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BC parties pitch plans to please cities

It may be a provincial affair, but municipal government is on the election agenda, too.

Last week, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) published four parties' responses to its provincial election platform. Building Tomorrow Together outlines five key priorities municipalities would like to see as a focus for provincial government: sound governance, local government finance, infrastructure, economic development and environmental stewardship.

"We really wanted to make all the parties aware of the work we do on behalf of local government in British Columbia," says UBCM president and Quesnel Mayor Mary Sjostrom.

The responses differed in their level of detail and commitment.

In terms of facilitating consultation and mutual respect between the provincial and municipal layers of government -- a sometimes tumultuous relationship -- the BC Conservatives and Greens were the most resolute in their responses.

"We would ensure that no decisions affecting municipalities would be made without consulting with the UBCM," wrote the Conservatives.

The Green Party promised to give local governments authority over energy development, social services and transportation, as well as including them in decisions on regional growth, climate change, zero waste principles and land protection. The platform also mentions the creation of elected regional bodies to help govern resource management, health and social trusts.

Meanwhile, the Liberals highlighted what it -- and Sjostrom -- sees as a positive relationship with municipalities: "Today's BC Liberal government has a proven track record, working with UBCM and local governments on issues that affect them."

The Liberals were more forward-looking in their description of arming municipalities with revenue options: They have committed to $35 million in Small Community and Regional District Grants, and $41 million in Traffic Fine Revenue Sharing. Their response also noted a 20-year agreement with the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality to aid with infrastructure costs.

Other parties focused on sending more tax money in municipalities' direction: The NDP said it will allocate carbon tax revenues to improving public transit and building green infrastructure.

For their part, the Greens want to siphon off one per cent of the PST for municipal emission reduction programs. They would also create a Green Venture Capital Fund to spur new local green businesses, and support green jobs.

Revenue streams covered, the UBCM then wanted the parties to commit to reviewing the eligibility criteria for infrastructure funding, and support local choice around private-public partnerships.

The BC Conservatives were, again, fully on board.

The Liberals and Greens supported more local autonomy over infrastructure development, although the Liberals stated their position on provincial government involvement in procurement on large-scale projects. Both voiced their preference for public-private partnerships.

The NDP said it would end the requirement that projects receiving provincial funding must use public-private partnerships.

It had the more to say when it came to economic development. The New Democrats highlighted their Local Business First government procurement policy, in addition to their goal of helping small businesses grow. They also emphasized their commitment to the high-tech sector, tourism, arts sectors and rural economic development -- that involves agriculture, mining, liquefied natural gas and forestry.

In contrast was the Greens' response, which proposed to shift taxation onto -- and subsidies away from -- "unsustainable or environmentally-harmful" resource industries, making them uneconomical to the point that they shut down. The party would concentrate on job training programs that fit people within a green economy model.

The Liberals touted already-established regional pilots to identify projects that will best attract investments and jobs in sectors highlighted in the much-touted BC Jobs Plan. The plan also includes a commitment to signing 10 new non-treaty agreements with First Nations groups by 2015, the Liberals wrote in response to the First Nations relationships branch of the UBCM's economic development question.

In this area, the New Democrats promise to convene with the First Nations Leadership Council and all B.C. chiefs within 100 days of becoming the new governing party. The goal is to formulate a four-year action plan targeting economic opportunity, education, social services, the justice system and poverty, among other priorities in First Nations communities.

The Green Party has a comprehensive plan in mind, too. It intends to collaborate with First Nations on amplifying the economic capacity and quality of life in their communities. Honouring titles and treaty rights, not to mention working on reconciliation at the federal level, are on the Green agenda, too.

The Conservatives were quiet on First Nations relations, saying only that it will examine the Supreme Court of Canada treaty decisions, and that its economic platform planks will help all British Columbians.

When it came to the UBCM's question on the monitoring and enforcement of environmental regulations, the Liberals said they would be "vigorous, robust and independent" in their response. The Liberals increased funding to the Environmental Assessment Office this year.

The NDP, too, will invest more money in the office but sees the need to fortify the environmental assessment process "to ensure B.C. will have rigorous, science-based environmental standards, real and meaningful consultation with First Nations, and efficient timelines."

The New Democrats commit to rejuvenating some BC Parks funding, and focus on science-based evidence when it comes to wildlife and fisheries decisions.

"The GPBC is the province's Environmental Party," write the Greens, who outlined their BC Energy Strategy in their response to the UBCM. Specific to municipalities are the points on the creation of small, decentralized power plants, funding for municipal biomass conversion facilities, and a council to advise all levels of government about energy supply.

The Green Party also has plans to lift the weight of pollution- and waste-related costs off municipalities' shoulders by taxing them at their source.

In two areas, all parties were more or less silent: protecting local governments from liability related to provincial environmental regulations and standards, and matching federal funding for programs that fall under the long-term infrastructure plan.

The union is soliciting remarks from independents as well. So far it has received one response, from Gary Young of Cariboo-Chilcotin.

You can read the responses in full here.

Natascia Lypny recently completed a practicum at The Tyee.

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