Straight Outta Crompton: Wonking Out At UBCM 2012
Let me set the scene. I put on my little name tag and picked up my new computer bag, thanked the kind greeter and walked into a massive room filled with mayors, councillors and provincial ministers from all over British Columbia. I’ve been in rooms set-up for conferences many times before. Uncomfortable chairs facing a high raised table and podium, flags everywhere, its stuffy and everyone has coffee in those little half cups. There was a difference with this one though. Placed at the typical conference audience question microphone points were as you’d expect… microphones. BUT, these weren’t your everyday conference audience question mics… they were twinned and they had names! One of each pair was named “PRO” and the other “CON”. I am involved in municipal government for lots of reasons but one important one is that I like to wonk out and debate public policy. It gets my heart racing like a new bike or beautiful pair of skis (like the Prior skis up in Millennium Place). Needless to say, walking into a room of 1000 people ready for a big public policy wonk out had me at “Welcome to UBCM 2012”.
One of the major reasons UBCM meets once a year is to debate, pass and reject motions from their membership. The vast majority of these motions do not have legislative power in and of themselves as UBCM is not a governing body. Instead these motions, when passed, are used to direct the UBCM board as they lobby higher levels of government on behalf of British Columbia municipalities. So when you heard that UBCM passed a motion decriminalizing marijuana… you should know no laws have changed. “But, I thought at UBCM our mayor decriminalized it…” will likely not be received favourably by the RCMP. In fact, the Conservative Cabinet Minister James Moore spoke to UBCM the day after the decriminalization vote and suggested that a motion by our membership would not sway his government’s position in any way.
Of particular interest to our Sea to Sky Communities was our motion to allow Special Occasion Licenses to permit alcohol consumption in the presence of children. Currently at jazz festivals and events like the Granfondo we cage the beer and wine drinkers so they don’t infect the rest of us. Our view is that current policy is archaic and leads to binge drinking, less family friendly events and ultimately events that are less than they could be. We made our case as thoroughly as we could and after a lively debate the motion passed with over 60% support. I was pretty excited about our victory and on the way out of the session I bumped into the provincial minister responsible, Rich Coleman. I asked him… “Rich, after our successful motion can I expect you will push through our motion?” Rich answered, “It’s not going to happen”. Our alcohol motion met with the same response from higher levels of government that the decriminalization motion did… “no”.
So I asked myself… Is all this debate and voting just a massive waste of time? Is it just a big debate club for public policy nerds like me? I think, no. As I looked deeper into the motions passed and the course set for UBCM in the past it became clear to me that these motions are first steps. John Grills said it best in reference to alcohol policy… “It is the slowest process around… you just hope you get to be around to see the changes you helped set in motion”.
I really enjoyed UBCM. I enjoyed the debate and lobbying other levels of government to consider Whistler’s needs. The biggest lesson I learned was that in the future I should fight hard for the changes Whistler wants but not expect changes to always be immediate. Whether it be securing affordable transit, protecting our rural resource roads, getting security around RMI funding or changing alcohol policy… for Whistler, it is a long walk in the same direction. I had to say goodbye to my beloved “PRO” and “CON” mics but I will be back… pushing forward Whistler’s agenda. It is a real privilege to represent you.
This week the RMOW:
- Announced the partnership with the Audain Foundation on building a world class Art Museum in Whistler to house the Audain Collection. This is incredible. I am not sure what else to say… It’s a game changer in my view.
- Rezoned the 8017 Hwy 99 to allow for transportation services and light industrial. The developer plans on making this property a “back of house” location for Whistler.
- Rezoned the transit facility to allow for commercial services other than BC Transit. This will allow BC Transit to rent space to park and wash charter buses. There is hope that this will be a revenue generator for transit in Whistler.
- Hosted the Ironman Canada jury as they consider Whistler’s bid to host. We should know in the next few days, whether we have been successful.