The local government system in British Columbia is unlike any other local government system in Canada and is unique in the world, therefore, knowing the difference between municipal governments, regional districts, improvement districts, and First Nations Bands can be a challenge for many museum professionals. This blog post will provide a brief overview of BC’s unique local government system and will provide you with online resources to find and contact your local government representatives.

What Exactly is a Regional District?

Depending on where you live, you may have more than one local government representative. For example, if you live in Saanich, you fall into the jurisdiction of both the City of Saanich and the Capital Regional District (CRD). The regional district is a form of government that is unique to BC – while it takes influence from similar systems in Ontario and the United States, it was tailor-made for challenges facing British Columbia in the 1960s. During the 60s there was no efficient way to manage community issues that took place outside of existing municipalities and since a significant percentage of BC’s growing population lived outside of municipalities in unincorporated areas of the province, providing citizens with necessities like fire protection, water supply, and shared community resources like arenas and museums, the Province created the regional district in an attempt to better support rural British Columbians.

Today regional districts have three main roles: providing regional governance and services; providing a framework for region-wide services that may span multiple local governments (things like water systems, waste management, cultural facilities, etc.); and, for areas of BC without local governments, functioning as a local government and providing services like building regulation, street lighting, and nuisance regulation.

How to Decide Who to Talk to

Because you or your museum may be located in more than one jurisdiction, it can be challenging to decide who to talk to about your organization’s needs. If you don’t have an existing relationship with your local government(s), try reaching out to other cultural organizations in your community to see if they can offer any advice. Ask the members of your board of directors if they have any connections with your local government.

If you don’t have any connection with your local government, make sure to invite your local government’s staff and elected officials to significant events your museum has throughout the year. If you plan Family Day events, this is a great opportunity to extend an invitation to local government representatives (as well as your MLA and MP). If your organization has good news to share (like a new grant, a community anniversary, or the launch of a new exhibit), email the news to your local government’s communications team. If you’re located in more than one jurisdiction, share the news with both your municipality and your regional district – it never hurts to share good news!

Also, keep in mind that local governments are made up of elected officials and staff and both groups play different roles and have different responsibilities. Elected officials consist of people like mayors and councilors, and in broad strokes, these positions function in a similar manner to a not-for-profit organization’s board of directors. Both are elected roles and both groups help to approve budgets, set strategic priorities, and help to provide democratic accountability for organizations and governments. Staff help to fulfill the strategic direction set by elected officials and work within the approved budgets. While many museums invite mayors and councilors to special events, fewer organizations think to invite local government staff – cultivating good relationships with staff in your local government can be an effective way to build support for your organization within government. Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs), Corporate Officers, and department heads have considerable influence in local governments and while they work within budgets set by elected officials, staff make the day-to-day spending decisions.

Where Can I Find Information About My Local Government?

If you are trying to find contact information for local government elected officials or staff anywhere in the province, CivicInfo BC is a fantastic directory and information hub. You can also read local government news releases on CivicInfo and this can be a good way to keep up-to-date on news that may impact your community.

Why Should I Develop a Relationship With My Local Government?

Advocacy is always more effective if the person/organization you are advocating to knows who you are. If your mayor has never heard of your museum or is unfamiliar with your impact in the community, your email/phone call/letter will automatically carry less weight. Just think about your own life – you’re probably more likely to answer a call from someone you know or return an email from someone you’ve communicated with before. By inviting local government officials to your community events, sharing good news with their communications team, and having your local government hear positive word of mouth from your advocates, you are laying a groundwork for future support.

For example, imagine two scenarios. In both scenarios, a museum has found itself in a difficult financial situation and requires emergency funding from their local government. In the first scenario, the museum has not maintained a relationship with its local government and as a result, while members of council have heard of the museum, most aren’t very familiar with it and only a few councilors have been in recent memory. In the second scenario, the museum has regularly invited councilors to events, promoted good news to the municipality’s communications team, and has ensured that most councilors are familiar with its impact. In which scenario do you think the museum is more likely to receive emergency support?

Building relationships with your local government isn’t a guarantee of support since decisions in government are influenced by hundreds, if not thousands, of factors, but not building relationships reduces your likelihood of receiving support significantly.

Where Can I Learn More?

What is the Role of Local Government, from the BC Government

Primer on Regional Districts in British Columbia

100 Years of Local Government Video Series, Local Government Management Association of BC

CivicInfo BC

Heritage BC’s Heritage and Municipal Elections

Heritage BC’s Municipal Governments and Heritage

BCMA’s A Municipal Election Primer