• Sep 14, 2023
  • Insights

UBCM 2023: A preview of B.C.’s political event of the year

Written by Anna Lilly and Katie Shaw.

British Columbia’s political event of the year, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Convention, will roll into Vancouver next week from September 18-22. Originally created to “provide a common voice for local governments” in B.C., UBCM accepts policy proposals and advocacy priorities from municipalities and regional districts across the province, which are then debated at the annual convention, adopted (or not), and brought forward to the province as part of UBCM’s ongoing advocacy.

The event attracts hundreds of civic and provincial elected officials and senior staff, and features speeches from the premier and opposition party leaders. It’s a gathering of the who’s who of B.C. politics, business and advocacy groups.

With the most recent civic election occurring just last fall, this will also be the first convention for many newly elected mayors and councillors.

The topics likely to dominate discussion at this year’s event include housing, healthcare, emergency response (owing to the impacts of B.C.’s worst ever wildfire season), climate resilient infrastructure, and illicit drug decriminalization (a provincial and federal policy area that many local governments are blaming for a rise in public disorder.)

Current UBCM President Jen Ford, a city councillor from Whistler, characterized the convention as addressing “a state of overlapping crises” in a comment to the CBC. Officially, the motions coming up for debate are outlined in the extensive Policy Resolutions Book.

This year’s convention theme – Balancing Act – has the agenda acutely focused on responding to and preparing for emergencies across communities, with sessions focused on engaging with community planners on emerging best practices and key challenges facing local governments.

While there are a few targeted sessions on the complexity of Indigenous rights and title, and the application of the provincial law – the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) – the topic does not feature as prominently in 2023, compared to recent conventions.

The agenda is also light when it comes to addressing equity issues, particularly as it pertains to supporting the most vulnerable in communities during large climate and emergency events. It is expected that the provincial government will make significant announcements focused on emergency management and response, which should prompt discussions about building back with resilience across the socio-economic determinants of health.

In terms of gender equity, UBCM has included a new workshop (Beyond Balance: Bypassing Barriers) to promote dialogue and foster relationships among elected women and gender-diverse individuals with the goal of identifying “made in B.C.” solutions to support elected officials and encourage the next generation of women leaders.

We asked a few UBCM delegates what they are anticipating from this year’s event, and the value it represents to them:

The theme for this year’s convention is ‘Balancing Act,’ a particularly pertinent topic in light of the various challenges local governments are facing. These challenges include an ever-evolving role, increasing responsibilities without additional funding and inflationary cost overruns. Our members across the board are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to address these emerging issues with the provincial government. As always, we look forward to the lively debates during the resolution sessions.

Trish Mandewo, a councillor with the City of Coquitlam
who will assume the role of UBCM president at this year’s convention.

The upcoming UBCM convention is the greatest opportunity for both local and provincial governments to get together and listen to each other on areas of mutual interest and work towards solutions that benefit both entities. Topics such as housing, education, healthcare, wildfires and mental health will be important topics this year, but my main priority will be discussing the vulnerabilities of the rural and remote economic transition which is currently moving away from a resource-based economy.

Brian Frenkel, a councillor with the District of Vanderhoof
and past president of UBCM.

The UBCM convention provides a forum of focused energy on the inter-relationship between the province and local government. The week is packed with collaborative dialogue, sharing best practices, gleaning insights and informative sessions, but at the core is the value of face-to-face connections, both formal and social, that are instrumental in advancing advocacy opportunities.

Axelle Bazett, intergovernmental relations manager at the City of Kelowna.

Connect with our experts attending UBCM

As government relations professionals working in municipal, provincial and federal affairs – and with Canada’s only dedicated intergovernmental relations practice – the Earnscliffe Strategies team will have a big presence at the event to support a variety of clients.

Reach out to our onsite team to say hello or ask about how we can support your organization:

Anna Lilly


Katie Shaw