Ucluelet checks off packed UBCM list

With 13 provincial ministries to meet with and two resolutions to present, Ucluelet’s municipal council carried a dance card chalk-full of opportunities into the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention.

With just 15 minutes to get their points across to each minister, Irving said his team arrived well prepared and each councillor handled specific portfolios and presentations.

“They did excellent, attended lots of workshops and brought some excellent ideas back,” he said. “I really appreciate the effort they put into it; staff prepared all the documents and did a great job.”

The convention was held in Whistler this year and Irving said there are two sides to the coin when asked if the expense and time associated with council’s attendance was worth the lobbying opportunities.

“This is the only opportunity in the year for all the municipalities in BC, First Nations and and senior governments to sit down, look at each other, and discuss things on a broader scale; so there’s a value there for sure,” he said.

“The flip side is it’s extremely busy, and it’s expensive to make these kind of trips and we’re always very cognizant of the pros and the cons…At this point we’re still of the mind that it’s worth the effort but there is always a discussion about the value were getting out of it and it is a concern for sure.”

After the convention wrapped up, Ucluelet suggested a change to its format.

“We feel it should be less presentations by senior governments and big industries and more listening to the concerns of local governments,” he said.

“It’s interesting to understand their side of the issue but it shouldn’t overwhelm the opportunity for communities to actually talk to each other face to face on their own concerns.”

Bring babies back to Tofino General

During a meeting with BC’s Ministry of Health, Ucluelet pushed hard for upgrades to the Tofino General Hospital.

Tofino General serves the entire region and Irving said Ucluelet spoke to Tofino and First Nations officials prior to meeting with the Ministry to ensure the West coast was delivering a consistent and unified call for improvements.

“These are really VIHA’s issues but if we don’t speak up on behalf of the communities they tend to sit on the backburner, so we just keep pushing and pushing,” Irving said.

He noted Port Alberni is not always an easy trip to make in an emergency so the West Coast would like to see the local hospital’s services expanded. Childbirth is one service Irving believes the local hospital should provide and said he reminded the minister that Tofino General used to deliver about 50 babies each year.

He noted his own children were born at Tofino General.

“Both our kids were delivered in Tofino and I laid in the bed next to my wife and snoozed there and the nurses gave us tea and it was just a great local community experience; I don’t know why it disappeared,” he said.

“I don’t agree with their scenario that it’s better to have specialists all in one place and send people there; I don’t buy that.”

Highway improvements appreciated; more needed Ucluelet took in its annual UBCM visit with the Ministry of Transportation to push for improvements to Highway 4. Irving said the district expressed appreciation for the province’s work to install new pullouts and signage but made sure to express a need for more improvements.

“The bottom line for us is that you have to show the people of the West Coast that you’re going to work long-term on a safe realigned highway that supports the economy in this area,” Irving said. “It needs to be accommodating for the industry out here.”

Push continues for Oil Spill Response Centre

Ucluelet met with the Ministry of Energy and Mines to push for an oil spill response centre at Amphitrite Point’s former Coast Guard facility.

Kinder Morgan has proposed an expansion to its Trans Mountain Pipeline and is looking to invest in oil spill response but Irving believes there is enough tanker traffic to justify such a centre in Ucluelet regardless of any expansions.

“Senior governments talk about world class tanker oil spill response on the Coast and we said ‘well why wait for more tankers, why don’t we just do it now,'” Irving said.

“There’s actually about 15,000 large vessels that travel in and out of Juan de Fuca every year and, of those, 600 are actual tankers… There are 15 tankers every week in and out of this area.”

He said Amphitrite is well situated to be transformed into an oil spill response centre and this transformation would bring highlevel long-term employment to the region.

“We promoted Ucluelet and Amphitrite as a strategic location for that to happen since the assets are already here,” he said.

“They were quite receptive to that…That (presentation) was quite successful I believe.”

Irving said the oil spill response centre would not interrupt the district’s plans to hand over the lighthouse and adjacent lighthouse keeper’s house to the Ucluelet and Area Historical Society for an eventual West Coast museum.

“We’re actually in the final throws of our application to have that property transferred over to us and the lighthouse and the old light keeper’s house are being separated out of the Coast Guard lands as part of the transfer to the district so that’s perfect,” he said.

“There’s no conflict at all (and) it would probably be part of an interesting tour to see what a world class facility is like coupled to a museum that shows the marine activities over the centuries in this area.”

Let police be longterm locals

Ucluelet has long been pushing for an end to the temporary posting policy at the Ucluelet RCMP detachment and spent some UBCM time with the Ministry of Justice to continue this push.

