Comment: The provincial throne speech you should hear

A commentary by the past chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria

We begin by acknowledging that B.C. is a province full of people who are skilled, confident and ready for the road ahead. It’s a place of hope and opportunity. It’s the best place to live in an ever-changing world.

As we open the first session of the 42nd Parliament, our government remains committed to building a stronger province – for everyone.

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We recognize the extraordinary circumstance we face. COVID-19 cases are alarmingly increasing, the drug overdose crisis continues, and our economic challenges are formidable.

British Columbians will need to endure like never before until a vaccine is widely distributed.

Local communities are the bedrock of our society and have borne the brunt of these trying times. While our government has done much to address local concerns, we need to do much more.

With $8.6 billion in consolidated expenses annually and thousands of employees, local government is also one of the pillars of our provincial economy. Municipalities generate most of the economic wealth we all enjoy and our B.C. economy depends on well administered, business-friendly municipalities.

Various critical provincial (and federal government) services are delivered through local governments.

This government is committing to rejuvenate our villages, towns, cities, and regions — the essential foundation of society — for the next generation.

REJUVENATING LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Municipalities have the weighty responsibility of providing a wide range of critical local services and governance to about 89 per cent of the province’s population. There are 162 municipalities, ranging from 100 to 630,000 people and ranging in land area from 63 hectares to over 8.5 million hectares.

As a priority, we commit to modernizing local government by updating the underlying legislation.

After a quarter century, the Community Charter needs reviewing to reflect a growing population and a more complex society. As well, the Local Government Act of 1998, which primarily governs regional districts, will be updated.

A plan will be developed to consolidate for administrative efficiency the balkanized regions of Greater Victoria and Metro Vancouver, with their 13 and 21 jurisdictions respectively.

The urgent need to reform the governance in the unique capital region can no longer be ignored. It’s our provincial capital, the gateway to the Island, a major service, tourist, technology and transportation hub, with a growing population.

Reforming governance will include creating regional policing, regional transportation and regional fire service critical to residents of Greater Victoria.

Prior to the next municipal election cycle, training courses will be offered to local politicians vying for office and mandatory for those newly elected.

For too long, local politicians have argued about salaries and so a provincial pay grid will be established for councillors and mayors.

The pandemic has imposed extraordinary strains on the business community, resulting in closures or disruptions for public health reasons. It’s time to review tax policy: Businesses are tax collectors and wealth generators, and both realities must now be reflected in tax law.

We must strive to give better value for our local tax dollars. In light of the pandemic and economic pressures municipalities face, we will again fund the valuable work of the Office of the Local Auditor General and double their budget.

Not only is the economy generated at the municipal level, but the vast majority of infrastructure is the responsibility of local government. To ensure that municipalities are keeping pace with infrastructure needs and our growing economy, we will transfer tax points and create an agency which has the sole task of infrastructure contract administration at the request of municipalities.

Nothing is more important to citizens than their safety and security, and so we will be redoubling our efforts to improve our fragmented disaster response capability. That will include a mandated regional fire dispatch system in Greater Victoria.

BETTER MUNICIPAL SERVICES

Local governments have an enormous impact on the day-to-day lives of people in our communities through the provision of essential infrastructure, services, public services, community amenities, and emergency response.

Local governments play a pivotal role in serving, supporting and uniting people in extraordinary and difficult times.

As you begin a new legislative session, this government calls on you to keep the people of B.C. and the next generation at the centre of your work while rejuvenating local government.

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