About 2000 cities and towns are represented by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities encompassing over 90% of the country’s population. Last weekend, the FCM held its 76th Annual General Meeting in Vancouver. British Columbia with 2000 local elected officials in attendance from every corner of Canada and beyond.
I was fortunate to be able to attend on behalf of the City of Cote Saint-Luc and take in four days of learning opportunities including expert conferences, debates, study tours and keynote speakers featuring some of Canada’s key political figures. Equally important was the in between time when mayors and councillors, reeves and aldermen, MLAs and MPs mix between sessions to discuss areas of mutual concern to their common residents.
The urbanism tour was of particular interest. Expert urban development professionals highlighted the importance of offering parks and greenspaces within close proximity of all neighbourhoods. Studies have shown that park and green spaces improve the health of residents. Bike routes and paths played an important role in the urban transportation layout of the city. Fortunately I got to experience the cycling plan first hand on an urban development bike tour.
The urbanists were particularly boastful of the tremendous metamorphosis of the 2010 Olympic Village into a trendy, popular city neighbourhood in close proximity to all amenities. Community gardens were also within close walking distance which caught the eye of green activist Dida Berku.
The tour of Vancouver’s Emergency Operations Centre was fascinating offering many ideas on how to continuously improve Cote Saint-Luc’s plan and structure to manage disasters, even if on a smaller scale. The EOC tour provided a unique opportunity to learn techniques and strategies in disaster planning that I will bring to the table as councillor responsible for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Pollster Angus Reid pointed out just how important it is to utilize social media if we have any hope of reaching young adults who are typically classified as disinterested in municipal politics and least likely to vote. I am quite proud to be an avid proponent of social media to communicate with residents and anyone interested in matters dealing with CSL. My own tweets, Facebook and blog posts show that I am dedicated to communicating daily and weekly with constituents, young and older.
One person who I admire and is widely credited with bringing social media to the Canadian political scene is Calgary Mayor Nehid Nenshi. Nenshi is masterful of finding ways of communicating with his residents through social media and by using interactive technology to make dealing with municipal offices as easy as possible.
Tree Canada’s president Mike Rosen hosted us on a fascinating tour of historic Stanley Park. “Trees are much more than greenery on the side of road,” Rosen said. “Trees helps keep communities healthy.” Vancouver is a model with about 170,000 trees on public property alone.
The iconic Stanley Park covers more than 1000 acres and includes forest, ponds and wetlands stretching from the urban centre to the ocean. I was privileged to participate in a tree planting ceremony sponsored by CN and the City of Vancouver. FCM members looked on as a sapling was planted in for the next generation of Canadian civic leaders. Some trees in the park are more than 1000 years old.
I had the special opportunity to meet and speak with elected folks from near and far as international delegates from the Caribbean Africa and Europe also participated. One such encounter was with Mayor Clyde Paul of Point Fortin, Trinidad and Tobago.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May packed the house with more than 500 delegates packed into a room that could barely contain them. She was witty, provocative and challenging, as always. Her points were very well received as she called for greater protection of the environment, sustainable economic development and greater investment in public transit and social housing.
Federal transport minister Denis Lebel delivered a keynote address committing some $50 billion dollars over a 10 year period to bolster municipal investments in local infrastructure. Such massive investment is made possible due to the clout the FCM carries in gathering so many municipal leaders together to lobby with a common voice. Locally, these funds helped CSL construct its Aquatic and Community Centre.
Beyond the tremendous program was the spirit of national unity of Canadian local elected officials. With programming offered in both official languages the sense of pride in one’s local community, province and the country was obvious and impressive. I was proud to join CSL Councillors Dida Berku, Ruth Kovac, Sam Goldbloom, Mitchell Brownstein and Allan Levine in representing our city in our encounters with so many leaders from across Canada. and to bring back new ideas for our community.