UBCM BRIEFS: Shark fins, medical pot & casino cash
Medical pot controls demanded
B.C. civic leaders have called for tighter controls on Health Canada-licensed medical marijuana growers, citing public safety and nuisance issues.
The vote came during the same Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that saw delegates vote to support decriminalization of marijuana.
"We need to find a way to know where these are so we can provide some regulatory control," North Cowichan regional district director Al Siebring said.
He said most busts of pot grow-ops turn out to be licensed by Health Canada but are growing "far, far more" than permitted and are increasingly linked to organized crime.
The Surrey-sponsored resolution calls on the federal government to force medical pot growers to first get a municipal permit or licence showing the grow site complies with local bylaws and electrical, fire, health, building and safety regulations.
It's the first time UBCM has actually approved the demand. It came to the convention floor in the previous two years but was tabled each time amid concerns from some civic leaders that a crackdown would breach growers' privacy and reduce medical marijuana access.
Ottawa is already moving to phase out the current individual licences to grow medical pot and instead direct authorized users to buy from permitted commercial growers.
Senior B.C. Conservative minister James Moore said UBCM's other vote on marijuana – to decriminalize it – won't sway the federal government.
"We're elected on a platform that very explicitly said we are not interested in legalizing marijuana."
Cities push B.C.-wide shark fin ban
UBCM delegates voted by a wide margin to ask the province to outlaw the possession or sale of shark fins that Chinese restaurants turn into coveted bowls of shark fin soup.
Activists have been going from city to city in Metro Vancouver convincing councils to impose local bans but North Vancouver City Coun. Craig Keating said a provincial ban is preferable, along with a federally imposed ban on shark fin imports, to combat the "inhumane and wasteful" practice of harvesting sharks for fins.
Cross-border cash drain debated
The cash drain on local businesses from cross-border shopping inspired one UBCM resolution that generated debate.
Castlegar council proposed a resolution to lobby the federal government to rescind its recent loosening of overnight duty free limits, which significantly increased the value of goods Canadians can bring back after trips of at least 24 hours.
"The federal government is encouraging us to go across the border and increase our spending," Castlegar Coun. Dan Rye said.
But the motion was defeated after Creston Coun. Wesly Graham opposed it and said Ottawa should simply tighten the current lax collection of duties and taxes by Canadian border guards.
Thumbs down on casino benefit reform
A proposal to redistribute some of the $82 million a year casino host cities get to cities without gambling facilities was rejected amid concerns over how it would work.
Advocates said the current system where only host cities get 10 per cent of gambling profits divides cities into winners and losers and should be reformed to spread the wealth.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said most patrons now are registered through player cards so the B.C. Lottery Corp. could easily estimate how much money is spent at a given casino by people who live outside that host city, allowing benefits to be apportioned equitably to other municipalities.
"The current regulations are pitting communities against each other," he said. "It's creating an injustice between local governments around the province."
Port Coquitlam reps said they didn't intend for host cities to lose money, suggesting the province could keep them whole while providing a per capita share of gaming profits to the have-nots – a scenario many at UBCM considered unlikely.
Other delegates said have-not cities made their choice in the past not to have a casino – or the local costs and impacts that sometimes accompany them.
View Royal Coun. David Screech said BCLC couldn't provide the address of every patron and suggested interested communities instead pursue local gambling revenue-sharing agreements.
Looser festival booze backed
Despite concern from some delegates, UBCM agreed to back a liquor licensing reform that would let adults drink in the presence of minors at music festivals and certain other special events.
The Whistler-sponsored resolution aims to let families enjoy an event together, rather than forcing patrons who want alcohol into a segregated, enclosed beer garden.
Some opponents said B.C. should be moving away from the culture of alcohol at entertainment events, not reinforcing it.
Garbage export ban rejected by UBCM
An effort to block Metro Vancouver from exporting its garbage to the U.S. as a fallback waste-disposal option fell flat at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta spoke in support of the resolution to ban all international exports of landfillable waste, arguing his town stands to lose more than 100 waste-handling jobs at the Cache Creek Regional Landfill if Metro halts its shipments in 2016 as planned.
Metro plans to build a new waste-to-energy plant but that's not expected to be ready until late 2018 and it has reserved the temporary option of exporting garbage if necessary.
"We have the best climate and the right geology to safely dispose of waste in our area," Ranta said.
But Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt, a longtime backer of using garbage as a fuel for power instead of dumping it, said the resolution was out of order because it would violate international trade deals.
"These are goods that can be exported just like coal or gas or wood," he said of garbage.
Hunt also noted some B.C. communities – including Whistler and Powell River – already export their waste to a Washington State landfill run by Rabanco, which hopes to land Metro Vancouver as a customer as well.
"[A provincial ban] would make all those contracts null and void, which is contrary to international free trade," he said.
The resolution from the Thompson-Nicola regional district was defeated on Thursday.
Hunt said U.S. exports are just one option for Metro and the regional district could still negotiate to extend its use of the Cache Creek landfill if it needs to send more waste out of the region.
Taxpayers should benefit if there's more than one bidder, he added.
Moore stands by coast guard base cut
James Moore is defending the federal government's decision to cut the Kitsilano coast guard base in Vancouver, saying the city will still have the highest level of coastal rescue response in the country.
The senior Conservative cabinet minister in B.C. also took direct aim at Vancouver politicians, accusing Mayor Gregor Robertson of failing to raise his concerns directly with Ottawa before his council fired a political broadside.
"He has never phoned me, he has never contacted the prime minister," Moore told reporters after speaking to the UBCM convention. "The City of Vancouver could try to pick up the phone."
Moore said the federal government is sticking to the decision to cut the Kitsilano base and increase the response capacity at Sea Island in Richmond as well as volunteer responders, but added Ottawa would reassess required service levels in future years.
Vancouver councillors had accused Conservative MPs of dodging their repeated demands to meet on the base closure.
Vancouver city hall officials challenged Moore's account, saying council voted Sept. 18 to pursue meetings with the PM and Robertson wrote to him June 14, urging the decision be reversed.
Widespread concern has been raised in Vancouver and the surrounding region that the closure will reduce rescue response times and increase the risk of fatalities.