The chair of the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) board declined to comment this week on whether taxpayers got their money’s worth from Castlegar mayor Bruno Tassone’s attendance at a national municipal conference.
“I can’t comment on that because his report is not fully encompassing everything he did,” Aimee Watson told the Star. “I did actually see him in quite a few things (at the conference) so I refrain from commenting. I leave that to him.”
Watson said the RDCK currently has no policy on its board members’ attendance at the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), but that such a policy is in the works and will be presented to the board in August.
Tassone, who represents Castlegar on the RDCK board, made the news last week because he was unable or unwilling to tell the Castlegar News what educational events he attended, stating that he would report this information to the RDCK.
His written report to the RDCK shows that he attended one study tour, a trade show, one speaker, the FCM elections, the opening and closing ceremonies, and no workshops.
Tassone was one of two of the 16 delegates who submitted a written report to the RDCK on his activities at the conference. (Watson was the other.)
At Thursday’s board meeting, which Tassone did not attend, the other 15 board members who attended the FCM conference each gave a brief verbal account of their activities, most of them simply mentioning a few highlights or general impressions, rather than giving a full list of events they had attended.
It costs the RDCK about $3,600, plus incidental expenses, to send an individual delegate to the conference.
Sixteen board members and one staff member attended the 2019 conference, for a total price tag of at least $61,000.
At the conference, delegates attend study tours, educational workshops, trade shows, and addresses by the federal party leaders. They participate in meetings on regional municipal issues and have opportunities to meet with and lobby federal government representatives. They also share issues and solutions with their counterparts from across the country.
There are also special events (companion tours) for delegates’ spouses, whose expenses the RDCK does not cover.
This year’s conference included workshops on an array of municipal issues such as 5G wireless networks, managing snow and water levels, plastic pollution, legalized cannabis, affordable housing, forestry issues, the opioid crisis, public transit, challenges of northern and remote communities, and climate resilience.
Watson said having local politicians networking and lobbying at the national level is invaluable for RDCK but that value is hard to put a finger on.
She pointed out that RDCK board member Leah Main, a Silverton councillor, is the chair of the FCM’s B.C. caucus.
“The fact that we have the smallest municipality in B.C. and now have the B.C. caucus chair, how do you quantify the lobbying efforts you get out of that?”
Watson cited local advances in transit and broadband as results of local networking at the FCM and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, whose annual conference the RDCK also attends.
“When it comes down to rural areas and our ability to have our voice heard it is actually extremely difficult because we do not fit into any boxes,” she said. “The way we get our presence known and our voices in there is through the larger body of FCM.”