Tim Palmer, a former city administrator with over 25 years of local government experience, has attended many UBCM conferences with a variety of councils from several communities. (Contributed)

Politically Incorrect: UBCM-Policy or party time for mayors and councillors?

Tim Palmer

Special to the Review

Last week hundreds of municipal politicians attended a tax-funded luxury trip to Vancouver.

They slept in extravagant hotels, consumed gourmet meals and attended banquets complete with live entertainment.

Throughout the week, they had access to hospitality suites with unlimited “free” appetizers, wine and beer.

In contrast to this characterization, your mayor, councillor, or area director will claim they attended the very important Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) annual conference, the UBCM’s biggest event of the year.

Councillors will point out the productive meetings with provincial ministers.

Mayors will talk about fighting for the best interests of the community.

Regional district directors will cite the many inspiring educational sessions they attended.

In Revelstoke, the mayor and councillors have proof of their importance on the city’s website: a photo of themselves with Premier John Horgan confirming, to their pleasure, that “we have enough tools at our disposal not to require additional (caribou) habitat protection areas.”

Often attendees will highlight networking opportunities. But is it networking or just schmoozing?

Urbandictionary.com defines schmoozing as “Networking …for the purpose of being seen by people you think are more important than yourself.”

UBCM, in addition to extensive policy sessions, has numerous presentations and workshops by various experts that inform locally elected officials on an array of topics. There are a plethora of suppliers, consultants and lawyers schmoozing with politicians, eager for lucrative municipal contracts.

Coun. Cody Younker has publicly criticized and boycotted one of these schmoozing events, the Chinese government-sponsored reception.

Even before the event, Younker saw that this sponsorship is to infiltrate and influence politicians.

On the other hand, elected officials may not confess if they attended the reputed biggest party at UBCM — sponsored by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

READ MORE: Municipal leaders support banning foreign sponsorship of UBCM amid worsening China relations

UBCM for most politicians is not one big party. There are many very good reasons that the conscientious politician should attend, including educational sessions, strategic lobbying, free legal advice, gathering innovative ideas and gaining knowledge on municipal products and operations.

In some communities all of the municipal elected councillors attend UBCM, viewing it as a well-deserved perk.

Some taxpayers will agree, “Afterall they don’t get paid very much,” they rationalize. When it comes to taxpayers’ money, this politically incorrect attitude of entitlement is what leads to corrupt politicians and the ire of voters.

Municipal politicians’ motivation for UBCM attendance varies. Many of those who choose to stay home would benefit from their attendance.

They may be the frugal ones — not wanting to waste any of the taxpayer’s money.

However, as Coun. Steve Cross says, “Don’t kid yourself; these events are very important if done right.” He did not attend this year’s UBCM due to business obligations.

With many years of escorting politicians to UBCM, my observation is that 20 per cent are predominately partiers, 20 per cent are hardworking and view every event as serious business. The rest fall somewhere between the two extremes.

In Revelstoke, we have politicians on the positive end of the spectrum. This year’s attendees highlighted UBCM benefits.

Coun. Jackie Rhind explained, “The greatest benefit for me has been learning how the different tiers of government interact, and (effective ways) to bring their issues to the forefront of the province’s agenda.”

Coun. Nicole Cherlet, noting that 60 per cent of the delegates are new to municipal councils, states, “UBCM was an incredible opportunity to build relationships with our peers across the province. With such a drastic shift in our municipal governments, the optimism and hope was tangible.”

Mayor Sulz, who scored an unusually high five ministry meetings, succinctly stated the greatest benefit was, “Very productive meetings.”

The ever-engaged Younker said, “We, as councillors, were able to meet face to face with provincial ministry staff, ministers and the premier himself,” and “discussed many ways we can work together.”

Only half of Revelstoke’s councillors attended UBCM this year.

I don’t know if this was by chance or by design, but in my opinion, the practice of alternating every other year is commendable.

Tim Palmer, a former city administrator with over 25 years of local government experience, has attended many UBCM conferences with a variety of councils from several communities.


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