FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman recently returned from trips to Peru and Newfoundland as part of Sustainable and Inclusive Communities in Latin America or also known as CISAL.
“We went because of the CISAL program. CISAL is a Canadian International and South America program. It was implemented by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in 2014. The intention is to support local governments in both Columbia and Peru.”
Ackerman says they were originally asked to look at working with Columbia but then were switched to Peru.
“The communities there are trying to manage the impacts and benefits from mining development and to support sustainable economic growth for the residents in Latin America. SCM recognized the work that the City of Fort St. John has been doing and they fund everything. They asked if we would be interested in participating.”
The City of Fort St. John signed a 2-year MOU to work with the municipalities there. The objective of the mission was to provide assistance to the local governments when it comes to municipal planning.
Ackerman says the trip was a little lengthy because they had to meet with every community that they signed the MOU with.
She also had the chance to travel to Newfoundland.
“I got an email right out of the blue from an organization working with some communities in Newfoundland. They are looking as well at how do they manage the impacts of industry in their backyard.”
When Ackerman was asked how the trip to Peru went overall, she says that the cultures are very different in comparison.
“When you live in the society that we do, in a country that yes, we have political changeover but not to the degree that a country like you will see in Latin America. It is just such a completely different culture. The culture there is so embedded in everyday life that there are things that don’t get moved forward because people are afraid to move them forward.
Because they have such a closed economy and a lot of their lives are supported by farming, it is a similar situation to perhaps our forefathers in Europe, that the farmland got divided up between children and you finally get to a point where the family farm will no longer support a family. So how do you either enhance the way you are doing farm work to generate more food or how do you increase levels of education and literacy so that the young people who will not get farm land given to them by their fathers, will be able to go on and get a better education because at this point in this area, education is not as valued.”
Ackerman says she thinks that it is all apart of the culture but points out that she believes it could be because they haven’t seen things done any differently.
“I think that it is apart of their culture and they haven’t changed things because they haven’t seen things that are different. That is part of this program, to have people come to that area to talk about that.”
The Official Community Plan is also a reference for the City. Ackerman says in Peru they are going through a similar process.
“When I got on council 11 years ago, we initiated at that time a process to update our Official Community Plan and it was finally finished and done in 2011. We are now going through that process to update it again. You are supposed to go through it every 5 years. Not all communities do, but 5-7 years is the outside that you should be looking at your Official Community Plan and that is the plan that drives your community forward.
When I became the Mayor, the Official Community Plan that I have was adopted, I was in that council but it was under the direction or leadership of a different Mayor and our new OCP is coming out now. The OCP we have right now has gone through 3 Mayor’s.
Theirs, they plan right now, every year for 1 year. What I’m saying to my colleagues in Peru is: you need to let go of the ownership of your community plan. It is the citizens in your community that need to tell you what the vision is, what their vision is for the future.”
Ackerman says that is a foreign concept for them. The other issue she says the found is corruption.
“Corruption is so prevalent in the culture and when we had an opportunity to speak to 1 of the mines in the, they held fast to a “no corruption” rule but they said there was a lot of pressure.”
The conversations were very interesting she says. They had talks with artisans, different community groups and all of the different communities as well as the education institutions that they met with.
There are a few things Ackerman says she would like to see Peru implement that already occur in Fort St. John.
“I think for me as a Mayor talking to Mayors down there, it would be making sure that the community is involved and engaged in the creation of the development plan. What they call their Municipal Development Plan, we call our Official Community Plan and that needs to be a master document for policies to come from. When you have that goal, that vision for your community and you create all of your policies based on principles that come from that then it is much easier to build the community.”