Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald recently shared his views on the future of smaller towns in British Columbia.
“We are experiencing challenging times here but I also think there is opportunity as well. We have the ability to have a say on the public land which is almost unique to British Columbia. There is tremendous wealth here and a level of safety. It is a community which works very well and there is a lot of opportunity,” Macdonald said.
He went on to explain that the community will be strongest when it has control over it’s own destiny.
“The key to resilience in my mind, regardless of the factors on the outside which we can’t particularly control, is that we have to be able to control our own decision making. There is tremendous knowledge in our community and we have the ability to make informed decisions,” he said.
Macdonald then pointed to the province as a whole where he feels there needs to be a degree of equity with local government.
“You have to make sure that people through their efforts and abilities can make a life for themselves,” he said.
He said this can be done through the province by making sure services and opportunities in areas like Golden are fair.
The other part he felt the province has to be fair about is making sure that there is access to education opportunities and that there are no barriers put in place to stifle their future.
Macdonald also added that he felt everyone have to be stewards of the land.
“We work in the forest. We depend upon clean water and air. We depend upon these things and the Provincial Government has a unique role compared to other levels of government to make sure we look after the public lands,” he said.
He said he if these things were done well then a community would be in a good place. He also felt local entrepreneurs, if given the proper setting, would be willing to come here and produce opportunities.
When asked about a way for more money to filter down from the higher levels of government to the municipal level, Macdonald said, “What the Provincial Government would be saying is that we need more from the Federal Government. The fact is the tools the local government has for taxation are very limited. They are expected to provide a tremendous number of services and they are dependent on a granting system which can distort the decision making,” he said.
He added that at times the money which comes to towns through grants can be driven more from a provincial need than where the town necessarily needs it.
He said that at time in a Pre-election period the Provincial Government will want to highlight certain areas which can be politically advantageous for the short term but not necessarily be what municipalities need.
Even though the granting system has issues Macdonald thinks there are systems which can work for all levels of government.
“A granting system can be set up in a number of ways. It is entirely up to the Provincial Government to be responsible in the systems it sets up. At different times and different situations you get good granting systems,” he said.
Macdonald said the ideal situation for municipal governments is to have a funding stream which would allow them to make a decision on where the money should be spent based off of grants.
“That would be a difficult thing to do. There is pressure on a local government. The fiscal pressures on the Provincial Governments right now are real and the Federal Government would say the same thing. The reality of it is everybody deals with their own problem first,” he said.
Another area which has caused friction between the local and higher levels of government is downloading.
“I think there has been an awful lot of downloading on local governments without the resources to actually do the work,” he said.
Macdonald used the local highway road rescue issues as an example.
“How does that fall on our local fire department? They are doing a great job but how did that become our problem?,” he said.
When asked if he felt there was a breaking point on the downloading to local government, Macdonald said there probably was but he did not know what that point would be.
As for what has to happen moving forward, Macdonald felt empowerment was a key.
“At a provincial level it is not only empowering local government but it is also empowering people in the community,” Macdoanld said. He said people cannot be removed from decision because it makes people less empowered. “I would argue it is disrespectful to those that live here and it leads to poor decisions.”
He added, “I think that as soon as you are in government there is a barrage of pressure that is tied back to financial capacity. I think that to make your situation more difficult to help someone else’s situation, even if it makes good sense, is just a challenge for any politician,” he said.