JOURNEY FROM STREAMKEEPER TO ELECTED REPRESENTATIVE: “Salmon brought me a strong sense of community, something I had never really felt before. I felt protective of what we share, and that the next generation deserves it as much as we do,” stated Laura Dupont, President, Lower Mainland Local Government Association
Note to Reader:
Waterbucket eNews celebrates the commitment, hard work and perseverance of individuals and groups who strive to make a difference for the common good. We share the stories of those who embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land and water in altered landscapes.
In this edition, we shine the spotlight on the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LGA) which represents 33 municipalities from Hope to Pemberton plus three regional districts – Fraser Valley, Metro Vancouver and Squamish Lilloet – in the southwest corner of British Columbia. Laura Dupont, Lower Mainland LGA President, provides a window into the thinking that motivates her Board to strive for “Better Communities, Better Lives”.
“I met Councillor Laura Dupont when she attended the Parksville 20i9 Symposium on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate. A guiding theme for the symposia series is the power of local government collaboration with the stewardship sector, in particular streamkeeper groups. Laura Dupont bridges the two worlds: she is a streamkeeper who was elected to municipal council. Now, she heads the local government group that represents about 60% of British Columbia’s 5.1 million population. It is quite the journey!” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
“For collaboration to be effective, it makes such a difference when community expectations align with the job realities of local government staff and the timeline realities for local government decision processes. Transformational outcomes are possible once both sectors realize how supporting each other is a foundation piece for moving from awareness to action on the ground, and within a reasonable timeframe – for example, stewardship groups can help staff by being the ones to bring forward ideas and approaches that staff would like to place before elected representatives, but otherwise could not.”
“In sharing the story of her journey, Laura Dupont highlights that the Board of the Lower Mainland LGA views “nature as an asset as opposed to a liability”. This realization reflects a growing understanding within local government that natural and constructed assets are both systems, and both require similar maintenance and management (M&M) strategies within a local government’s Asset Management Plan. Otherwise, the interaction of drainage infrastructure with a stream system typically results in an “unfunded infrastructure liability”. And this grows over time.”
Better Communities, Better Lives
The over-arching message for the Vancouver Island series is applicable to any region. Simply put, it is to focus on improving where people live through implementation of good strategies. These will provide communities with a path to success.
There are two guiding principles. First, reconnect hydrology and ecology – because what happens on the landscape matters to streams! Second, shrink our destructive footprint while growing the restorative footprint – because sustainable is attainable.
The Symposia Series is a building blocks process. Each event builds on the last and points the way to the next. Before COVID, the symposium format provided a neutral forum for local elected representatives, local government staff, stewardship groups and others to ‘convene for action’ to improve where people live.
Because of COVID, the 2020 symposium was reconfigured as the Watershed Moments video trilogy. The series is a legacy educational resource. Delivered via YouTube, and later re-broadcast on Shaw Cable, each video is a documentary that combines elements of a TED Talk.
“The Vancouver Island symposium in 2019 on water stewardship was so inspiring and informative. It was a wonderful experience. I left Parksville feeling hopeful,” recalled Laura Dupont.
“How has the water symposium series inspired me? In SO many ways. There is so much good work being done to support and restore ecosystem services on the island, I am hopeful to see some of that happen here, in a much more urbanized Metro Vancouver.”
“Rivers and streams truly are the lifeblood of communities. In this context, an example of Lower Mainland LGA work is Resolution ER8 in 2018 (Upgrade Flood Infrastructure to consider fish and access to fish habitat). It was supported by our membership, then UBCM, and finally the province!! This was my proudest moment since getting elected.”
Journey from Streamkeeper to Elected Representative
“Coffee on a train brought me from Alberta to BC in 1996. Two things that immediately caught my interest were the incredible colours in the spring and wild salmon spawning in local creeks in the fall,” recalled Laura Dupont, a Councillor with the City of Port Coquitlam.
“Noisy, smelly, splashing about, silver and red, they taught me to take notice. Salmon pulled me into appreciating nature on a whole other level. I could not learn enough about them. They are the most fascinating and resilient creatures. One cannot underestimate their importance to Indigenous communities and coastal ecosystems.”
“Next step was to join a watershed group and become a streamkeeper, and then a river protector. Salmon led me to learn more about, and fall in love with, the flora and fauna of the BC Coast. I will always be eternally grateful to live here.”
“Salmon brought me a strong sense of community, something I had never really felt before. That came as an unexpected surprise.”
“I felt protective of what we share, and that the next generation deserves it as much as we do. I got political and ran for city council because every year I could see it eroding away a little bit more and it felt like a dangerous, slippery slope.”
Shared Values, Common Purpose
“I talked to everyone who would speak with me and found out that a lot of people shared those values. It was rare to come across someone who didn’t care about the parks and trails and nature we are so fortunate to have right outside our door.”
“I started feeling more concerned about the changes I saw, things that felt like red flags to me. The declining health and loss of too many trees, the impacts of urbanization on local creeks and rivers, declining numbers of salmon returning to spawn, rivers being put in pipes for private energy. There is such a sense of urgency that comes with these things and I felt like I needed to do more.”
“The Lower Mainland Local Government Association offered me more”
“Covering the region from Pemberton to Hope, the Lower Mainland LGA is a diverse membership with diverse needs. It advocates for members on various Provincial and Federal issues and works to inform and advance local government interests. The group also holds a seat on the UBCM executive and some of the committees within.”
“Priorities of the current board are to advance resolutions related to climate resiliency, food security and inequality. The group is open minded and exceedingly progressive on these important issues.”
Reconnect People, Land and Water to
Adapt to a Changing Climate
“There is also a general understanding of the value of natural assets and green infrastructure within this group. Nature is viewed as an asset as opposed to a liability. It is so encouraging to know that current municipal accounting practices are giving serious consideration to quantifying the significant services they provide to our communities.”
“Thank you to Emmanuel Machado, Chief Administrative and Resiliency Officer for the Town of Gibsons for his impressive leadership on this issue.”
“Resolutions are formed by the board and the membership and are then pushed forward to UBCM. If supported by that membership, they move onto the Province who prioritizes and funds the ones they choose. Its immensely rewarding work and a great opportunity to understand the process of shaping comprehensive policy.”
Better Communities: Better Lives
“If we are going to tackle the huge challenge that is the climate emergency, then we are absolutely going to need to work with nature and put aside the idea that we can dominate it.”
“The Lower Mainland LGA does exactly that while working towards a goal of ‘better communities, better lives’ through collaboration and a shared vision of a truly sustainable future,” concluded Laura Dupont.