There's a lot up for discussion at this week’s annual summit between local governments and the provincial government in Whistler. Talks at the Union of B.C. Municipalities will feature local municipal and regional district leaders angling for more money and resources from cabinet ministers in particular.
And while there's lots to talk about – everything from wildfire damage to cannabis sales – the NDP government doesn't have a lot to put on the table. This time last year, the fledging provincial government was flush after inheriting a $2.7-billion surplus by the previous administration. Fast forward to the present and we now see the NDP has burned through that surplus and is now in a bitter dispute with local governments who are being forced to swallow a sharp increase in the cost of medical premiums following the introduction of the new employer health tax.
Municipalities and regional districts were hoping the financial burden of the tax would be offset by a new revenue stream being created from marijuana sales, but finance minister Carole James insists the cupboard is bare. This means local government will have no other option than to turn to ratepayers and property tax hikes to make up the difference.
I'm deeply concerned by all this because in our corner of the province we already have lots of outstanding issues. One of the first things I did upon being elected MLA was to push Transportation Minister Claire Trevena for a replacement for the aging Taylor Bridge, which I'm still working on. We also have yet to see an economic recovery plan for Fort Nelson, more money for seniors housing, and much needed upgrades for rural roads. These are all things that local governments and regional districts must have support from the provincial government.
LNG is another concern. This fall we will witness a showdown between Green Party leader Andrew Weaver and Premier John Horgan over the development of an export industry. Weaver has threatened to bring down the minority government if the NDP proceeds with what the Greens consider “LNG folly.”
Horgan has yet to demonstrate solidarity with 14 northern mayors who recently penned a letter and expressed severe disappointment with environmental activist Michael Sawyer, the man responsible for an 11th hour attempt to derail TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline. And the Trans Mountain pipeline fiasco – well, don’t even get me started on that one.
At a time when our province needs solid leadership, this premier needs to put on his work boots, get into the trenches, and support the northeast region of our great province.
Dan Davies is the BC Liberal MLA for Peace River North.