Paramountcy should be a power of last resort, says UBCM president | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Paramountcy should be a power of last resort, says UBCM president

The president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities sent a letter to provincial housing minister David Eby this week, urging cooperation with member municipalities over issues such as the present dispute the province is having with Penticton over the city's emergency shelter.
May 21, 2021 - 6:00 PM

The City of Penticton found support from sister municipalities across the province earlier this week in their dispute with the province’s housing ministry over closure of the city’s emergency shelter.

The province invoked its power as a higher level of government, known as paramountcy, in early April to maintain the city’s emergency shelter in spite of a resolution by council to close the operation at 352 Winnipeg Street at the end of March.

Union of B.C. Municipalities president Brian Frenkel responded this week to a request from Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki to write the premier, instead issuing a letter to provincial attorney general and housing minister David Eby, urging cooperation rather than confrontation with local governments.

In his letter to Minister Eby, Frenkel said he did not wish to become involved in a local dispute, but as head of an organization representing the province’s municipalities, his message was to urge the minister to commit to working in collaboration with the province’s municipalities “within the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions.”

Frenkel also expressed a concern that the province’s application of paramountcy set a dangerous precedent that could lead to an undermining of local government authority.

Frenkel’s letter also referenced a previous invocation of paramountcy, or statutory immunity, in the community of Maple Ridge in 2019 by then-housing minister Selena Robinson over a homeless sheltering issue.

He concluded with an invitation to Minister Eby to join the UBCM in discussions to find a dispute resolution mechanism that could be an alternative to paramountcy.

READ MORE: Penticton homeless

Frenkel said in an email today he’s not aware of other communities in the province dealing with the issue of provincial use of paramountcy at this time.

He described paramountcy as a provincial tool that is invoked in selective instances for which the province believes there is justification.

“The UBCM recognizes the province has this authority, and that its use is a matter of provincial determination. The purpose of our letter is to affirm the value of local autonomy for matters of land use planning as a general principle,” Frenkel said in the email.

He said the primary motivation for his letter on behalf of the UBCM is that the powers of paramountcy should be used only as a matter of last resort.

“There’s always a risk that such powers may be invoked prematurely. As a general principle, it is our duty to highlight the risks in doing so,” he said. “The UBCM’s involvement in this instance was not to take sides because we do not have all of the facts of their discussions available to us. Rather, we are defending a common principle in relation to appropriate jurisdiction."

Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki expressed appreciation for Frenkel’s letter, saying council is elected locally, is accountable locally and that decisions over housing shelter sites should ultimately be decided locally.

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