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Pecking out of order

How UBCM offers local governments access to provincial overlords

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A pecking order, in the feathered world of poultry, is a system of social arrangement. Those birds strutting through a beta existence avoid the feed until their alpha counterparts achieve full glut.

In the human realm, the term is usually used to describe any kind of hierarchy, social, governmental or anything else.

The hierarchy of government can be vexing. The feds call shots, fill their bellies, and toss leftovers to the provinces, who do much of the same before leaving the remaining grain to municipalities. And so municipal unions coalesce in the hopes of a bigger bite.

To that end, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convenes annually to interface with those senior circles of government. On the convention floor, which this September, will be in Penticton, delegates shape policy from a host of resolutions passed by regional districts and municipal governments. This year, 230 resolutions have streamed into a UBCM committee struck to manage such things. That figure is down from about 260 last year, according to UBCM President Susie Gimse.

In addition to forming a policy front, members of B.C.’s 189 local governments have the opportunity to meet with provincial officials and ministers.

“It provides a venue for advancing community issues,” said Gimse. “It also provides an opportunity to work with one another, to network and find out what other communities are doing. The most important aspect is that through our resolution process it sets the policy among the membership and guides us in our deliberations with provincial and federal governments.”

But how effective are those deliberations? How easy is it to convince a bigger bird to forgo a few pecks in favour of its smaller counterparts? Given that the poultry world is devoid of an electoral apparatus, fowl are less likely to score points than municipal leaders. But even municipal leaders hit loggerheads, regardless of their grassroots proximity to voters.

There are nearly 30 regional districts in British Columbia, which is a unique set-up in Canada — though not North America, as the United States uses that approach for areas outside municipal boundaries. In B.C., those entities are allotted powers under the Local Government Act, which Gimse, herself a director in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, finds restrictive. There’s been many an effort to have regional districts brought under the umbrella of the Community Charter.

“What we were able to do last year was establish a regional district task force with the province to look at ways of addressing issues that are problematic for regional districts without the community charter,” said Gimse. “It’s a half measure, but it’s not where (the regional districts) want to be.”

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