What is the future of the provincial relationship with local government?

Mar 23, 2021 | 42-1, Blog, Governance, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

When I was a municipal councillor in the District of Central Saanich, I remember well the relationship between local and provincial government. It was, and still is, top-down with the provincial government dictating to communities their priorities and holding a vast majority of the financial tools that are needed to fund the important work of community operations.

During the 2018 municipal election in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford’s government legislated a cut of the number of elected councillors in the City of Toronto.

The city has challenged the legislation and it is now before the Supreme Court of Canada. British Columbia is the only provincial/territorial government to intervene in the court case.

I asked the Attorney General about his decision to side with Ontario in what some experts have called “extremely regressive.”

[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

In 2018, the Ontario government unilaterally cut the Toronto city council from 47 members to 25. Just last week the Supreme Court of Canada heard the city’s arguments that the province infringed on the charter rights when they did that. The province of British Columbia is the only province or territory in this country that intervened in the case. We are the only province or territory that intervened in that case.

Martha Jackman, professor of constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, says the B.C. government’s position relies on an “extremely regressive” reading of the Constitution of Canada. She goes on to say, “I’m disappointed to see a social democratic government proposing the same very regressive, conservative and narrow reading of the charter rights” that Ontario argued.

My question is to the Attorney General. The Attorney General stated: “The relationship between provinces and municipalities is an ongoing dialogue between the province and our cities. It’s an issue that should be decided in discussions with our cities rather than through the B.C. Supreme Court or the Supreme Court of Canada.” Does the Attorney General still believe this to be true? If so, why has the government decided to intervene in the case from Ontario?

Hon. D. Eby:

I read the same Tyee article as the member did. The member will know that it’s a difficult thing for an Attorney General to comment on a case that’s in front of the court, which the member acknowledges is the case.

I will certainly say that I agree with the quote from me that the member read out…

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker:

Members.

Hon. D. Eby:

…that we are better off working with municipalities about how we work together, rather than having the court decide that for us. It’s an important issue that’s in that case. I look forward to the court’s decision.

I’ll just note that we’re the only province intervening in favour of the federal carbon tax as well. Simply because we’re the only province is not an indication of the province’s position or the progressiveness of that position. What is, is our arguments in front of the court, and we look forward to the court’s decision.

Mr. Speaker:

The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen:

I remember the time that I was at the local government table. In fact, I’m a member of this assembly because of the frustration that I felt at the top-down relationship between municipalities and the province.

Some will say that municipalities are creatures of the province and that, as such, gives us the ability to kind of do whatever we want from this tower that we sit in here. Municipalities are not our junior partner, nor is local government the training ground for provincial or federal politicians. They are our partners in delivering democratic governance.

Brian Frenkel, president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, has stated that B.C.’s argument is in conflict with the “intent of the Community Charter and the Local Government Act, which recognizes B.C.’s local governments, collectively, as an independent, autonomous and accountable order of government within their jurisdiction.”

This government has touted that it wants to build a better relationship with local governments. Frankly, this is a remarkable way to do that. If the Attorney General is of the mind to sidestep my general question about relationships with the municipalities, then perhaps it’s best for me to simply ask my former colleague from local government tables, the Minister of Municipal Affairs: what does this government’s intervention mean to the relationships with local governments, and should local governments be expecting an even more top-down approach from this province going forward?

Hon. D. Eby:

You know, the member does raise important questions about that case and about the province’s involvement. I look forward to having that discussion with the member once the court has issued its decision.

I’ll note that the evidence for our province’s approach to municipalities was best demonstrated this week in the city of Victoria, where we entered into an MOU around our respective areas of jurisdiction.

This cooperative approach with a city is not unique. We’re in similar discussions with Vancouver, Grand Forks, Hope, and we were in Penticton. It doesn’t always go well, but our spirit of cooperation is there, and for those cities that want to work with us on the difficult issues of the day, we are there.

I know my colleague the Minister for Municipal Affairs is there as well. I look forward to working with our partners in municipal governments, wherever we can do it.

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