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 Citizensí Hall: Making Local Democracy Work and consultant for local government

Darlene Marzari, Chair of the Georgia Basin Network, former Minister of Municipal Affairs

Remarks Concerning the Community Charter

by Allan Warnke
Former MLA Richmond-Steveston 1991-96
Currently lectures in law and politics at Malaspina University College, Nanaimo

The purpose of this presentation is to raise some concerns about the direction of the Community Charter as expressed in a private member s bill presented by Liberal leader Gordon Campbell that will give us an idea what the actual legislation will contain when it is introduced in the current session.

Let me begin this way. When Gordon Campbell was Leader of the Opposition, he first presented the Community Charter to his caucus one evening at a retreat in Whistler and expected to get caucus approval for it in order to announce it at the UBCM convention later in the week that the party through its caucus was committed to a Community Charter.

I opposed it at the beginning and since 1998, at an annual conference of the Western Association of Sociology and Anthropology held in Vancouver, I began my own campaign against the prospects of establishing a third order of government for municipalities and cities as expressed in Gordon Campbell's Private Member's Bill M-222 (1995) entitled "The Community Charter".

Bill M-222 "Community Charter" was unlike any other private member s bill since it contained 168 pages of text and 373 sections. If enacted, it transfers significant legislative powers of the provincial government directly to local governments, under the current fashion of empowering local communities and limiting the provincial government in local concerns, but in actuality limiting the powers of the provincial government in favour of powerful local economic and political interests.

The Charter is being advanced as the resident's desire for more involvement in local decisions and having the provincial government out of their face. But this begs a critical question. Who are these residents so anxious for establishing a new order of government, especially in the absence of any public expression here, and how do these residents express what is in the "local interest"?

Under the Charter, local communities will have "full discretion in the exercise of their powers to meet local conditions" and all Council has to do is declare a project or an issue in the "local interest". This is clearly expressed in the Charter itself, that "the ultimate determination of the local public interest lies exclusively with locally elected officials." Hence, by declaring a project or an issue in the "local interest" - a very powerful clause in the Charter it allows local politicians exclusive control over these issues without any check or counterweight by the provincial government.

Those especially benefitting from the Charter would be a group of business and political activists viewed as pro-development since all that is required to approve a project is the approval of the local Mayor and Council. Indeed, a provision exists that not even taxpayers through a referendum will be required to approve a project.

Also, let me emphasize this: the Community Charter includes the statement that "a legitimate expectation that legislation empowering communities will not be repealed or amended by the Legislative Assembly", thereby protecting the Charter from any attempt to reverse its enactment, making this third order of government virtually permanent. In fact, that this legislation is referred to as a "Charter" makes it no ordinary piece of provincial legislation like the Vancouver Charter, but is intended to be a unilateral ceding of power as the opening statement of the Community Charter makes clear.

The primary purpose of Gordon Campbell's Community Charter, then, is to limit the powers of the provincial government by extending exclusive powers to locally elected politicians on matters pertaining to commercial, land and property development. Developers especially benefit because, under the Charter, only the approval of local councils are needed for any future development of lands, housing and commercial enterprise. As the power of local politicians and developers are enhanced, the ability of the provincial government to intervene to protect consumers and private property owners is greatly diminished.

Indeed, one provision (section 36) is outright antagonistic towards private property interests where local governments will have the power to suspend private property rights, even without the knowledge and permission of the owner, whenever a project is deemed by local politicians as in the "local interest".

In this context, this is why one may claim that the proposed Community Charter does nothing else but establish British Columbia as a "Developer's Paradise". And if one doubts whether the intention is to establish Municipal governments as an independent third order of government, they should note a comment made by former Chilliwack Mayor John Les who was also recently a former President of the UBCM and is currently the MLA for Chilliwack-Sumas.

He stated in the Chilliwack Progress (6 March 1998) that, "one change being discussed is overt recognition of municipalities as a bona fide order of government, which would elevate municipal governments to appropriate recognition in the scheme of governance of this country."

Why? Then-Mayor Les expressed the need for increasing the ability of local politicians to negotiate and finalize deals with developers without having to deal with the provincial government or a local referendum process for approval. As he put it, "a lot of partnerships are being developed between government and the private sector, but under the current rules local governments make awkward partners for businesses" because deals are subject to referendums. What is easier, and the Charter would aid this process, is that proposals for development would be simply negotiated by the Mayor and his staff, followed only by the formal approval of Council and without the approval of either the provincial government or the people in a local referendum.

In short, it sets up throughout the province what I have termed a "Developer's Paradise" which cannot be easily unravelled later when its implications are discovered and seen as profoundly negative for our communities.

The intention to establish an independent third order of government having "full discretion in the exercise of their powers to meet local conditions" goes way beyond cutting some slack or modestly streamlining local government and establishing a new relationship between two levels of government under section 92 of the Constitutional Act 1867. Those aware that municipal and city governments are creations of the provincial government and since the Baldwin Act, that this level of government has lobbied for an ability to make decisions locally without constantly seeking the blessing of the provincial government, are open to promoting legislation that allows a new relationship and more local responsibility. But the Community Charter plays on this concern to slip an additional rider that justified the heavy-handedness of the provincial government in the first place.

However, I will further add that the establishment of a new independent third order of government must have the approval of the federal Parliament and because of its potential for precedence in other provincial jurisdictions, such legislation will require a Constitutional Amendment. So even if the British Columbia government was to unilaterally enact this legislation that recognizes Municipal governments as independent third orders of government, it is unconstitutional until accepted by British Columbians in a provincial referendum and a proper one; as opposed to the present Treaty referendum exercise which is highly questionable as qualified as a legitimate referendum and then approved by the Parliament of Canada and perhaps, the other nine provincial jurisdictions.

So while we must be constantly aware of these efforts by local politicians who through their champion in Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals intend to transform governing in such a manner that renders the provincial government impotent to deal with developers and politicians at the local level, we must then be adamant in our opposition to the proposed Community Charter as advocated by Gordon Campbell and be extremely aware of the Charter when it is introduced by Hon. Ted Nebbeling later in this session.

To understand Direct Democracy see: "Executive Summary"
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