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UBCM update

Council comes home hopeful Clark speech at B.C. muni conference inspires outlook By Chris "Demon Voter" Woodall What seems to be a promise from B.C. Premier Glen Clark to free up municipal money-raising ventures inspired Whistler's mayor and council, back home from the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference in Vancouver, Oct. 21-24. "There was a lot of talk (by Clark) about rewriting the Municipal Act by the spring," says Whistler Mayor Hugh O'Reilly of Clark's key-note speech Friday morning, Oct. 24. "It was a pretty bold statement. Let's see if he lives up to it and how comprehensive the changes will be," O'Reilly says. "For the government to say it will rewrite the act for spring, they must have done a lot of work on it already." "It will be good to get out of the straitjacket," says Councillor Stephanie Sloan of a Municipal Act she says goes back to the original act drafted by a British government 150 years ago for its Canadian colonies. It's B.C.'s turn to get going now that Alberta and other provinces have reupholstered their municipal acts, Sloan says. The main benefit of an updated act will be to let municipalities come up with inventive ways to generate revenue other than simply upping property taxes. "People are looking for a lot of red tape to drop," O'Reilly says. Whistler council seems pumped for action, especially when they look back on their trip to ski resorts in the United States where partnerships with private enterprise have resulted in arts and culture centres or other infrastructure development. "We'll have to watch what happens," says Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "Whistler really needs those tools. We saw from our trip to Colorado and Idaho that we can't lay on additional revenues on locals without being able to take similar avenues (as the American resorts)." Even with changes to the Municipal Act, O'Reilly says Whistler will have to use every avenue it has to keep after the province. "We're probably a lot more aggressive than other B.C. communities in that," O'Reilly says. One avenue is to make use of Ted Nebbeling, the Liberal MLA representing Whistler and newly appointed municipal affairs critic. "We'll be discussing that, but I don't know if they'd (the government side) heed policy advice from an opposition MLA," O'Reilly says. "Ted's role will be to stand up and defend our cause once policy is set," O'Reilly says. Meeting with Municipal Affairs Minister Mike Farnsworth could be another avenue, but it wasn't much of one for Councillor Kristi Wells. She had been hoping to talk personally with the minister during the UBCM to impress on him the urgency of the affordable housing situation in Whistler and the necessity to get speedy approval from the province of housing projects accepted by Whistler. The ministry, however has been saying it is swamped with municipal bylaws that need provincial go-ahead before they become local law. "The meeting was a bit stiff," Wells says of her one-on-one with the minister. "We've talked before, but not in person, so he knew what I was pushing for." Wells tried to impress upon Farnsworth that municipal solutions for the Lower Mainland aren't appropriate for Whistler's resort situation. "I told him we need proactive, creative solutions," Wells says. "His tone was defensive," Wells says. "I wouldn't say we made some headway."