There is no greater week than that of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention to demonstrate what it’s like to be a local government elected official. From Minister meetings, to convention plenaries, to networking, here’s my blog covering a week in the life of an elected official.
Minister meetings are basically speed-dating sessions with ministers. Every local government – municipality and regional district – asks for a meeting with as many ministers as possible depending on the issues you’re advocating for. When a meeting gets approved, you have twenty minutes to make your pitch. Keep in mind that many other local governments are asking for similar things – funding, support, autonomy, housing, childcare, etc.
Our minister meetings started the Tuesday before UBCM with Minister Whiteside, Minister of Education. Friday was with Minister Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture & Sport. Monday morning we met with Premier Horgan, and ended the day with Minister Chen, Minister of State for Child Care. Tuesday through Thursday we attended the BC Liberal Caucus Roundtables on various subjects hosted by Opposition Leader Shirley Bond, and Thursday morning was our final meeting with Minister Osborne, Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Each of these meetings is incredibly important and a lot of research and preparation goes into each meeting. I have so much pride in the work our team does – from staff asking for meetings, preparing briefing notes, to council colleagues showing up to support, and the Mayor pushing hard in those meetings. This is advocacy in action and as someone who loves lobbying – it is my absolute favorite part of the job – I consider it to be one of the most important pieces of work we do to advance issues in Prince George.
UBCM Day 1
During an in-person convention, there are usually tours organized the day before the convention. My first year as a politician I attended Fire Ops and spent a day learning what it means to be a firefighter. We ran into a burning building and pulled out a dummy, used the jaws of life to cut through a car door, and had to crawl through an obstacle course in full firefighter gear. Tours are learning opportunities and are a great way for elected officials to really understand how our decisions impact our communities. Living a day in the life of a firefighter has increased my respect for the work they do to keep our communities safe and has allowed me to better understand how the dollars we annually allocate to the fire department are being utilized.
This year of course, due to the pandemic, there weren’t any tours scheduled but we did get to try out the really cool software called Spatial Chat and hear from four amazing speakers: Jennifer Moss on Post Traumatic Growth; Sheryl Burns & Sharon Gregson on The Future of Child Care; Kendal Netmaker on The Ultimate Resiliency Formula; and finally, Amber Mac on Relentless Adaptation: 4 Tech Trends Accelerating & How to Thrive in Chaos.
The convention officially starts with the Opening Ceremonies. As UBCM is a member driven organization, we start with AGM business approving the budget, the nominating committee report, and appointing the auditors, etc. Next we have an address by the Minister of Municipal Affairs as well as the President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and then we head into the Community Excellence Awards.
The Community Excellence Awards are always really cool and you get to see innovative projects from other communities. I really appreciated Nanaimo’s Complete Street Engineering Standards and Design Guidelines project, as well as City of Coquitlam’s Community Support and Recovery Plan, and finally the City of Richmond’s Works Yard Recycling Depot Upgrades. Delegates had a lovely Bhangra dance break with Gurdeep Pandher before lunch. After lunch we had a plenary session called Pathways to Truth and Reconciliation with the Honourable Murry Sinclair. I finished the day with a concurrent workshop titled Ensuring Local Government Financial Resiliency.
UBCM Day 2
The morning starts with Resolutions. There are two ways communities can champion resolutions. The first is to send it to their area association (we belong to the North Central Local Government Association) and get the membership to approve it so it already has support at UBCM; or we can send it straight through to UBCM. Prince George had four resolutions:
- EB10 Increased Capacity at the National Forensic Lab Services
- EB11 Increasing Capacity in Provincial Court Systems through Alternative Coordinated Initiatives
These two resolutions were part of the Endorse Block (EB) which means the UBCM Resolutions Committee vetted and recommended to approve based on previous resolutions supported by the membership. The next two resolutions had No Recommendation (NR) so our Intergovernmental Resolutions Chair, Councillor Brian Skakun had to debate them on the floor:
- NR2 Improved Efficiencies in the Prosecution of Criminal Offences
- NR5 Comprehensive Training Model for RCMP Members
All four of our resolutions were supported by the UBCM membership and will now become part of the advocacy work that UBCM does on our behalf.
My afternoon for day two started with an Address from the Leader of the Opposition, Shirley Bond who did an incredible job. This was followed by a concurrent workshop on Housing Prospects, Key Trends & Key Issues, and then by Global Warming: Lessons from the 2021 Heat Wave. The other two concurrent sessions I missed that were recorded for later viewing include Meeting the Needs: Shared RD Services, and Tourism Recovery Through Collaboration.
UBCM Day 3
Day three starts similarly to Day 2 with a three hour Resolutions Session. I enjoy the art of debate and called in to debate Resolution NR1 Parental Leave for Elected Officials from the Village of Squamish-Lillooet RD. The sponsoring member is a Councillor with a ten day old baby who shares that some elected officials are losing their positions for missing three meetings in a row due to becoming parents. I shared with the membership that it is already hard enough for young people to get elected and if we want diverse voices at our council tables then we have to support resolutions like NR1, not to mention by-elections cost more than paying parental leave so it’s worth looking into. The resolution passes but I am shocked by the number of elected officials opposed and calling into the con line.
I am always impressed by the keynote addresses organized by UBCM. Last year was Margaret Atwood; the year before was Peter Mansbridge. This year was Rick Mercer interviewed by Jody Vance and it did not disappoint. This was followed by an Address from the Leader of the Green Party and then a concurrent session on Modernizing Forest Policy in BC.
UBCM Day 4
The last day of the UBCM Convention was an awesome day. It started with three different town halls delegates could attend, each with several ministers. I attended the session Planning and Building for Growth with Minister Rob Flemming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Minister Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education, Minister David Eby, Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing, and Minister Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. It was a phenomenal session and delegates were able to ask questions. My question of Minister Eby on complex care was asked and I am so hopeful to see how this new form of housing makes a difference in the lives of our vulnerable populations. We will be advocating hard to Northern Health and BC Housing for this housing – which really seems to understand that people need more support than what supportive housing can offer – to be implemented in Prince George. Finally, the convention ended with an address by the Premier where delegates were able to engage and ask questions of the Premier.
The UBCM, FCM, and NCLGA conventions are an incredibly important part of the work we do as local government elected officials for our communities. Not only do these conventions serve as educational opportunities – as opportunities to share and learn from one another – they are also hubs for networking and advocacy and meeting and interacting with important community partners. A lot of what we do seems to be invisible work. Constituents don’t always get to see what’s behind the curtain so I wrote this blog so you can better understand what goes into the advocacy work we do for our communities.
The work doesn’t stop here. UBCM is an important part of our advocacy work but this is just one piece of the advocacy puzzle. Later this month, council will go into our strategic planning session and determine our strategic priorities for the year ahead. We will set smart goals and evaluation criteria and this will, in effect, direct the staff workplan. We have already started working on Resolutions for next years convention. Additionally, as the President of NCLGA, I am now a director with UBCM and I cannot wait for my first board meeting in November when I will be appointed to committees and continue the advocacy work for the greater good of our BC municipalities.
If you ever see a piece of policy that you believe is not working for our community, be sure to send correspondence to council and tell us about it. We have the ability to refer issues to our Intergovernmental Resolutions committee to add to their workplan and investigate/advocate for meaningful change on the issues that impact our community.
Thank you for reading through a week in the life of a local government elected official. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me through my contact page.