A number of mayors and numerous councillors were defeated in the recent BC Municipal General Election. This was not necessarily associated with their performance or policy positions. Voters are clearly irritable at the moment. And this was their first chance, post-pandemic, to hold a public official, or several public officials, to account … for the pandemic response and lockdowns, and much more.
There is a lot to fuel voters’ frustration right now: inflation, food prices, gas prices, unaffordable housing, crime, healthcare, homelessness – the list is endless. Concern with a range of issues, not necessarily local, seems to have motivated voters to toss out the first politician(s) they could.
Leger released a revealing opinion poll in mid-September. The poll was conducted in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and the Sea to Sky Corridor, but results are likely to be similar in all of BC’s urban municipalities. 53% of voters believed housing affordability to be amongst the top three issues facing the municipality, 43% homelessness, poverty and mental health issues and 31% policing, public safety and crime. As Leger points out, all of the top municipal issues identified actually extend beyond municipal borders. Furthermore, these issues are largely or entirely beyond municipal jurisdiction.
Housing affordability. The province has jurisdiction for housing, but it has delegated the administration of building permits and inspections and significant zoning powers to the municipalities. Similarly, local governments can be involved in subsidized housing projects, but these generally require provincial and/or federal funding. Municipalities can, thus, impact housing costs, but only within the constraints of provincial legislation and policies. Further, the province has enacted the Agricultural Land Reserve and various taxation and regulatory policies, which directly affect land and housing costs.
Homelessness, poverty and mental health. Social and health policy is almost entirely under provincial jurisdiction, though the federal government has impacted and directed these policies with their “spending powers”. For example, to receive the Canada Health Transfer, the provinces must deliver healthcare as stipulated by the Canada Health Act. The province manages all programs.
Policing, public safety and crime. Local governments determine the budgets for police, not much more. The province is solely responsible for the administration of justice. The BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus (BCUMC), in the spring, sent a remarkable letter to the BC Solicitor General, in which they documented failures at the BC Prosecution Service, which resulted in prolific offenders – with dozens of police incidents and multiple convictions – being routinely released without charges, only to reoffend.
The mayors emphasized that while mental health care is crucial, it alone will not solve the problem. The mayors pleaded for “accountability and meaningful consequences” for offenders. After an encouraging initial response, the province is now dismissing the need for deterrence. “Simply arresting people … is going to be futile,” opined the Solicitor General. Catch and release has proven to be futile! Only the province, not the municipality, not the police, has the power to rectify the pervasive lack of deterrence.
So, while voters held their mayors and councils responsible for all these issues, they clearly do not have the jurisdiction (nor the resources) to contend with them. In the Leger poll, 84% of voters wanted more municipal involvement in housing affordability and 83% in homelessness, poverty and mental health issues, even though they were informed these were not typically municipal issues.
Policing, public safety and crime was also a particularly important issue, perhaps the predominant issue, in many of the urban electoral contests. Mayor Collin Basran of Kelowna co-wrote the letter to the province on behalf of the BCUMC, and raised the profile of the prolific offender issue in the media; and the mayors of the two largest cities in BC, Kennedy Stewart of Vancouver and Doug McCallum of Surrey were both members of the BCUMC. Ironically, Basran, and his two colleagues, went down to defeat.
David Eby, the next Premier, has promised to prioritize housing, healthcare, environment and public safety in his first 100 days. So, he is attuned to the issues with which the electorate are most concerned. However, Mr. Eby must ensure he heeds the voters’ message and responds effectively. The electorate has just dismissed a number of incumbent mayors and councillors who were not directly responsible for these issues. In the next BC election, voters may well eject the politicians who are directly responsible for managing these issues – Premier Eby and his NDP MLAs.
Bruce W Uzelman
I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age. My parents owned a successful general store. My siblings and I were required to help out in the business, no choices allowed there!
I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.
My career has consisted exclusively of small business, primarily restaurant and retail. I was originally based in Alberta, and then BC, first in Summerland, then Victoria and finally Kelowna (for over 20 years). I was married in Alberta, and we have two daughters, who have returned to Alberta as adults for career reasons, as did my now ex-wife. My daughters are successful, and now have families of their own.
I have maintained a healthy interest in politics throughout my adult years, and wish to put that and my research skills to work as a political columnist.