By Alex Rinfret-Local mayors, regional district directors, and council members spent a busy five days in Vancouver last week at the annual Union of BC Municipalities conference.
“It’s a big week,” said Queen Charlotte regional district director Carol Kulesha. “And it’s a wonderful opportunity, especially for small communities.”
The conference gives local government officials the chance to lobby and network with provincial government officials, including deputy ministers and cabinet ministers. The politicians also heard from BC Premier Gordon Campbell and federal Liberal leadership candidate Paul Martin.
Ms Kulesha said her days at the conference started off before 7 am with networking breakfasts, followed by practical workshops, forums, meetings with ministers, discussions with other local politicians about shared issues, and UBCM business.
Ms Kulesha said she spoke to provincial officials about issues such as paving Highway 16 between Masset and Skidegate and roads on Moresby Island, funding for a study to look at incorporation for Queen Charlotte, the Queen Charlotte water system and industrial park, and health care on the islands.
Health care is probably the pre-eminent issue all over the province and the islands are no exception, Ms Kuelsha said. She spoke to Health Minister Colin Hansen and Malcolm Maxwell, chief executive of the Northern Health Authority, emphasizing the difficulties islanders face if they’re transferred to Prince Rupert or Terrace, and the need for support for both of the islands hospitals.
“They definitely note that we have hospitals that are old,” she said. “We are near the top of the list for hospitals that need attention.”
Regional district administrator Janet Beil agreed, saying that from what she heard, she expects an announcement about the islands hospitals in the next six to 12 months.
“It looks like they’re committed to providing better health care for the islands,” she said. “I’m assuming that they’re looking at replacing those facilities.”
Ms Beil described the conference as “very productive” and said the politicians from the islands worked extremely hard, with some attending as many as 20 meetings.
Both Ms Beil and Ms Kulesha were relieved to hear at the conference that the provincial government has delayed its plan to force small municipalities and rural areas to pay a portion of policing costs. The scheme has been put off until 2007.
“That was one of the best things we heard down there,” Ms Beil said, adding that the delay will give small communities time to closely examine how the province plans to implement the charges, which will mean property tax increases in most cases.
The conference included a large “marketplace” area where people were selling products that could be useful to municipalities. Ms Kulesha said she brought back information about low flush toilets which use only four litres of water per flush, compared to 22 litres for a normal toilet.
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