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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Scrap the “Community Charter.” Let’s Really Democratize BC

    Pete Dimitrov

    Given the BC Liberal far right wing agenda ought we to trust the machinations of the BC Liberal’s Community Charter legislation?

    On the one hand the mainstream media portrays the Community Charter as putting more power into the hands of local municipalities thereby enhancing the democratic process and strengthening local communities. This portrayal is a simplistic distortion by the mainstream media spin-doctors who have failed once again to properly analyze the impact of said legislation, or the cumulative impact of the Charter when considered alongside other legislation by the Campbell government.

    Is it not paradoxical that the Community Charter that is supposedly designed to strengthen local communities flows from the same BC Liberal government that passed legislation dismantling much of BC Hydro, breaking union contracts, closing schools, hospitals, community care facilities, forestry offices, court houses, etc.? Is this not the same BC Liberal government that passed Bills 27, 28, and 29 and the Order in Council dismantling and restructuring BC Hydro via seven agreements not publicly disclosed?

    It is asserted that the Community Charter is yet another tool to advance the BC Liberal's version of the "new corporate error" by “inducing” local governments and regional governments to make up for provincial off-loading and deficits by creating new taxes or imposing new user fees on the local populace, by infringing of the Agricultural Land Reserve or by accepting the corporate model of development, such as P3's, as the only viable model of economic development. In essence it is a disempowering piece of legislation.

    It is asserted that the real change required in British Columbia is not a top-down imposed BC Liberal Community Charter, but rather a negotiated “Constitutional-like” charter between the cities, regions and the provincial government whereby in return for the cities and regions accepting policy and program off-loading there is real fiscal devolution and sharing of the resource rents with the regions via a negotiated fiscal framework agreement.

    What is sorely needed in British Columbia is a complete rethinking of our centralized institutions of governance so as to put more power and control in the hands of local people together with the fiscal resources to carry out the job. To empower the people, cities and regions we need a negotiated BC “internal constitution” that allocates specific jurisdictional legal competencies to the province and decentralizes other jurisdictional competencies to the BC regions - coupled with a fiscal framework agreement.

    Within this Confederation of Regions there would be a reduced role for Victoria, and certainly there would be a need for intra-regional agreements to ensure that poorer regions of the “BC Confederation of Regions & Cities” get their fair slice of the pie in the form of equalization payments.

    Merely replacing the wrecking crew in Victoria with another crew will not solve our problems, unless we consider the polity as a whole; unless we go beyond electoral reform to substantially modify the political architecture of the province from the bottom up. Regrettably the Community Charter imposed top-down by the "new error" BC Liberals is not up for the job. It keeps political and legal power soundly where it has always been: centralized in Victoria. It perpetuates within the cities and regions a non-sustainable corporate economic agenda primarily focused on the "creed of efficiency" as the only viable model of development - the destructive myth of neo-conservatism.

    It is asserted that today what we need is a new vision, a new myth (in the sense of myth advocated by Joseph Campbell) to revision our lives, our communities, our economies and our democratic polity. We need a vision democratically crafted by the participation of people and regions from the ground up, and not imposed by centralized politicians and bureaucrats, and we need to ground that vision within a new legal, political fiscal framework negotiated by citizens (not bureaucrats) elected in the regions.

    Pete Dimitrov is a lower mainland community activist, economist and lawyer involved with cooperative and community economic development projects. He runs the BC Politics discussion website at:

    http://www.bcpolitics.ca/





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