Western Canadian municipal leaders discuss common interests in WCMA meeting

SARM president Ray Orb (Leader-Post file photo)

Oil and gas arrears, access to reliable broadband, carbon offsets, increasing policing costs, and flood support for British Columbia were some of the topics raised as leaders representing Western Canada’s municipal associations met earlier this week.

The Western Canadian Municipal Associations (WCMA) meeting brought together elected officials and staff from the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA), and their counterparts in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

“Municipalities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Alberta share many similar challenges,” SUMA President and Naicam Mayor Rodger Hayward said.

“By coming together, we have the opportunity to discuss those common concerns, find joint solutions, and present a unified voice on the issues that are impacting the communities in Western Canada.”

Flood aid for British Columbia was the most urgent concern. The associations want to remain supportive and flexible to the needs of British Columbia during this challenging and unprecedented time.

“As British Columbia continues to navigate this very difficult situation, WCMA members have offered to provide any support that we can,” Paul Mclauchlin, President of the Rural Muicipalities of Alberta (RM), said.

“Our neighbours to the west are going through a difficult time; we just wanted them to know that we have their back.

Access to reliable broadband internet was the other top priority, especially for leaders representing rural communities. They said broadband needs to be affordable and accessible to support the well-being of those living and travelling in rural and remote areas.

To address this, the WCMA called for a more rapid rollout of broadband projects to end digital poverty across Canada. They also called on the federal government to increase the scope of partnerships and work with the provincial governments on affordable broadband.

“Access to stable and reliable internet has become fundamentally important to our everyday lives, much like electricity and other utilities are,” SARM President Roy Orb said. “Broadband impacts how we work, run our businesses, meet with our colleagues, educate our children, and even how we spend our downtime. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the essential nature of access to reliable broadband throughout the province and the disparity between different areas in Saskatchewan.”

Another issue discussed at the meeting was the uncertainty municipalities face regarding the cost of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police unionizing their police force, since many jurisdictions contract the RCMP for policing services.

The associations recognized that compensation needs to be fair and remain competitive. Still, there is a genuine concern regarding who is responsible for the anticipated rising costs. There was a lack of clarity and understanding echoed around the meeting table by WCMA members on the expectations of the federal government.

The collective bargaining process did not include input from municipalities, despite them being a paying contract provider.

“Since we were not at the negotiating table, we are calling on the federal government to fully absorb all retroactive pay increases which the federal government negotiated,” Associatino of Manitiboa Municipalities (AMM) President Kam Blight said.

The WCMA will continue its efforts to find commonalities between the jurisdictions and continue to support efforts to be a strong advocate for issues that matter to Western Canada.