Opinion

COLUMN: Community conversations are key

Spring, the harbinger of all things new, has arrived. And the first day of spring this year was especially meaningful because we welcomed a new baby girl into our family. This is surely a sign that this will be a special year ahead.

I returned from holding this new baby to attend the 81st meeting of the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) in Creston this past week. This conference is an opportunity for your local government representatives to meet, discuss and debate issues of common concern from around the Kootenay Boundary region. The event was interesting, lively and educational and there will be some interesting issues moving forward to provincial level.

The Provincial Government recently proposed a Bill to create two zones for the Agricultural Land Reserve. Zone 1 lands, mostly located in the Lower Mainland, will be strictly reserved for agricultural purposes.

Zone 2 lands will provide more flexibility about the types of activities that will be allowed. The entire Kootenay/Boundary region has been designated Zone 2.

The AKBLG membership passed a resolution asking that the adoption of Bill 24 be delayed until consultation with the public, local governments, Union of BC Municipalities, and affected parties take place.

This may seem simple, but the process to reach this decision was not a straightforward one. There are people on both sides of this issue, some advocating for reform and others who believe the current system works well and does not need any adjustment. The fact that this resolution was debated in Creston, one of the richest agricultural areas in this region, was important.

We were greeted outside the meeting by a group of farmers and supporters who want the status quo maintained, however, there are other farmers and ranchers who want the current system changed.

There were concerns about the sustainability of farming and food and questions about how much land has been removed or put into the reserve over the last 40 years. The fact that Nelson brought the resolution forward angered some people who wondered why a municipality would raise this issue rather than a Regional District.

As well, is the criteria used to ascertain if lands are agriculturally feasible still accurate and relevant? Farming practices have evolved over time and lands that might not have been arable in the past, might well produce now.

Case in point — the best wine grapes thrive in some of the worst soils in the world, and some very good wines are now being produced in the Creston area.  All of these factors came into play during debate and the final resolution to hit the floor and pass was acceptable to the majority of the membership because it calls for a deeper understanding of the issue through consultation with the very people who will be affected.

We recently learned that the Jumbo Glacier Resort Municipality received a $1 million grant from the Province to sustain their operations over the next five years.

The membership endorsed a resolution stating their strong opposition to the funding of any municipalities without residents. Again, the debate was animated on this issue. Local governments from across the region stated the difficulties they are experiencing in providing services at ever increasing costs with little option other than taxation to offset those costs.

The grants that the Province provides back to local governments are an important part of providing good services to residents.

I was re-elected to the AKBLG executive in the position of Vice-President and am excited to be able to continue the work I’ve been involved in over the past few years. Mayor Christina Benty of Golden was elected President and we have a strong executive.

I chaired two committees this year — the Columbia River Treaty Committee and the Regional Collaboration Committee. We reported on our work at this meeting.

The Columbia River Treaty Committee will be pursuing action on the domestic issues it identified over the past two years of consultation with communities across the Basin.

Among them are, implementing water use plans, engaging with BC Hydro to improve engagement with Basin residents on operations, and moving forward on economic development issues in affected communities. The committee will also monitor and respond to any action taken at Provincial and Federal levels on treaty negotiations.

The Regional Collaboration committee told the stories of three community conversations — one each in Fruitvale, Grand Forks and Cranbrook. So many of the forums for citizens and their politicians are formal and restrictive.

These conversations were unique in that everyone was engaged in a less formal way to talk about what was important to each community. The pilot was extremely successful and we are receiving requests from other communities interested in hosting their own conversations.

The cooperative efforts of your local governments are making a difference for everyone. I invite you to contact me if you have any questions about the conference and the work we are doing at the regional level. Enjoy the sunshine!

 

— Deb Kozak is a Nelson city councillor. She shares this space with her colleagues around the table.

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