by Sarah Peerless--The Union of BC Municipalities convention is over for another year and once again islands' politicians we're heard by several ministers.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for smaller communities," Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha said. She believes the reception was mostly positive and that although it will take several months for results, many issues will likely find solutions.
The UBCM convention gets municipal leaders and provincial politicians together once a year. This year, Queen Charlotte, Port Clements and Masset all sent delegations.
Ms Kulesha said one of her more important issues was the lack of ambulance service on the islands.
"This is becoming crucial, a crucial issue for us to deal with," she said. "In a rural area you have to leave town to become a paramedic...we need to change this model."
The BC Ambulance Service had several ideas about trying to change, although Ms Kulesha said, "I don't know if any of this will work."
On Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project, Ms Kulesha says nothing has changed, "which is what we want to know."
Small town grants was another issue. Ms Kulesha said 49 percent of Queen Charlotte's budget comes from taxes, and the remaining 51 percent from provincial grants. Recently, however, the grants have stopped increasing proportionally to deal with the town's need. Ms Kulesha said the grant issue was discussed, but a decision has not yet been made.
One of the problems with living in a rural community is having to wait for medical procedures like cat scans and tests to come from off-island.
"In the long term, if you can invest more in keeping people at home to see a specialist, it will be better for people," Ms Kulesha said. She added that Haida Gwaii has volunteered (but not yet been accepted) for a pilot tele-medicine study. Northern Health will soon be having a meeting of its own, and may then discuss the issue.
"You can go to Hawaii cheaper than coming here," Ms Kulesha said about BC Ferries. She said she'd like to see a more efficient system with lower fares in the future, although if the costs are lowered, the service offered must also be reduced. "Something has to go," she said. Ms Kulesha said the issue was taken seriously and it was being put on a sort of 'to-do list' and would have more information in the next few months.
The joint sewer project between Skidegate and Queen Charlotte was supported, said Ms Kulesha, and she spoke with the ministers of Communities, Environment, and Aboriginal Relations about receiving a grant. The project will cost between $11-12 million, and Ms Kulesha says that even if the community does receive a grant, the costs won't be fully covered. The project will continue to be negotiated.
From Masset, mayor Andrew Merilees said "we didn't solve any issues" but said the convention "was as productive as I thought it would be."
He said the main issues for Masset were ambulance service, forests and ferries. On ferries, he said he believes the ministry understands Masset's concerns.
"We continued to express frustration with the way things are now," Mr. Merilees said.
Wally Cheer, the mayor of Port Clements, also attended the convention. He told the Observer on Monday he would like to speak to his council before commenting.