DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — Peace River Regional District directors briefly discussed the merits of revising the Peace River Local Government Association during their September 14th, 2023 committee of the whole and board meeting.
It was suggested they could reach out to the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and send a letter to see if there’s interest in potentially creating a North East BC Association. Local First Nations representatives could also be invited to the association.
PRRD directors voted in favour of adding the item to their agenda for discussion at the next board meeting on October 5th, 2023.
Before the vote, directors expressed a mix of opinions, with some feeling they haven’t seen much value in membership with the North Central Local Government Association Membership (NCLGA) and that it’s worth exploring alternatives.
The PRRD opted out of membership in NCLGA in 2022 and again in 2023 based on a lack of perceived benefit resulting from participation. $21,641 was paid by the PRRD in 2021 for membership.
The board deferred a decision on 2024 membership this past June and deferred again at their September 14th, 2023 meeting, also moving it to the October 5, 2023 board meeting.
Electoral Area C director Brad Sperling says he’s been discouraged by membership with the NCGLA, and stepped down from his position there as he felt the interests of the Peace region weren’t being heard.
“I sat there for four years, and I was getting discouraged. And at the time I was there, there were actually four from this region sitting at that board,” he said. “And we were having a hard time getting our interests or our concerns put forward.”
As a member at large for the NCGLA, PRRD director Tony Zabinsky said he feels revising the Peace River Local Government Association to include the Northern Rockies would cost much more than the $20,000 membership currently asked of the NCGLA.
“We have a voice at this table that represents the Peace right now. The reason we just don’t have someone at that table is because we didn’t renew our membership with the NCGLA,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s going to be value moving forward for the cost.”
Sperling said NCGLA membership fees are closer to $44,000 when you add up the fees paid by local municipalities in combination with the PRRD’s and strongly feels it’s time to start exploring alternatives.
“My recommendation or hope to move this to the board is to send a letter to the Northern Rockies to see if there is even interest in having that discussion, what it may look like – so, cost is pretty minimal,” he said. “My thing is, I think every once and awhile we need to look at the amount of money we pay for these memberships.”
Electoral Area E director Dan Rose said he feels the PRRD hasn’t been supported by the NCGLA, despite being the second highest due paying member on their board, noting that only one municipality offered a letter of support when the PRRD was seeking an audit on Northern Health’s operations.
“Partnering with the Northern Rockies makes way more sense than paying the lion’s share, number two on the list of dues to the NCGLA for representation that’s watered down and may even be ignored by the other members of the NCGLA, just because of different regional issues that don’t align with ours,” said Rose.
Pouce Coupe Mayor Danielle Veach says local municipalities have been doing better to see their collective voices heard in recent years but has reservations about whether municipalities would be willing to pay into another association.
“I know collectively within the area we’ve been working to unite all of our voices to sort of advocate for our overall larger message, but I think my concern with that would be the expectation of expecting the local municipalities to pay into another organization and another group,” Veach said. “It may be viewed as you know, remaking the wheel.”
She added that there are often other opportunities to be united without forming a new association.
“That would still be a future discussion and a choice of each of those municipalities,” responded Sperling, noting nothing would be formalized, it’s only to gauge interest.
Electoral Area B director Jordan Kealy said First Nations should be part of the conversation and not forgotten, but agreed exploring alternatives is worthwhile.
“So far, First Nations have been left out of this as well, and they were one of the representatives that should be at that for any of those of us that were at the leaders’ table,” said Kealy. “We saw the benefit of that for our local area and communication – I think this would be a good thing to explore just to see the possibilities.”
Hudson’s Hope Mayor Travous Quibell agreed that sending letters to gauge interest is worth trying and noted he’s asked NCGLA about First Nations representation, but it typically hasn’t been addressed.
“If there’s a better way, and it comes down to a simple matter of writing letters and seeing who’s interested, then I think we have an obligation to find out if there’s a better way to do this, there’s a way to make our voices heard a little louder, and to work together as a group in the region on regional issues and see that they aren’t watered down as they progress through NCGLA to UBCM,” said Quibell.
The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) hasn’t always been the best forum for Peace Region issues, he added.
“We’ve all seen it happen at UBCM – our issues are not the issues of the rest of the province, and sometimes the message gets lost, you know, maybe we need that forum here,” said Quibell, noting he feels the PRRD should continue working with NCGLA, to make sure their concerns and criticisms are known.