Councillors leave UBCM with big ideas for the future

By on October 17, 2017
The Union of BC Municipalities conference is an annual gathering where B.C.'s municipal politicians have a chance to interact with provincial politicians, as well as to attend seminars and vote on resolutions as a body. (Photo contributed).

 

Members of Merritt’s city council left this year’s Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Vancouver feeling confident their voices were heard by the new provincial NDP ministers and Premier John Horgan.

Merritt Mayor Neil Menard

“We talked about the things that we would like to see done at the hospital, we talked about a detox centre, we talked about the importance of tourism to our particular area, so we gave [Horgan] a copy of everything we took with us to each meeting with the ministers that we met with,” said Merritt Mayor Neil Menard.

In addition to a meeting with new premier, city council met with six ministers — Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson, Minister of Advanced Education Melanie Mark, Minister of Health Adrian Dix, Minister of Mental Health Judy Darcy and Minister of Tourism Lisa Beare.

“I would say it was probably the best [set of] meetings we have ever had,” said Coun. Dave Baker. “I think the main reason for that was because all these ministers are new.”

“We were listened to [and] we were heard,” said Coun. Linda Brown.

“I would say it was very productive,” said Menard. “One of the best ones I’ve been to.”

Council was unable to secure a meeting with Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena, but aired those concerns with the premier, who received a summary of all the issues Merritt’s raised with the other ministers.

The need for a sidewalk on the Highway 5A overpass near exit 290, and commercial trucks parking in areas of Gasoline Alley where they are not allowed, were some of the concerns council had earmarked for the transportation minister.

They also brought up the number of complaints the city gets from people and businesses when the province sends snow plows down Nicola Avenue leaving large berms behind.

“We get a fair number of complaints during the winter time, so we’re just saying look at it,” said Brown.

Menard said the city would also like to see better lighting on Nicola Avenue near exit 286, and plans to meet with the transportation minister this fall.

While these meetings don’t usually result in any concrete plans or promises, they serve as a way of touching base with the province on multiple issues, Baker told the Herald.

Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development

The meeting with the forestry minister was a top priority for council.

Brown said they discussed the possibility of the ministry negotiating an agreement with Tolko to temporarily reopen the now defunct Merritt sawmill to process wood that went up in flames this summer when wildfires claimed 1.2 million hectares of land.

“That is what our hope is,” said Brown.

Menard said they also spoke with the minister about the possibility of giving the timber that Tolko logs in the Merritt timber supply area to Aspen Planers, which still operates a mill in town. Tolko shuttered its Merritt mill last December, but still logs in the area.

City council also talked with Donaldson about securing 120 acres of Crown land behind the Bench area in an effort to attract tech companies wanting to set up a warehouse in Merritt, Baker told the Herald.

“We’ve been working on that for quite a few years,” said Baker of the initiative which the previous city council had brought up with the government at past UBCM’s. He said it is gaining steam again ever since BC Hydro doubled the amount of power it can supply the town about two years ago.

Ministry of the Attorney General

With the attorney general, city council once again brought up the issue that its current courthouse is too small and cramped for legal proceedings.

“This is, I believe, the third or maybe fourth time we’ve approached the minister on that,” said Baker. “Every time we go there it’s almost like ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve been here before,’ but this time it’s a brand new minister and his ears ticked up.”

Baker said they suggested Eby tour the courthouse, which he did with Mayor Menard while he was in town for the opening of First Nations court back on Oct. 10.

Minister of Health

With Minister of Health Adrian Dix, council discussed the possibility of opening a walk-in clinic in Merritt as well as the issue of centralization of medical supplies and services.

“We used to do day surgery, we used to do full surgery,” said Brown, who worked at the Nicola Valley Hospital in the 70s.

Council asked to bring services to Merritt such as dialysis and ultrasound, which were stopped a number of years ago.

Finding a full-time ultrasound technician to work in Merritt would be unlikely, said Brown, but one idea they proposed to reduce the amount of travel is to have that service from Kamloops visit the community from time to time.

“Perhaps there’s a day we could use the ultrasound machine,” said Brown.

“What we’re saying is bring some of these [services] that are used daily and bring them back to Merritt so people don’t have to travel all the time,” said Baker.

Baker said the city needs a walk-in clinic to take stress off the hospital.

“We don’t have a walk-in [clinic] so of course sometimes you can hardly get in to see a doctor, so everybody goes to the emergency department,” said Baker.

Council also shared a report on health care needs in the Nicola Valley that was compiled by a community committee this summer with Dix.

That committee, which is not a city committee, consisted of about 100 people who met in June, Brown told the Herald.

Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training

Council advocated for the local post secondary institution in Merritt during UBCM.

Brown said they stressed the need for red seal trades programs at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) with Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark during their talk at UBCM.

“It may not happen immediately, but they certainly looked at it,” said Brown.

Baker said they also discussed the need for more dormitories at NVIT.

“A lot of those students come from out of town and we have to offer them housing,” said Baker adding the there’s lots of room for expansion in that area.

Currently, a culinary institute and gymnasium are being constructed at the post secondary institution thanks to funding from the federal and provincial governments.

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture

Council spoke with Lisa Beare, the minister of tourism, arts and culture regarding the BC Visitor Centre at exit 286 and the fact they don’t want to see it shut down.

Baker said the building is used as a rest stop and information centre and needs too be kept open in some capacity.

“It is used extensively,” said Baker. “People use it to get information on highway closures … and also just as a place to stop and get out safely.”

Currently, Destination BC provides visitor services out of the building, but the provincial organization will be vacating it in January and city council has already agreed to enter into DBC’s visitor services network as an alternative.

“We’re basically telling them we need to work with them to keep it open even if it’s not under their jurisdiction,” said Baker.

The building and land around it is owned by the province.

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions

Council spoke with Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcie regarding drug and alcohol abuse issues and the need for a detox centre in Merritt.

Brown said council is considering utilizing a vacant building in Merritt in order to potentially get a detox centre from the new ministry.

“They weren’t wanting to put capital into it, but if we find a building they could use then they’ll think about it,” said Brown of the meeting with Darcy.

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