FCM past president Karen Leibovici speaks to media at the 2013 conference in Vancouver.

FCM past president Karen Leibovici speaks to media at the 2013 conference in Vancouver.

Ridge councillors defend FCM hotel costs

$501 each for three nights while attending convention in Vancouver

Despite the furore over hotels costs at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention last weekend in Vancouver, local politicians say it’s money well spent, for a busy few days.

Coun. Bob Masse defended his attendance on CKNW Monday, adding on Tuesday that the all-day conferences and the receptions that run late into the evening made it worthwhile staying over at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel.

“There was a lot of good conversation. We kept the expenditures to a minimum and, in my view, it was money well spent.”

Masse provided a copy of his bill for his three-night stay at the Renaissance, a total tab of $501. All the meals for the weekend were included in the $770 FCM conference fee.

“Theoretically, for sure, you could have stayed until 11 o’clock at night, then got in your car and driven home, then back in time for the meeting to start at 7 a.m. the next morning.”

But that would have incurred all-day parking charges, he pointed out.

Masse said that councillors often attend meetings and pay for them out of their own pocket. Maple Ridge councillors get an annual $5,000 allowance for such conferences.

If spouses come along, councilllors pay for them separately.

He said it does get tiresome to hear said in the media that all politicians are crooks or liars.

That creates cynicism and discourages people from getting involved.

Masse pointed out that breakfast began at 7 a.m. and the morning sessions started at 8 a.m., continuing until 5 p.m.

Receptions were in the evening.

“That’s where a lot of the real discussion happens,” he added. “There were trade shows. We got to look at all the LED options and actually see them.”

Maple Ridge is considering a long-term replacement of its streetlights with energy-efficient LED lights.

Couns. Corisa Bell and Al Hogarth also stayed at the Renaissance, while Mayor Ernie Daykin commuted so he could attend Maple Ridge events.

Masse said he’s currently poring over his notes to summarize what he learned and that sending three councillors was the least that could attend because of the number of different seminars.

“You won’t get all the information with one councillor because there are concurrent lectures going on.”

Maple Ridge was among the Metro Vancouver municipalities that hosted tables at the Gala Dinner on Sunday evening, allowing for networking with politicians from across the country.

Bell thought carefully about attending her first FCM conference, pointing out she skipped last year’s conference in Saskatoon, Sask., because of the cost involved.

“You learn so much from each other.”

She arrived home exhausted after the weekend and said one session on public-private partnerships was particularly interesting. She’s worried that the provincial government will begin to use P3s extensively, which could have long-term fiscal effects, to build bridges or roads in order to pare down budget figures.

Once she learns more, she’ll take a position on the issue.

“I attended everything and I worked the entire time,” and pointed out she doesn’t plan on attending next year’s FCM in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Hogarth said he has no qualms about attending the FCM, saying it’s important that councillors learn about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

“There’s good value for the money spent.”

He attended a seminar on the Green Municipal Fund, in which $550 million in federal money is available for municipal environmental projects. Maybe Maple Ridge could access some of that to support the Now House project underway here, he added.

That project sees homeowners coordinating their home-energy renovation projects in order to save money through economies of scale. If that’s possible, the conference expenses are worth it, Hogarth said.

Only Mayor Deb Walters attended from Pitt Meadows council.

Councillors don’t always want to attend such events because they’re busy with work, she said.

Walters went to the conference on Saturday after Pitt Meadows Day, spending Saturday and Sunday evening in the Fairmont Waterfront. But only the Sunday evening hotel was covered by the city.

Sunday was the President’s Forum, titled Building Strong Communities, with a keynote speech by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. That was followed by the Gala Dinner, when Walters manned Pitt Meadows’ table until midnight, then attended a Monday morning session on rebuilding cities for a better future.

Politicians talked about gas tax, policing costs, medical marijuana legislation, and railway yards, of particular importance to Pitt Meadows because of CP’s Intermodal yard is located in the city.

“It’s important that we all work together on this.”

Walters sits on the Mayors Council for E Division that deals with policing issues.