Convention 2023

Monday, September 18

Convention is off to a roaring start in Vancouver with a record number of registrants attending sessions on decriminalization, reconciliation, housing and more. 

Looking ahead to Tuesday:

Tomorrow’s plenary session will explore the health impacts of wildfires in a discussion between UBCM President Jen Ford, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and more.

Join the conversation online at #UBCM23

A conversation on decriminalization and the

toxic drug crisis

Earlier this year, the BC government received a three-year exemption by Health Canada from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the possession of certain illegal drugs. While local governments were largely in support of decriminalization as one of the tools to address the overdose crisis, UBCM members have also been raising concerns about the use of these drugs in parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces. This session was set up to explore the complex issues of the drug toxicity crisis, decriminalization, stigma, and public substance use. It provided an opportunity for local governments to share what they’re experiencing on the ground. 

What they said is that their communities are working hard to meet the needs of their community, but feel they’re often left hanging. 

“I’m supportive of decriminalization, but I don’t think we’re being supported,” said Gladys Atrill, mayor of Smithers. 

The panelists described specific supports they need from the government—most especially, “Housing, housing, housing,” according to three panelists, followed closely by treatment beds. 

These communities have a lot of compassion, and the will to work hard on this issue, but they need more support to do so. 

After six years of trying to meet mounting needs of the toxic drug crisis¬, compounded by the housing crisis and the stressors of the pandemic, communities are at a turning point where they’re at a risk of losing the sense of compassion that makes them so strong. 

The final word from Dr. Bonnie Henry was her oft-reiterated message of hope, that amid all the work there is still to do, “There are a lot of people benefiting; all the little things we’re doing are helping people, and we have to keep going.” 

There are two special resolutions related to decriminalization that will be up for debate at the first resolution session, Wednesday morning September 20. 

Treaty implementation and reconciliation

Celeste Haldane, Chief Commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission led a panel on modern treaty implementation and the imperative for First Nations, local governments and communities to strengthen ongoing dialogue and engagement. 

View all the interviews from Monday on our 2023 Convention YouTube playlist.

An interview with Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon

With the anticipated rollout of wide-ranging initiatives under the Province’s “Homes for People” plan, local governments are forging ahead with diverse approaches to increase the housing supply. UBCM President Jen Ford facilitated a question period with provincial housing minister, Ravi Kahlon to find out what the Province is doing to support local government efforts. 

  • On matching immigration levels to housing targets, Kahlon said, “I am a big fan of immigration. We need more people in BC as our population gets older. But we do need to make sure newcomers are set up for success.” That means qualification transfers as well as adequate housing. He’s is asking the federal government to link housing and immigration targets, and for dollar-to-dollar matching on investment.
  • Provincial approvals on development approvals have been criticized for slowing down housing projects by several months, something that was raised at the 2023 Housing Summit. The Province release details today on its new Single Housing Application Service (SHAS), a one stop shop for provincial permits. They expect this streamlined process to speed up average permits by two months.
  • When the Province transferred $1 billion to BC communities in the Growing Communities Fund, Premier David Eby called it a “down payment” for the infrastructure needs in communities. Kahlon agreed that infrastructure needs to be expanded and updated in tandem with housing, “It can’t be one or the other. The Premier called [that funding] a down payment, I’ll take his word on it.”


Tuesday’s plenary session will focus on the physical and mental health impacts of wildfires and we love to hear from you.

What aspects do you most want to hear about?
Emergent research on smoke inhalation
Research on how we can better predict wildfire behaviour and smoke behaviour
Mental health support for people affected by fires, alerts, evacuation, and property damage
Strategies to better protect communities

Coming Up

UBCM is pleased to welcome Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal Minister of Energy and Natural Resources to address delegates on Friday morning.

UBCM in the News

Councillor Jen Ford, UBCM president, spoke with CBC’s The Early Edition about the overlapping crises that are facing communities. CTV provided detailed coverage of the discussion on decriminalization. City TV touched on the record level of registrations for this year’s event and the critical themes of wildfire mitigation and housing attainability.

Copyright, Union of British Columbia Municipalities 2023