VICTORIA – This November, voters will be hiring local politicians for a four-year term, rather than three.
It’s a good time to ask some tough questions about the performance of councils on the job they are assigned to do, as opposed to posturing about senior government matters.
Remember when it was fashionable for city councils to declare their communities “a nuclear weapons-free zone”? You can still see the signs entering Vancouver and Nanaimo. Alert voters may wonder: “Did they really think we’re that stupid?” Yes, they did. And some of them still do.
To illustrate, allow me to introduce my poster child for bad local government, Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt.
A long-time NDP activist, Isitt got elected three years ago after raising his name recognition with a couple of runs for mayor. His rookie term has been notable for a series of stunts that extend his career as a professional student, campus radical and occasional history lecturer.
One of Isitt’s big studies is the influence of Soviet communism on the B.C. NDP. He was on one of his visits to Russia earlier this year when President Vladimir Putin was having his way with Crimea.
Isitt’s fondness for state control was on display last fall when aboriginal protesters disrupted natural gas drilling in New Brunswick, torching several police vehicles in the process.
Isitt took to his Facebook page to decry the federal government’s use of police against the population, and suggested Canada should emulate Venezuela, where petroleum resources benefit the people rather than corporations.
Venezuela sells gasoline for nine cents a gallon, the late Hugo Chavez’s gift to his people after nationalizing the oil industry. The capital, Caracas, is famous for extreme poverty, brutally suppressed riots, and a crime rate so bad it ranks among the world’s most dangerous cities.
How does Isitt’s political outlook translate to his role in local government?
This week local politicians gather in Whistler for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. One of Isitt’s first contributions a couple of years ago was at a UBCM workshop on how to finance local infrastructure.
Isitt proposed setting up a municipal income tax. Presumably this would be on top of property taxes.
In its wisdom, Victoria council appointed Isitt as their Capital Regional District representative. In that capacity he led the charge against Canada Post’s decision to wind up door-to-door delivery for the minority of people who aren’t already using community mailboxes.
After instructing Ottawa to accelerate the bankruptcy of this Crown corporation, Isitt began ordering the province to intervene in a dispute over Grace Islet, a rocky point off Salt Spring Island where an Alberta man is trying to build a retirement home. The dispute centres on aboriginal burial grounds and artifacts, and Isitt appointed himself advocate for the grievances of native people.
When the B.C. government didn’t follow his instructions, he demanded that the CRD expropriate the land and evict the owner. Island politics being what it is, this was actually considered before cooler heads prevailed.
And how are things with the CRD’s real job while the Isitt circus rolls on? The most over-governed region in B.C. remains locked in a bitter turf war over a federally mandated sewage treatment project, and is on the verge of forfeiting hundreds of millions in provincial funds.
So voters should ask themselves a couple of questions this November. Is your council doing the job it was hired to do? And do you trust these individuals with your wallet until the fall of 2018?
Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc