Childhood Musings and the North (Of BC)

Towns, cities, villages, settlements have always interested me. I remember visiting with my friend Jon when we were younger (early teens) and talking about what makes a town. Why some grow, and others shrink, and what creates a community. This was during PM Harpers big Arctic push and we were debating whether it would be possible to grow a city in the far north. How to attract people, how you’d create jobs, issues with permafrost and freezing temperatures. (Yeah, we were strange ones).

I hadn’t thought about that in a long time until this Christmas season when visiting the in-laws. E and I were going to visit her parents on a lighthouse where they work for the coast guard. We drove from the southern tip of Vancouver Island to just shy of the Northern Tip.  It’s about five hundred kilometers from Victoria to Port Hardy. We passed through many towns I had lived in previously and it was fun to see how they have grown in the years since I left. Campbell River is becoming a fair sized city and it was interesting to see how it has changed in the last ten years. Port Hardy on the other hand seemed like a sad community and it started me once again thinking about what makes one place grow and another stagnate or shrink.

I at first thought that maybe Port Hardy could be the same as any northern township in BC, but then we sailed to Prince Rupert.

The trip to Prince Rupert was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone. The inside passage is five hundred kilometers of serene landscapes. It was a peaceful journey that I feel helped me connect with the settlers and explorers or British Columbia. It became clear why certain parts of the coast are settled and others not. Cliffs. Everywhere along the trip are steep islands that have no safe landing. Beautiful though. The trip is dotted with shuttered canneries and occasionally an indigenous settlement.

I like Prince Rupert. It’s a small town of 12,000 people or so. Small, lively, and hopeful. We went to the cities museum to explore the history of the north. I think what set Prince Rupert apart from Port Hardy was this sense of hope and optimism that permeated the town. The museum was a demonstration that the people of Prince Rupert have predicted their success since its founding in the early twentieth century. (This is despite many set backs). And it once again looks like the city will start prospering. The Port cuts days off shipping from Asia and the port has expanded a couple years ago and is looking to do so again. The town has also attracted the ludicrous cruise ship business.

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View from the Lighthouse tower that was the reason for this trip.

It seems obvious that what makes a town thrive is a good economy, but I think it’s more than that it’s the hope that a person gets when they feel useful and success. What ever that means.

Although, One pilot we spoke to said the best feature of the town was that there are many ways to get out of it. Rail, ship, flight, and driving. Although I’m not sure that is a ringing endorsement.

 

 

So you want to open the constitution huh? While we are at it why don’t we just…

Premier Couillard has laid out a vision of Quebec to become a signatory of our constitution, it comes with the regular requests from La Belle Province for recognition, immigration rights etc. Prime Minister Trudeau quickly shot down the idea of opening the constitution, as most PM’s probably would after 1995. But I’ve been thinking a lot about Canadian Federalism recently, (who doesn’t, right?), and I started to wonder if there isn’t a few things that perhaps should be amended in Canada.

Chris Hall  has referred to the opening the constitution as “Pandora’s box” since as soon as negotiations start a whole slew of issues comes to the fore. He believes Premier Wall would demand the abolition of the Senate, and MP May would want environmentalism enshrined. Personally I think if the constitution was opened up why not deal with the festering issues in Canada.

I’ve never felt the Senate to be much of an issue, despite my living in the west it’s balance has never bothered me. I think the whole house of sober second thought is commendable, but it is a part of our democracy that has irked the Prairies for decades. I actually think the appointment of intelligent Canadians that are not constantly politicking for votes is a good thing. Perhaps they should be appointed by the Premiers? I’m not sure. I think Liberals were right to stop their party association in the Senate, it should be non-partisan. All said maybe it just needs a seat redistribution to reflect current population?

As long as I am creating a wish-list constitution I am going to include an issue close to my heart: municipalities. Every couple years I come across an article saying that Toronto should become its own province. I generally dismiss these, but the recurrence of this concept shows there to be a deeper issue here. Cities need more power to work with their citizens, the current federal distribution to municipalities is not addressing the demands of the public need.

Cities are  the life blood of a country, they are closest to the people, and should be able to address issues directly. Unfortunately, they are the least powerful government in our federation. In the past few years I have watched cities like Vancouver and Victoria (presumably others I just live on the West Coast) constantly needing funding from provincial and federal governments to build, fix, and expand infrastructure. And if the government does not feel like handing out money the city and its citizens get screwed. I think a potential solution would be to give cities the ability to have a sales tax.

Now I have been putting a lot of thought into this, (and nearly no research), but I believe a city sales tax (CST) could be beneficial. Here me out before you condemn. I would want the PST decrease, but to balance with the CST. In BC we have a 7% sales tax, I propose that with in cities this decreases to 4% or 5% with the city then getting a 2 or 3% sales tax. ( These are entirely arbitrary numbers and I would love to see a study to figure what the proper balance would need to be). This redistribution would give cities the ability to act independently to meet the needs of their populations.

I see a more powerful city being able to alleviate pressure off of provincial governments. Social issues, like fentanyl ( and other deadly drugs), low income housing, immigration programs, public transit, city infrastructure, can all be better addressed by a municipal government, but they would need funds to do so. ( I realize that cities do work on these issues already, but I believe they need more resources to do it well).

There is a glaring issue (at least for me, since Elsie keeps glaring at me) of this screwing over rural communities and small cities that would not be able to produce the revenue to take care of their citizens. I don’t believe this tax could be a blanket solution. There would need to be a threshold for this to be feasible, (I don’t know what it is), perhaps cities over a certain population? or ones that have their own police force? both probably happen between 100k-200k people. There are only twenty cities in Canada with a population above 200k so maybe that is the balance. Cities below the threshold, what ever that would be, would remain under provincial jurisdiction. I would not want the province to lose all taxing powers within the cities since these areas are the greatest tax revenue source because of the high population. These regions to an extent subsidies the necessary infrastructure to more rural regions, and this is a good thing. The balance though would need to be studied.

While I do not believe any premier would agree with my opinion I do think cities need more power granted to them by the constitution, and if we are opening it up hey why not?

P.S why not make the territories provinces as well?