I spent three days in Prince Rupert the end of last week, the first time I’d visited that city in about 30 years or so. It’s a beautiful place, though I’m not sure I’d want to spend a winter there.
Reason for the visit was that I joined several other Kamloops Chamber of Commerce board members at the AGM and convention of the B.C. chamber. It’s similar to the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in that there are workshops, speeches, banquets, luncheons and plenty of networking. The tangible work gets done at policy resolution sessions, in which member chambers present proposals for new government policies or initiatives, and ask delegates to back them up.
This was my second B.C. chamber AGM, and I learned a couple of new things. During a lively debate on plastic bags, I spoke in favour of a resolution to ban them, only to find out I was taking the opposite position to that of the rest of the Kamloops board members. I got quite a bit of razzing about that.
This is a distinctly different approach than that taken by local City councillors at UBCM, where they only occasionally agree ahead of time to vote together on a particular issue. On most resolutions, it’s a free vote.
Not so at the B.C. chamber AGM, where delegates are expected to fall into line with whatever position their home chamber takes. I’m not entirely comfortable with that system, and it gave me a hint of how frustrating life must be for our MLAs and MPs when they disagree with party policy and have to speak and vote against their conscience.
The next day, with the blessing of my fellow Kamloops board members, I spoke in favour of a resolution to ask the provincial government to establish a consistent formula on the ratio for various property tax categories. As it is now, City councils are forced into a political game at each annual budget, weighing the number of votes at stake from residential taxpayers versus those in business and industry.
Almost always, residential wins out, paying a lower property tax rate than business and industry due to power at the ballot box.
Former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley, whom I got to know pretty well back when I was still at City Hall, spoke against the resolution, saying it infringed on the autonomy of City councils. I didn’t think too much about our opposing positions at the time, but B.C. chamber governor Al McNair remarked to me later that evening that the provincial chamber has had a concern for some time about politicians and ex-politicians becoming involved in chambers.
The reason, he said, is that there’s a tendency for them to be defensive of City councils rather than acting and speaking from the perspective of the business community’s best interests. McNair said my turn at the microphone had demonstrated that ex-politicians are capable of making the transition to a business perspective.
I thought his point was an important one. When people change community roles, they often aren’t able to change hats, and continue thinking the way they did in their previous allegiances.
When I temporarily left the newspaper business to go into local politics, I had no difficulty shifting my thinking. When I went back to The Daily News, likewise. I sometimes get kidded about my occasional feuds with media while I was mayor, and about the fact I’m now back to criticizing politicians, but you have to decide what perspective you are acting from or you create confusing and ineffective messages. (That doesn’t mean, though, that you ignore your own principles or beliefs for the sake of fitting in.)
It illustrates why different interests can’t always see eye to eye, and why compromise is so important in everyday community life.