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Homelessness, carbon tax, foresty are hot issues at UBCM

PENTICTON – Homelessness, the carbon tax, and the collapse of B.C.’s forestry industry are expected to emerge as hot issues during this week’s annual convention of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

At the top of this week’s official agenda are homelessness and the inseparable problem of providing treatment to “dually diagnosed” people who are both drug addicted and mentally ill. UBCM chair Robert Hobson has released a policy paper calling on federal and provincial governments to implement cohesive housing strategies. And two of the top three resolutions to be considered first by the UBCM membership on Wednesday morning are a call for the province to expedite provision of care for dually diagnosed, and a strenuous call for national and provincial housing strategies.

But as is often the case at UBCM — an ambitious organization that attempts to address the needs of wildly diverse municipalities spread across a large province — the hottest issues are shunted to the back-end of the week-long agenda, or are brought forward from the floor.

A rebellion against B.C.’s new carbon tax will likely hit the convention floor later on Wednesday, in the form of no less than 11 resolutions lobbed into play by representatives form Grand Forks, Williams Lake, Fort St. John, Smithers, Quesnel and rural districts including Northern Rockies and Kitimat-Stikine. These and other rural governments are giving voice to complaints that Premier Campbell’s carbon tax is inequitable, and will hit their rural communities much harder than urban areas such as Vancouver.

Also brewing to a boil are complaints about the province’s handling of forestry issues. The collapsed US housing market and the pine beetle have delivered a double-whammy to forestry-dependent communities throughout B.C.’s interior, and way-past-angry local officials are here to voice their complaints to Forestry Minister Rich Coleman on Wednesday and Thursday.

Provincial NDP leader Carole James is expected to fan the flames of those concerns in an address Thursday, and Premier Campbell is expected to attempt to douse them by distributing new mountains of cash in a speech Friday.

Representatives of most of British Columbia’s more than 180 local governments are squeezed into the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. There weren’t enough small meeting spaces to host the hundreds of one-on-one meetings these representatives are seeking with provincial officials, so the province set up a small village of shiny construction trailers in the parking lot.

We media types are not allowed in the “Little Victoria” encampment. So this Penticton parking lot has come to resemble the world around us in at least one way: If you want to find a journalist, look in the bar; if you're looking for a Minister, try the trailer park.

Monte Paulsen is editor of The Hook.

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