather than hoarded, and the revenue base diversified from the property tax and licenses ...

Strangely enough the federal government  might well be the player that has the most to say about what shape municipal power might take in the coming decade ... Not so strange when one considers the history of federal intervention in city matters over the last fifty years ...

It was Ottawa that brought in post war legislation to create the national housing act and veterans housing administration these programmes created whole neighbourhoods on our own city and in cities across the country ...

Land use, the most important tool a council has to shape a city with, was in fact influenced by the thousands of affordable units that were built in the fifties and sixties ...

The Canada Assistance Plan, although its jurisdiction was for the cost sharing of welfare included within it a possibility for community development -a fact not lost on the major cities ...

Vancouver actually hired a consultant to review all its social programmes to see which would qualify for cost sharing under CAP ... I believe the number was 7 million dollars worth ... the Social Planning Department being one of those cost shareable items ...

These avenues were closed down in the 80’s to be replaced in the 90’s by the infrastructure programme ... long worked for by the UBCM's federal counterpart and announced in Vancouver with the chair of the UBCM signing the documents to initiate the BC programme with the promise that 85 per cent of the programme would go directly to the upgrading of sewer and water - hardly the stuff of which photo opportunities are made for provincial and federal politicians ...

There was a period in the 60’s when cities even had their own ministry of Municipal Affairs in Ottawa ... short lived but it’s actions put affordable housing into our city, rearranged the railroads holdings (not quite enough sadly) and left Granville Island as a legacy ...

The face of the House of Commons is changing as the country becomes predominantly urban.

M.P.s are increasingly likely to be from the pressure points - fast growing suburbs with few social amenities ... It occurred to me that amalgamating Toronto, aside from being non-cost effective and anti-democratic, was just plain stupid ... Toronto as a population base and a source of general wealth could easily be richer than the rest of the province ...

Large cities at Habitat 11 of over 30 million people and there are a number of them - dwarf their nations and have a huge say in their country’s development ...

So far, I see no change ... but this is the point to throw in the 3 cautions ... downloading, privatization and incompetence inherent in the system – to paraphrase a favorite line in a Monty Python movie ...

I’m sure the Charter Council  did not recommend the downloading of provincial responsibilities without the means to manage them ... I’m in favor of taking functions as close to home as possible. And keeping things that cities don’t want at a regional or provincial level ...

But throwing things down the stairs and telling regions and cities to partner with private corporations to run them is dirty pool ... it undermines principles of good planning and good faith and people get caught in the void. Partnering with the private sector has had some great successes in building community facilities even here in B.C. – complete with referenda outlining the terms of the agreement ... but an ideologically driven move towards privatizing public assets accrued with taxpayers’ money is a possibility here and it is disturbing ... for a couple of reasons

1.    the public sector is notoriously bad at determining the worth of its assets on the market – it can be done for the bond raters  and for the books on the asset side, but public assets were not built to turn a profit and when they are sold they go very cheap – remember the fire boat  - remember the expo lands...  What does a water system sell for or a hospital which might become a private extended care home????   I get suspicious when I read in last week’s Sun that Charles Baillie the CEO of the TD Bank say  -----   This is the path that Maggie Thatcher trod ...

2.    And as for citizens getting inside these deals to understand them – forget about it  (see Vaughn Palmer to day on a public-private-partnership for a hospital in Abbotsford)  ... These deals are generally protected even from the Auditor General when audit time rolls around because they are deemed to be private ... Crown Corporations operate in this hazy world of almost accountable -but-don’t-bet-your-boots-  ...

And

3.    even with tremendously good intention,  provincial governments are profoundly and systemically unable to know what is in the right and left hand at the same time.  Values and instructions are always interpreted and priorized differently by ministers and ministries  no matter how many flip charts are flipped and retreats are held ...  health will always be in the hands of the provincial ministry not matter how far it’s “devolved”.   As long as land is sold off by the province without consulting the adjacent regions or cities, so much for comprehensive planning....
 

The Community Charter???

I will be surprised if it offers municipalities anything more than control over their own streets and roads with a pittance of financial support or new licensing power to manage the new responsibility.  I will be amazed if does little more than offer cities the proceeds from traffic tickets  or other small potatoes stuff  to take on decaying infrastructures ... The language of recognition has to meet  the power to tax more than property ... We shall see ...
 

So what about the citizens’ voice in all this?? ... no one gets off the hook from exercising their right to agree or dissent ... no magic bullet here to ensure the system responds ...

So serious transfer of revenue or authority to the cities is hardly at stake here ... but some principles of good government might be!!!!!!!
 


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This page was updated on May 25th, 2002
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