The 76th annual Vancouver Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference took place May 31 to June 3.
The conference began with the release of the FCM paper, Report on the State of Cities and Communities, that called for a new, lasting and strategic federal recognition of the role municipalities play in meeting national objectives.
“For Canada to embrace the 21st century with confidence, it needs cities and communities that contribute according to their full potential,” FCM president Karen Leibovici said.
“Jurisdiction and the Constitution can no longer be used as excuses for inaction.”
Workshops on topics such as development, telecommunications and healthy communities were held along with a youth panel and industry roundtable on the new FCM/Railway Assoc. of Canada proximity guidelines.
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach and councillors Norm Adomeit and Charlie Northrup attended the conference, May 31 to June 3 held at Vancouver Convention Centre on behalf of the town.
Bachrach attended forums on the changing perspectives of young people in Canada and healthy communities and also connected with a company that developed interactive online software to help engage residents in budget consultation.
Another valuable aspect of the conference is the networking among municipal leaders, he said.
“It’s a learning opportunity for elected officials,” Bachrach said.
“It allows us to see what other communities are doing that is innovative and can be applied here at home.
Bachrach said, because they work to make sure all their members’ voices are heard.
“The FCM will only be a voice for smaller communities if those communities are members,” he said.
“We need to ensure our region and communities our size, are represented.”
For their part, Village of Telkwa Councillor Rick Feurst and Chief Administrative Officer Kim Martinsen said the FCM provided them with opportunities to see how other communities dealt with infrastructure projects and the partnerships they formed to achieve their goals.
A symposium on railway activity, including representatives from the railway industry, was useful because it highlighted how many communities had the same concerns around delays and safety issues, something that can only become worse as rail traffic increases across the north, Fuerst said.
“It’s encouraging to see they’re talking about it, but we’re a small voice up here, but we need to make sure our voice is heard as a region,” Fuerst said.
“Trains have been an issue for this community for some time,” Martinsen said.
“It’s good for us [northern communities] to join together.”
In addition to the issues wth train traffic, Fuerst said the FCM conference revealed that many of the issues faced by Telkwa are impacting other northern communities across the country.
“It’s nice to know we’re not alone,” Martinsen said.
One of those issues is funding for infrastructure upgrades.
In Telkwa the water system needs upgrading and funding for such projects typically comes from the federal Gas Tax program, Fuerst said.
Fuerst said he was hoping to hear concrete details, at the FCM conference, as to how the federal government was going to deliver monies from the Gas Tax Fund towards infrastructure projects, but came away disappointed.
“He (MP Denis Lebel, Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities] announced they increased the overall amount, but were very vague on how they were going to roll it out,” Fuerst said.
“We’re hoping for something long term so we can make a plan and follow through, instead of hoping we can follow through.”
“They did say they would have a plan by March 2014,” Martinsen added.
The FCM lobbies on behalf of its members to influence government policy and has done so successfully with programs like the Gas Tax Fund and the GST rebate.
The FCM has been around since 1901.