Several Grand Forks councillors got a chance to mingle and learn from and with some of the top politicians throughout Canada at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario from May 30 to June 2.
The councilors—Neil Krog, Michael Wirischagin and Cher Wyers—spoke at the regular meeting of council on June 9 about their time at the conference and how they were able to network. Patrick O’Doherty also attended FCM but was not at the council meeting.
“We had plenty to take back to our communities,” said Wyers to council. “The networking and sharing of stories with colleagues across the country was certainly a highlight for me and hearing their challenges which aren’t that different from ours.”
Wyers said the conference was very well organized. She said that infrastructure concerns was a theme.
“What we heard was failing infrastructure and the need for communities across Canada to reinvent themselves and look to attract outside investment to build the tax base or better yet, raise more money without raising taxes or user fees,” she said.
Wyers also spoke at the conference about the Head Start for Young Women program which she helped bring to Grand Forks as one of only seven communities throughout Canada to have the program.
Krog also found the conference beneficial. He participated in a forum about FCM communication policies.
“It was a policy forum,” he said. “They’re looking for direction on what FCM should be communicating to the federal government.”
Krog estimated there were about 100 councillors in the room giving input to the four members of the FCM panel.
“They brought us information from the government on the new infrastructure policy fund and federal funding programs and how it would break down. They would take our comments and that would help shape what’s coming up this year.”
Krog said that FCM acts as a collective voice for municipalities across Canada with negotiations with the federal government.
Krog commented that it was crazy for the federal government to describe “small communities” as being under 100,000 people. That number designation would lump communities like Grand Forks, Castlegar, Midway and Greenwood in with big centres like Kamloops, Chilliwack, Nanaimo and Victoria.
“The FCM were looking for input regarding the new building fund,” he said. “The government has $53 billion over the next 10 years. They’ve set aside $1 billion for small communities which sounds good, but they say small communities under 100,000. A lot of the discussion centered around large municipalities and their rapid transit.”
Krog told the forum that there are way more small towns in Canada than big cities.
“The small cities still need the infrastructure but lack the tax base of the bigger cities,” he said.
Krog also mentioned meeting and speaking with federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who was one of the keynote speakers at the event.
“I wished him luck,” said Krog. “I expect to see him as the next prime minister. I got some pictures. I talked to him about the value of small towns and the federal government’s support towards them.”
Krog also reported that he took the time to talk to other councillors and staff members from across the country about installing water meters.
“All the responses I received were positive,” he said. “A few people said they encountered an initial resistance which quickly dissipated when the people had the water meters in.”