Opinion

Collaboration works

This FCM report could be a game changer for municipalities. - screen grab
This FCM report could be a game changer for municipalities.
— image credit: screen grab

I often tire of hearing “collaboration” and “partnership,” both as words and concepts. But I like them when they work.

On July 2, one partnership that does work will launch the first of many benefits of its collaboration. That day, the new regional transit schedule goes into effect, thanks to the partnership of local governments and BC Transit through the award-winning West Kootenay Transit Committee.

It’s a much-improved system overall, requiring tweaks in the short term, and modifications and additions in the longer term. With the expert support of BC Transit staff, the committee will continue to focus on policy issues, like defining how priorities for system expansion are set, so we’re ready when opportunities arise.

But that’s work to be done! Meanwhile on July 2, the entire transit system (including in the City of Nelson) is free. So, if you can, hop on the bus for Castlegar and have a swim at the pool, and take a look at Sculpture Walk.  Or carry on to Trail to see their downtown revitalization, and their beautiful old rock walls and covered stairs.

Take a bus for free. Explore our region. Great idea!

At the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) convention in early June the most frequent word I heard had to be “infrastructure.” This was usually accompanied by well-deserved backslapping. The FCM has done effective advocacy to get a long-term (10 year) commitment for federal funding for pipes, roads and treatment plants.

Those funds are needed, especially given what we witnessed last week. The flooding in numerous cities reminds us that we’re not just dealing with the infrastructure deficit of past neglect. We also have to ensure we can handle major storms, which will occur more frequently as the climate changes.

The second-most frequent word I heard was “partnership.” This was the focus of a report released at the convention, called The State of Canada’s Cities and Communities 2013 – Opening a New Chapter. Sounds a bit dry, you think? It’s really important, if you care about cities’ ability to continue providing affordable services.

As you may know, local governments were not included in the Canadian constitution. Instead, the provincial/territorial governments were given the authority to create a system of local government. So our powers and limitations come from provincial legislation.

The FCM report’s “new chapter” is about redefining local government’s place, a “re-invention of the federal-municipal relation.” As one speaker said, right now we find ourselves waiting in line with other interest groups to lobby the federal government. We should be at the table!

The 1867 model no longer works, but after 10 years of lobbying for constitutional change, the FCM changed strategies, concentrating on the infrastructure file.

This report signals a change from advocating on single issues to asking that the federal government acknowledge that cities are full and equal partners, with the right to a place at the table. It asks that a new framework be created to define and institutionalize this equal relationship, and that a collaborative approach be used to address issues like housing, poverty, policing costs, energy and job creation.

Of course local governments need more resources to meet increasing demands. But we also want to be part of the planning and policy-making. As Green Party leader Elizabeth May said at the convention, we need a coherence of federal, provincial and municipal policy to address the big common issues. We need to think and act like a country.

It’s interesting to consider that, as we approach Canada Day. How do we break down the silos and work together, all levels of government, in a collaborative partnership?

Happy Canada Day!

 

Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor who shares this space with her colleagues around the table

 

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