NEWS: Seeking Solutions for Municipalities
By Think City Staff
It’s been ten years since the last leadership change in Victoria, yet BC’s municipalities face many of the same problems that were around a decade ago. In some cases, these problems have only gotten worse.
Homelessness has risen. The infrastructure deficit has grown. Residential property taxes and related fees are rising at an unsustainable rate. Public participation in civic life has declined.
Citizens and their local councils are well aware of the difficulties they collectively face, but, for the most part, are powerless to do anything about them. Under our nineteenth century federal constitution, BC’s local governments are still creatures of the province.
Today, as in 1867, the municipal buck stops on the Premier’s desk. That’s why Think City is asking the six declared candidates for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party for their views on specific democratic and economic reforms they would make at the local level should they win the top spot at their party’s convention on Feb. 26.
Take for example the 2008 civic elections. Across the province, municipalities were plagued by numerous cases of electoral violations, unethical conduct and maladministration during the last round of civic elections. Some of these cases resulted in police investigations, inquiries, and legal challenges.
In addition to these specific concerns, BC’s local elections continue to be marred every election cycle by remarkably low voter turnout. Many mayors and councils are elected by only a few per cent of citizens. In the province’s biggest city, Mayor Gregor Robertson received less than 17 per cent of eligible voters support.
When Think City surveyed nearly 3,700 British Columbians last year, a majority of citizens said they wanted the province to make major changes to how we finance and administer elections. From banning union and corporate donations to direct votes for regional representatives, from giving local governments the power to reform their own electoral systems to setting campaign donor and spending limits, a majority of BC’s citizens said they wanted significant changes made to the how we conduct municipal elections.
Economically, the situation is dire for many of BC’s local governments. In Think City’s Local Prosperity report released last November, authors James Fletcher and Doug McArthur warn that “our municipalities have seen a steady erosion of services, an unsustainable increase in property taxes and user charges, and a growing infrastructure deficit as necessary projects are deferred.”
The province’s current model for financing local governments is simply not doing the job. New legislative tools are needed to give BC’s municipalities the means to both raise revenues and develop their local economies.
If no changes are made, British Columbians will continue to suffer “higher housing costs, reduced disposable income, a less competitive business environment, higher unemployment, increased traffic congestion and longer commutes, a lower standard of public services, and a slow erosion of our quality of life,” say Fletcher and McArthur.
Many municipalities are struggling to maintain their aging bridges, sewers, community centres and water systems. How are they going to afford the infrastructure needed in a growing province?
What aid will Victoria provide to rural towns coping with declining resource sectors and industrial tax revolts?
When is BC going to take big money out of local elections and restore the public’s faith in how local politicians are elected?
These are the kinds of questions that Think City wants to the BC Liberal leadership candidates to answer. The results of the questionnaire will be published on Feb. 24 and posted on our web site here.
To view the questions, please click here. Think City will also administer the same survey to the leadership candidates for the BC New Democratic Party in March.