Councillors attend FCM conference in Vancouver

Networking is a staple practice for businesses but the idea also translates for town councillors.

Networking is a staple practice for businesses but the idea also translates for town councillors. The Town of Ponoka is a member of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and these groups help advocate the needs of municipalities.

Councillors attended the annual FCM conference in Vancouver, B.C. from May 31 to June 3 to see what the big issues were for towns and cities and also to meet with other councillors from across Canada.

“You don’t get a lot of times where you can actually sit down and network with other municipalities,” says Coun. Rick Bonnett.

Despite the costs to fly and stay for the time of the conference, there is a benefit to being able to speak with other mayors and councillors over issues they are dealing with.

The conference also offers education sessions and tours of the local area where ideas worked; in this case Coun. John Jacobs, who advocates for a strong trail system in Ponoka, saw the depth of the trail system in Vancouver.

“I’ve learned an awful lot about trails,” added Jacobs.

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not been to any of the FCM conferences, opposition leaders have taken the time to speak with attendees. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau spoke with Jacobs, which he feels may benefit the town should Trudeau become prime minister. “The networking to me is by far the best.”

Putting a value on the benefits of networking is difficult and the former council’s policy was to let every councillor at least one opportunity to go to a conference. This council has decided if the venue is reasonably close, all can attend.

Many issues came up that Bonnett found helpful. The issue of senators and their accountability was discussed and so was how the federal government plans to provide money to municipalities.

“Everything this year has been on infrastructure and the gas tax,” explained Bonnett. “It was all dollars, dollars, dollars.”

Harper did speak with attendees through a video but Bonnett is disappointed he has never been there in person. “That’s the one thing that disappoints me, there’s not as much federal politicians there.”

Jacobs tries to attend as many sessions as possible and agrees there is a challenge in placing value on networking but says seeing the trail system and what worked was educational. “You learn from others.”

He sees the conference as a perk of being a councillor.

“Politics is a lot about political alliances,” added Jacobs.

Being a member of the FCM also provides Ponoka with a chance to vote on resolutions and membership is a $320 fee plus less than 11 cents per capita, which cost Ponoka $1,228.26 this year. Mayor Larry Henkelman was on vacation and unable to comment and Coun. Loanna Gulka was the only one who did not attend.