According to Houston Mayor Shane Brienen, it’s still too soon to know whether any positive results were achieved at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention.
The annual convention, which gathers municipal leaders from across B.C. to discuss and bring forward issues to the provincial government, was held in Whistler earlier this month.
“Our UBCM meetings went very well,” Brienen told Houston Today. “We had good discussions with the provincial government on a broad range of issues that our community is facing.”
“It’s always difficult to measure what was achieved immediately after UBCM,” he added. “There will be follow-up calls and meetings over the next several months that will help determine our level of success.”
One of the issues brought forward by Houston council was the influx of disposed needles in the community.
According to the district, despite its size and remoteness, Houston is being disproportionately impacted by B.C.’s opioid crisis. Disposed needles have proliferated in the community and are being found in public areas such as parks, schoolyards, boulevards and alleyways.
Houston council also sought the support of the provincial government to expand the Dungate Community Forest. Council would like to see the community forest’s K2L Licence include up to 50,000 cubic metres in additional volume.
Social assistance programs were also a topic at this year’s convention. Council believes social programs are partly to blame for the fact that local employers have reported continued difficulty in filling job vacancies.
Council asked the province to review these programs to ensure that assistance is provided only to “those who need it” – such as individuals with multiple employment barriers or with physical or cognitive disabilities – rather than being used to support “personal lifestyle choices.”
In addition, council asked the provincial government to improve public transit options in the region.
At present, the only alternatives to private vehicle travel in Houston include BC Transit’s Hwy. 16 buses, Northern Health Connections, VIA Rail and the recently implemented BC Bus North. According to the district, each system has significant drawbacks, which make it difficult for users to utilize the systems in place.
In addition, council asked the province for support in reopening Coast Mountain College’s Houston campus (previously known as Northwest Community College) or, if that’s not a possibility, for support in attracting another post-secondary institution.
The district also asked the province for financial assistance to complete its downtown revitalization project and Hwy. 16 upgrades.