Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre addresses the audience at the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce dinner at The Beach Club Resort last Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. — J.R. Rardon photo

Parksville mayor: cities need more financial flexibility

Lefebvre tells Chamber audience Constitutional Act is ‘archaic’

Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre said the 150-year-old British North America Act no longer serves Canada’s municipal governments. And he’s got just the solution to the problem.

“That solution is, I form the Federal Municipal Party, and I go the electorate across Canada with the view that I renegotiate the federal BNA Act and give the cities a greater say in all sorts of areas,” Lefebvre said in an address to the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce during its monthly dinner, held at the Beach Club Resort last Thursday, Jan. 11.

“I’d do this, but my wife won’t let me.”

All kidding aside, Lefebvre said the BNA — renamed The Constitution Act in 1982 — is an archaic document that created a federal dominion when 80 per cent of Canada’s population was rural and just 20 per cent lived in cities.

“Now, 80 per cent of people live in cities and 20 per cent are rural,” Lefebvre said. “It seems clear the longstanding structure created in 1867, that minimized the role of local government, has created challenges for those involved in municipal government.”

The mayor, echoing the School District 69 (Qualicum) board of trustees last fall, said the requirement for municipalities to run balance budgets limits their opportunities to generate badly needed revenue.

Currently, he said, the city may generate revenue only through property taxes and user fees, and must rely on grants from provincial and federal governments for any additional revenue.

“Senior governments should give municipal governments the latitude to develop other revenue streams,” he said. “This measure of financial independence would reduce the burden of local property and business owners, and would also reduce the pressure on senior levels of government to provide grant funding.”

The Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce has approximately 400 members, said chamber president Dave Willie, and roughly 85 were in attendance to hear the mayor’s speech, a report from executive director Kim Burden and presentations from the Parksville Volunteer Fire Department and the Oceanside Women’s Business Network.

While calling for a reworking of the relationship — and responsibilities — between municipal, provincial and federal governments, Lefebvre provided both highlights and concerns the city faces in the not-too-distant future.

As Parksville fire chief Marc Norris and assistant fire chiefs Tyrone Haigh and Mike Tisdell promoted the department’s recruiting drive, Lefebvre warned the city may be looking at boosting its complement of paid, professional firefighters for daytime shifts in the coming years.

“Volunteers may not always be available to respond to calls,” said Lefebvre. Other commitments, including paid employment, may make it difficult for a volunteer force to meet increasing service demands, especially during daylight hours.”

Lefebvre said the city also faces the prospect of raising its share — through the Regional District of Nanaimo — of funding for a $300 million capital program that will create a new cancer centre and power plant at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital in the coming years.

And when the city reaches the 15,000 population mark “in the not-too-distant future,” the city’s financial obligation for RCMP policing costs will jump from its current 70 per cent to 90 per cent.

The good news, said the mayor, is that fiscal prudence and planning has left Parksville in strong position to maintain, repair and replace infrastructure within its balance budget. The 2018 provisional city budget, approved late in 2017, calls for a four per cent property tax increase.

“Thanks to our very competent staff, Parksville has a comprehensive infrastructure renewal program… in place for short-, medium- and long-term infrastructure replacement and renewal,” he said. “We’re up to $40 million in savings, and that’s going to continue to grow because we renew those costs every year.”

Noting infrastructure is not merely a local issue, Lefebvre said Canada’s overall infrastructure deficit is estimated at more than $300 billion.

“I can assure you we’re not going to be in any debt in Parksville with the way we’ve approached infrastructure and renewal.”

Following Lefebvre’s speech, Willie opened the floor to questions, and then threw out the first question himself by asking what the mayor planned to be doing during the 2018 municipal election campaign this fall.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet, to be honest with you,” Lefebvre answered promptly. “But I will. I’ll make up my mind probably by the month of May or the month of June.”

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