I attended the B.C. Mayor’s Caucus in Penticton May 16-18. Eighty-six mayors from every corner of the province were gathered together to discuss common issues and a collective approach. The meeting was one of the most significant and productive meetings that I have attended in a long time. Getting B.C. mayors together in a room, working respectfully together on issues affecting our communities and our representatives, was significant and we represented every size of community from large to small.
Downloading of services from other levels of government has been happening since the 1990s and has been continuing ever since with little or no consultation. Our communities have had to come up with the funding in order to continue with programs and we have had to pass those expenses on to our tax payers.
Our communities are the economic engines of B.C. and we have limited resources. Our funding is raised by property taxes, fees, and charges for services and transfers from other orders of government. Mandate creep has occurred and is continuing to occur as the Provincial and Federal governments continue to download responsibilities as a means to manage their budget deficits.
Downloads occur when governments stop delivering a service such as psychiatric hospitals, social services, unconditional grants, police grants etc; or legislate a shift in responsibility to the local level; changes to services without increasing funding as demand grows and without consultation or resources. The downloading has been a source of frustration for B.C. mayors and councils for a long time. Local governments receive less than 10 per cent of total public revenues. Ninety per cent is kept at the Provincial and Federal levels. However, we provide 65 per cent of public infrastructure in Canada.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts took the bull by the horns and put a steering committee together which in turn put the inaugural meeting together.
At the close of the inaugural meeting, the 86 mayors from across B.C. are calling for an immediate discussion, beginning with the Premier and Cabinet, to examine the state of B.C. communities and specifically, for a more efficient use of existing resources to better address the challenges facing residents.
The B.C. Mayors’ Caucus endorsed the following statement:
“B.C. communities are frontline service providers for our citizens and we are seeking a new partnership with the provincial and federal governments in the best interests of all our communities. The B.C. Mayors’ Caucus requests an immediate discussion on the efficient use of existing resources to better address the challenges our residents face.”
The Mayors’ Caucus decided to move forward as an annual event. There were many Mayors who could not attend due to meeting conflicts and a future meeting will be held in September in Victoria. The B.C. Mayors’ Caucus is structured after successful models across North America and Europe.