B.C.'s annual municipalities convention to highlight shortages in health care

·3 min read
A man pushes a cart at Canada Place during the first day of the 2019 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, the last one held in person.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A man pushes a cart at Canada Place during the first day of the 2019 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, the last one held in person. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

For the first time in three years, municipal politicians from across British Columbia will gather in person this week in Whistler for their annual convention.

"People are really looking forward to reconnecting and being able to do our business face-to-face," said Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, a Quesnel councillor and president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).

"It's important to the province. These are people, your members of council and regional districts … that move your communities forward, who are looking out for their best interests."

Like all UBCM conventions, delegates will attend a mix of policy sessions where municipalities will trade best practices, debate resolutions lobbying higher levels of government to make changes, and enjoy late-night networking events.

Speeches from the leaders of the three main provincial parties will take place as well, with Premier John Horgan delivering an address on Friday at the end of the convention.

Province holding session on health care

This year's convention has a level of unpredictability for two reasons.

First, many of the delegates attending either aren't running for re-election or could lose in next month's municipal elections.

And second, while governments often make policy announcements during UBCM, Horgan will soon be stepping down as premier, meaning it will be another leader in charge of responding to most of the resolutions and requests made during the convention.

But one urgent issue being discussed could see an immediate government response: access to health care.

"A family doctor shouldn't be a luxury for a few lucky citizens and there shouldn't be any question that a paramedic is available if there's an accident or sudden health needs," said Roodenburg.

"But right now, we're seeing it every day: for far too many B.C. residents this is an issue."

A session to discuss the issue is being held by Health Minister Adrian Dix and will include Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell, who expects Dix to make an announcement.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"The obvious choice would be an expansion of the patient care network model that has been slowly rolling out across the province as a new model for healthcare," said Blackwell.

"But optimistically I'm hoping it's the other one that's being hinted at as well, which is a change in the payment structure for doctors … the fee-for-service model and administrative overhead is a huge struggle in small towns."

Other events happening during the week include a discussion of last year's flooding disaster and changes to the province's emergency management legislation, an update on policing and public safety reform by the provincial government, and sessions on how municipalities can address issues like the toxic drug crisis, reconciliation, and renewable energy.

They're weighty, complex topics to tackle for any community. But Blackwell said the convention is also a place to focus on the nuts and bolts of local governance.

"We really have some pretty severe infrastructure deficits. We need a lot of help with roads, water, and sewers," he said.

"And those aren't the sexy grants to hand out, but those are the problems that we're dealing with."