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Fort St. John
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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NCLGA president responds to backlash over letter to Lt.-Governor

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — Though only on the job for a month, the North Central Local Government Association’s new president is already facing some backlash from members over a letter she wrote last week on behalf of the Association.

Shaely Wilbur, who is also a member of Dawson Creek City Council, wrote a letter on behalf of the NCLGA to Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon last Friday, outlining her concerns with what she called an “unconstitutional scheme” by both the NDP and the Green party to form a coalition government. In her letter, Wilbur stated that the Association is “concerned that the formal, written, binding agreement between the NDP and Green Parties goes far beyond the more common, flexible understandings between MLAs and fetters the discretion of individual members of both caucuses in fulfilling their constitutional roles and duties. That fettering of the independent discretion of elected representatives is contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the Canadian Constitution. Respectfully, if the Crown acts in reliance on the agreement we are concerned that the Crown could be condoning an unconstitutional scheme.”

Wilbur’s primary concerns in her letter echoed those in a statement she made the day before about northern communities not having their voices heard in the legislature since 8 out of 10 Northern MLA’s elected last month are members of the BC Liberal Party. A copy of the full letter can be found below.

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Backlash to the letter from other Northern local government leaders began the next day, after Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach tweeted that the letter was, “Quite an inappropriate intervention IMHO (in my honest opinion).”

 

Wilbur stated that she discussed the letter with the Board’s Executive and then presented it to the entire Board before sending it to the Lieutenant-Governor. When asked, she would not comment which of the Board’s 15 members reviewed the letter prior to it being sent. Of the eight board members energeticcity.ca attempted to contact today, none would give any comment on the letter.

Wilbur clarified today that the NCLGA is a non-partisan board that advocates for its members, adding that the Association is going to work on building relationships with whoever forms the next provincial government. She said that her desire in the letter was to clarify whether or not the agreement between the Greens and NDP was constitutional.

In an email this afternoon, the NCLGA’s Communications Coordinator Kaila Nielsen stated that the Association’s Board is having an emergency meeting tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. to discuss the matter, and included a follow-up letter from Wilbur:

“I just wanted to quickly comment on my letter to the Lt. Governor,

Firstly,  as president of our area association and its official spokesperson, I take full responsibility for any messaging that comes from our board and apologise sincerely to anyone who may be offended by my letter.

My intention was certainly not to offend in any measure. I have been involved in Northern BC politics for over two decades and am fully aware of the width and breadth of political views and perspectives amongst NCLGA politicians.

In the text of the letter I clearly and intentionally avoid any reference to political policies or ideologies, and go out of my way to identify the non-partisan nature of the concern I outline.

It is, quite frankly, all about process. Upon conferring with the NCLGA Executive,  we agreed unanimously that a letter outlining our concerns should be sent, in a completely unbiased and non-partisan way, to the LG.

I directed staff to draft a letter based on our concerns, and did send the subsequent draft letter to the board for comment. My error was not allowing adequate time for response.

We do not have a policy or protocols in place for emerging issues such as this. I understood it as my responsibility to comment on a fast unfolding scenario that seemed to directly affect, or neglect our region.

As a member of the BC Liberal party, I understand people who might think I was intentionally targeting NDP and Green party ideologies. I wasn’t at all, and would have felt compelled to write with the same concerns had the parties been reversed.

My sincere goal is simply to defend the interests of all our communities. As a councillor and NCLGA board member, I’ve been advocating aggressively for years in direct opposition to the party in power.

To be very specific, my sincere concern is that a binding contract committing MLAs to support particular initiatives and “spending” votes (and other confidence votes) severely limits any outside access to the legislative process.

The letter views the legislature as a set of 87 individual MLAs, as does the constitution. Had there been no contract or private deliberations about the transfer of power amongst MLAs, there would be no concern whatsoever. The NCLGA has a plethora of North-specific resolutions based on everything from revenue sharing to forestry and the environment. Almost all of them would require a specific vote on spending. The binding, written agreement in question specifically requires that a specific set of MLAs support all such votes no matter what.  This would potentially severely hamper our advocacy abilities.

We have been far more direct and critical on a plethora of issues from ferry cutbacks, agricultural lands, the HST, emergency services, etc.

The letter was meant to be delivered in the most direct and respectful fashion. It wasn’t posted on social media by the NCLGA or me personally. It was addressed to the Lt. Governor because she can advise all three parties, in an unbiased and neutral way, the concerns we have about our region and the legislative process.

Finally, the letter was sent with the best intentions amidst a fervour of commentary from all angles urging action. I acted, perhaps prematurely. On social media my young granddaughter has now been attacked and accusations are being made against me personally.  This is obviously unwelcomed, to say the least.

I am happy to discuss next steps with any of you. As an association we maintain respectful contact with all political parties in the legislature which will continue. Personally, I have huge respect and empathy for all elected officials who dare to create positive change, however they see it.  All three Provincial party leaders have worked extremely hard for BC and I think we are lucky to have such high caliber Leadership in BC.

My only concern was the structure of the contract in question, and not at all on anyone’s plans for the future of the Province.

Thank you to everyone who has offered support and helpful suggestions and insights around next steps.

I greatly appreciate your time and constructive input.

Shaely Wilbur

President-NCLGA”

Author

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