Like most of the rest of council, I was in Regina for several days, attending the annual SUMA convention. I find that there's always something to learn at these events, both from the formal educational sessions, and from discussions with attendees from other communities, and this year was no different.
For me, the highlight was probably the over-whelming support for the motion I put forward on behalf of our council - to amend legislation to allow councils more control over dealing with boarded up houses. The motion had to be amended, because we had worded it so that it was directed at amending the Cities Act, which is the legislation directed at cities. However, the discussion that ensued indicated that this is a problem in all sizes of communities, so the motion was reworded to include the legislation that governs towns, villages and northern communities.
Hopefully this motion will set into action the necessary steps so that what has been an ongoing issue can be handled more efficiently directly by the communities affected. Some of the boarded up houses that are an issue have been in that state for more than ten years. Not only are these houses an eyesore in a neighbourhood, bringing down property values, they also bring extra risks to an area, as we have had more than one incident of fires starting in these empty houses, when they become a source of shelter for homeless people.
Provincial politicians attend SUMA, both as formal speakers and also to mingle during sessions. Like most people there, I was surprised when the premier floated the idea about increasing the education tax, with a portion to be directed to infrastructure. I don't agree with that - I believe that the education tax should be kept for those purposes, since I certainly haven't heard anyone on the school board talk about having money to spare. Like everybody else, there's always more to do than there is money. I'm not sure why the province doesn't look at putting the sales tax up by a percentage point to provide more funding for infrastructure. Sales tax is the fairest tax out there - you alone make the decision on purchases, and the tax is directly proportional to the size of the purchase, so if you buy more, you pay more tax.
I also enjoyed the opportunity to have more informal conversations with my council colleagues, outside of conference events. Having breakfast and supper together gave us a good chance to share opinions on the previous day's discussions, and to hear what was learned at different educational sessions, since one person can't get to all the concurrent sessions.
As with any event, if you go with an open mind, and some questions to pose to your compatriots from other communities, you're bound to learn something that will help you do your job better. I never fail to learn from SUMA - this year was no exception.
"No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there." - F. Scott Fitzgerald