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Ministers in the hot seat at UBCM as mayors and councillors ask tough questions

The annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention was in full swing on Wednesday, with mayors and councillors taking the rare opportunity to ask cabinet ministers tough questions in front of their peers.

The annual event brings together municipal politicians and senior provincial officials and policymakers for small meetings as well as large-scale seminars and presentations to discuss the pressing issues of the day, with the cabinet town halls a highlight for all involved.

A councillor from Campbell River raised child-care issues for physicians, to which Health Minister Adrian Dix replied that his government is working to meet the expectations of a new generation of health-care workers with the kinds of supports they need for a better work-life balance.

A Langley councillor wanted to know whether there’s cross-ministry co-operation to provide services – such as schools and hospitals – for all the housing municipalities are being pressured to facilitate; she was told a new hospital is coming south of the Fraser River and the government recognizes how much growth is happening.

A representative from New Denver asked about recreational homeowners and their impact on rural communities, where people cannot find or afford housing, which earned applause from other civic leaders when she asked about expanding the vacancy tax.

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said the province is considering the idea, while assessing the impact of the current tax.

The fiercest criticism of the day came from one-time municipal leader Sonia Furstenau, who gave her annual address to the delegates as current leader of the BC Green Party.

“Earlier this month, Health Minister Adrian Dix said that long waits in (emergency rooms) are the ‘new normal,’ and that’s a devastating thing to hear from someone tasked with fixing the health-care system,” she said.

“If he’s not going to try and fix it, who is?" Furstenau went on to ask. "By accepting that level of mediocrity as the norm, the minister is quiet quitting. That’s not leadership. That’s giving up." 

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