Rural B.C. needs to be heard

As The Mayor Sees It with District of Barriere Mayor Bill Humphreys

It would seem on a representation per capita that B.C. sent the largest contingent of people to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference held this year in Niagara, Ontario.

There were approximately 1800 delegates that spent four days discussing most everything that has to do with the governance of cities and towns.

Well, in truth, there was more discussion on climate change, extreme weather and how to build resilience to storms, disaster mitigation, rail safety, agriculture issues, connectivity, social-economic development, transportation, affordable housing, recycling, aging infrastructure, the lack of Federal funding for dealing with local issues, small town and rural issues as well as the New Canada Building Fund than there were on pure governance; but in the end you cannot properly build policies that direct staff without a broad knowledge of what challenges they face each and every day.

Speaking of the New Canada Building Fund, most of us wanted to know how big the find was and what does it cover? In the end our questions seemed a bit premature since nobody can give a straight and simple answer around how to access the funds.

When asked about rural communities, they had no information at all about towns and districts that had populations the size of the District of Barriere.

It would seem that to other orders of government a rural community is around 10,000 residents. As a result most funding models are based on a much larger scale than what is actually found in rural Canada.

The rural communities all across our country have the same issues. Their roads, buildings and water systems are slowly failing, and there is no way for them to raise even the one-third funding that is required to qualify for these large multi level funding programs.

There needs to be a separate and distinct message sent to both the Federal and Provincial governments that rural communities need to be heard. Our issues are as dire as the larger centers, and unlike them we have no tax base that can help us to fix the problems.

Bear in mind here, that I am not advocating that we raise local taxes to gather more money to fix our local issues. What I am advocating we do is far from that.

What we need to do is keep more of the taxes we do collect right here where we live. Presently, if you believe the people that give out statistics, we get to keep eight cents of every dollar we collect in local taxes. I can honestly tell you that this is just not working for small communities like ours.

In fact, the problem gets worse when you factor in smaller communities like ours pay more for each project we undertake to fix infrastructure than communities the size of Kamloops do.

When we send out a request for a proposal, or a request for a quotation, companies from outside our district bid, and they have to charge extra for travel and other costs like living out allowances.

There are a number of groups that act as our advocates in bringing local issues to the forefront when the Federal and Provincial governments are setting policies. The FCM is one such group, and it is important that each type and size of community tell the FCM what their local issues are. By talking face to face with the people that work on our behalf we can strive to bring changes that will benefit us all.

During the conference I was fortunate to speak with a number of people including Brock Carlton, Chief Executive Officer for FCM, Claude Dauphin FCM President and Mayor of the Borough of Lachine, QC, and Gary Burroughs Regional Chair, Niagara Region.

To each and every one of the people I spoke to my message was the same. We need to start recognizing the millions of people here in Canada that live in the truly small communities and rural situations,  and start working to help them with their basic needs of clean water, safe streets and highways and support for local initiatives to help them build healthy and sustainable communities.

This is not rocket science, all rural communities need to be heard.