I’ve slipped away from a very busy schedule on a glorious Sunday afternoon, to report to everyone at home about the work this local elected official has been doing during this hectic week at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference in Halifax.
I understand many of you may think this is a junket where politicians get away to relax on the taxpayer’s dime. I have worked tirelessly to ensure that each of us has received good value for our tax dollar and have personally paid for my family’s travel and related expenses (my wife Brenda and daughter Rhianon have joined me).
The time difference [4 hours], jet lag, and more than eight hours a day in hard convention seats, isn’t my idea of a holiday, yet I would do it again for the benefit of the information and knowledge gained, and for helping me to serve you better as your area Director.
The federation is making great strides in improving local government’s relationship with the Federal Government. Municipalities and Regional Districts are considered creations of the provincial government, not the federal government. When the federal government announced sweeping changes to wastewater regulations, it was the federation that pointed out the cost to some homeowners could be almost $1000/year, and convinced the government to phase in the regulations. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities also persuaded the government to provide phased funding to match the phased regulations, bringing some much needed relief to already highly taxed property owners.
The conference also had keynote speeches from notable guests such as Jack Layton, Leader of the Opposition, Bob Rae, Liberal Party interim Leader, Denis Lebel, Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities, and Elizabeth May, MP and Leader of the Green Party.
There were study sessions on topics ranging from water systems and wastewater treatment, to public/private partnerships on Brownfield clean up, to recycling programs and dealing with climate change, to name just a few.
One benefit of these conferences is the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with other elected officials, from all across this country.
It is important to know that we already have some programs in place that other jurisdictions are just now considering.
Yet, what is even more important is, that I can learn what others are doing in their communities, and bring that home to the Cowichan Valley and incorporate that knowledge into serving the community I was elected to represent.
One example of a lesson learned was the result of a question I posed to another keynote speaker Nik Nanos, of CTV/Globe and Mail polling fame. He was speaking about engaging the voter and other constituents. I asked him “How are we to engage the many taxpaying property owners who may not be full-time residents, such as snowbirds, or owners of seasonal properties in rural, recreational areas?”
He suggested that we should be using new tools, such as the internet, Twitter, Facebook and other new social media. Traditional media such as newspaper ads and mail are experiencing a decline in effectiveness. Many times people have said to me “I must have missed that notice!” This tied in perfectly with the study session on “How to use Social Media in your Municipality,” hosted by the new Mayor of Calgary. We may not be the size of Calgary or even have much at all in common with any city that size. Yet, I felt the lessons I learned were really quite valuable, and hopefully will lead to improved communication between the CVRD and our community it serves.
The overall benefit of conferences like this, are realized when the lessons learned are put into practical use. I continue to respond to your phone calls and e-mails and write the occasional column in the paper. I hope that we will soon be able to connect with each other using some of the new media tools available to us. I just may have to ask my daughter for help.