Police are currently posted in Ucluelet for a four-year term and an officer’s time is up they are transferred to another community regardless of their desire to stay.

Irving noted that about a year ago a new relationship was struck that brought local governments more control over their police detachments.

“When the province negotiated the contract with the RCMP they also downloaded, or shared, the cost with municipalities. So now Ucluelet actually pays for some of the policing costs,” he said.

He believes that by footing a portion of the bill, Ucluelet should have a louder voice at the detachment’s decision making table. “To address our needs they’ve got to know our needs and the message were pushing very hard is our needs are for stable leadership and long term commitments,” he said.

He said Ucluelet’s communityminded policing initiatives have led to a declining crime rate and provide “concrete evidence” of the benefit associated with keeping the police who set up these initiatives in town for the long haul. “As a part of the transition, maybe some of the officer positions would be permanent (and) some of them would be temporary but there’s got to be a way in the sense of partnership to move forward with a win-win scenario,” he said.

“The more we talk about it, the more we seem to be moving in that kind of direction.”

Ucluelet’s detachment commander Sgt. Jeff Swann is slated for a mandatory transfer in 2015 and Irving hopes to see the temporary posting policy nixed before Ucluelet loses the Swann family.

“I cant predict that but that is certainly the agenda we are pushing,” he said.

Schools need an upgrade

Ucluelet’s student population is rising and both the elementary and secondary schools have fallen behind in terms of seismic soundness, according to Irving.

He said Ucluelet met with the Ministry of Education to lobby for both schools to be upgraded or replaced.

The secondary school is in line for a new electronic messaging sign that will update locals on upcoming events and provide another layer to Ucluelet’s emergency response mechanisms, according to Irving.

“It would be pretty neat just on a basic level of announcing different events that are happening at the school…just to keep the public aware,” he said.

“And when there is a disaster of any sort, emergency services can automatically take over that sign and start posting notices on that sign of what’s happening…It’s sort of a double-edged opportunity to inform the community of the regular goings on but also in crises.” He said the sign would cost

roughly $10,000 and the cost would be shared between Ucluelet and School District 70.

He acknowledged the sign has been in the works for several years but suggested it is reaching reality.

“It’s been an ongoing discussion and the parties have struggled to find budget money because there’s been major cutbacks in the school (system) but I think we have an agreement with them now,” he said.

“Both parties have agreed, we’ve both budgeted for it, now it’s just a matter of putting it up…We’re way ahead of just ‘this might happen.'”

Recognizing West Coast as an economic engine

Ucluelet joined Tofino at a meeting with the Premier’s Chief of Staff to promote the West Coast’s economic capacity and potential.

“The themes were upgrades and retention of existing services and promoting this area for more economic growth and jobs,” Irving said.

“We take every opportunity to promote the West Coast and that attention attracts investment and were hoping that investment is long term stable employment.”

He said the West Coast generates significant economic activity and attention through its fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries and that highway upgrades and fibre optic internet are needed for the region’s economic potential to be realized.

Ucluelet also booked their first ever UBCM appointment with the Ministry of International Trade.

Irving suggested Ucluelet’s fishing industry is large enough to be a player in international markets like India and China and noted the industry needs to diversify in light of the recent trade sanctions imposed by Russia.

“We produce a huge volume of fish and the more stable and diverse the market opportunities, the more stable the employment opportunities for us,” he said.

“The effort from Ucluelet is not particularly what country you trade with but that our name and our product is able to get into these different markets.”

Ucluelet passes two resolutions

Ucluelet put two resolutions on this year’s UBCM agenda, both of which passed and will now be sent to the province.

One resolution was for the UBCM membership to urge the province to update its emergency response planning.

Irving said any time there is an earthquake or tsunami advisory the province makes promises to review its emergency response but these promises aren’t always followed through.

“We just encouraged them to move that forward and quit talking about it and we’d be quite happy to work with them as a pilot or whatever moves us ahead,” he said.

The second resolution Ucluelet brought forward was for the province to look into its split assessment properties process. Irving said the BC Assessment Authority currently allows some resorts built on commercial properties to shift to residential taxes during periods of inactivity and this puts a strain on Ucluelet’s tax revenue.

“Our concern was that the BC Assessment Authority makes this choice regardless of the community’s zoning or anything else,” he said.

“We felt that needed to be reassessed because it can be quite a hit to our taxes if we all-of-asudden get residential tax rates on commercial properties…We weren’t asking for it to be reversed or banned, we’re just asking for it to be reviewed and the UBCM delegates all agreed.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca