As municipal representatives prepare for September’s Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention, the province’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) has emerged as the central theme in the organization’s catalogue of resolutions.
“We had numerous resolutions come in on that, particularly from the northern communities,” said Sharon Gaetz, a Chilliwack councillor and chair of UBCM’s resolutions committee. “These communities are worried that there are no incentives for local governments. There are for business and there are for individuals, but local governments are going to have to change their fleet and some of their buildings, and they have to have this done by 2012, and our only source of revenue is property taxation.”
The carbon tax entered the economy on July 1. It accounts for another 2.4 cents per litre at the pump, at the same time cranking up prices for other types of fossil fuels, such as those used to heat homes. By 2012, when the tax is fully phased in, it will account for an additional 7.4 cents per litre of gasoline.
The plan, while welcomed in various environmental circles, has triggered a wave of criticism from opposition politicians and northern communities, where transit options are less plentiful, distances travelled are often greater and prices are already more daunting. According to Gaetz, gas prices were as high as $1.70 in some of British Columbia’s northern reaches.
“I know it’s dropped a little since then, but, for them, moving goods has been a huge issue. Of course, groceries are escalating. They feel that while this may be appropriate for some local governments, they need some special consideration. That came through loud and clear in the resolutions.”
The fiscal relationship between the province and its municipalities is also a dominant theme. In addition to publishing all the convention’s resolutions in about two weeks, UBCM will produce a policy paper on the shifting of responsibilities from provincial to local jurisdictions. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), said Gaetz, municipalities across the country have $120 billion in infrastructure projects to deal with and only one method of taxation to pay for them.
“Out of one dollar in taxation from all levels of government, the province and federal governments share 92 cents and local governments get eight cents,” she said. “So we have a daunting task ahead of us, and FCM has said repeatedly that we can’t afford to do this on property taxes alone.”
Together, those two issues make up the bulk of resolutions received by the committee, with concerns over the state of provincial highways also playing a large role. At the same time, said Gaetz, there was a wide range of topics broached throughout the 221 submitted resolutions. For example, Pitt Meadows filed one on caging chickens for egg production, a practice that the municipality has deemed inhumane.
While Squamish and Whistler figured prominently in last year’s 260 resolutions, much of that presence was a result of run of river power projects. Despite municipal apprehension, the province pushed through its plans. This year, said Gaetz, neither local government submitted anything of note.