High Ground 2023: Home

High Ground 2023

This year, our annual civic governance forum will be held from 1:00pm Friday, March 24 to 4:00pm on Saturday, March 25, 2023 in Harrison Hot Springs.

The theme for this year is Home — exploring all aspects of “Home”, such as the need for everyone to have a home that is safe, secure and affordable, the health of our planetary home, the impact of the climate crisis on local government and infrastructure, collaborations between First Nations and neighbouring local governments, how we think about the lands that we live on, and what all aspects of home actually entails, both today and tomorrow.

Held for 18 years now, our forums are a time where we bring together local electeds (Mayors, Councillors, School Trustees, and Regional Directors) to share ideas, discuss prominent issues and solutions, deepen connections, and take away inspiration.

Childcare and shuttle service from Vancouver are available.

With the deadline for our special rate passed, rooms at Harrison are subject to availability. Please email Amor at averdeflor@columbiainstitute.eco with room requests.

*NEW* We are offering a virtual option! Please select “Virtual Option” when registering. Your registration includes participation in our four plenaries and access to their recordings post-event.

Some topics that we’ll be covering under the theme of Home include:

  • Collaboration between First Nations and local governments
  • Watersheds
  • Lessons learned from the last municipal elections
  • Mental health and policing
  • Tenant rights
  • Barriers to green technology
  • School boards and childcare
  • Equity guide for cities
  • Youth engagement in local government
  • K-12 leaders

Stay tuned at this page as we continue to update speakers and sessions. Program remains subject to change.

Tuning in to October 15th: A Day-long Learning & Connecting Session for Local Electeds

Please join us and other Mayors, Councilors, School Trustees, and Regional Directors in Vancouver on Sunday, July 24, 2022 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m for a day of learning, skills-development, and connecting! This will be our first in-person event in over two years!

Columbia will organize the first half of the day-long session, beginning with a presentation of the latest survey results from Stratcom and a conversation on what these might mean for the campaign period. (As a refresher, we received your input on the survey questions at this year’s High Ground. These questions were then shared with a representative sample of 800 adult British Columbians in an online survey in April.)

After that, we’ll have breakout workshops: one will focus on key issues in K-12 leading up to the elections and the other will provide an opportunity for first-term electeds to share some insights and lessons learned along the way.

In the afternoon, Earnscliffe Strategies and the Union Cooperative Initiative will take the lead on the program, offering skills-development workshops that provide the insights, knowledge, and perspectives you need to develop and deliver successful campaigns in your community.

Lunch and refreshments will be available all day.

Virtual Attendance

We are happy to offer virtual attendance for the morning portion for those wanting to join from out of town. Please select your ticket accordingly.


Masks are optional at the venue, however as everyone’s situation and preferences may vary please be respectful of each other’s comfort levels.

About Earnscliffe Strategies

Established in 1989 Earnscliffe Strategies is an independently-owned strategic advisory firm with offices in Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and a team located across Canada. Earnscliffe offers services in the areas of campaign and coalition management, community acceptance, government relations, public policy, strategic communications, and digital advocacy.

Date and Location
Sunday, July 24, 2022 10:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. PST
Hillcrest Centre
4575 Clancy Loranger Way, Vancouver, BC

For more information or if you have any questions, please email Sharon at sroling@columbiainstitute.eco

Opening, Welcome and Introduction

10:00 am – 10:15 pm

With Sussanne Skidmore, David Levi, and Kevin Millsip

Plenary – Stratcom Survey Results

10:15 am – 11:00 am

We’ll look at and discuss the survey results from our High Ground 2022 and begin discussion about what these results might mean for the campaign period. Presented by Bob Penner.


11:00 am – 11:15 am

Workshops (Breakout Sessions)

11:15 am – 12:15 pm

  1. Public Education

This workshop explores anticipated key issues in K-12 leading up to the elections and the scope of action that Trustees have in their roles. With Robin Tosczak, Karen Ranalletta, Carmela Allevato, and Jennifer Reddy (moderator).

  1. First-Term Reflections

This workshop explores learnings and reflections from first term councillors. With Amy Lubik, Nadine Nakagawa, Sharmarke Dubow, and Kevin Millsip (moderator).


12:15 pm – 1:00 pm

Catered by: Tayybeh

Vancouver’s top provider of authentic specialty Syrian products and a social enterprise that provides employment, social support, and financial security for Syrian newcomer women.

Training Sessions Presented by Earnscliffe and the Union Cooperative Initiative

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Based on your input from the survey, a series of training sessions covering different skills will be offered to help you prepare for the upcoming elections. With Nikki Hill and Jonny Sopotiuk.

Closing Remarks

3:00 pm – 3:30 pm

With Kevin Millsip.

Conversation Series #3: Mass Timber Construction: Building a Cleaner Future

Building on momentum from our 2022 civic governance forum (High Ground), we are excited to present the first installment of our third Conversation Series taking place on Tuesday, May 17th from 2:00pm – 3:00pm PST via Zoom.

At this virtual event, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon and Minister of State for Trade George Chow will present B.C.’s newly-unveiled Mass Timber Action Plan, a comprehensive roadmap that details how B.C. will make buildings cleaner, while leveraging its abundant renewable resources and creating jobs for decades to come.

Hosted in partnership with Massive Canada Building Systems and the Office of Mass Timber Implementation, this candid, intimate, and local electeds-only conversation with Ministers Kahlon and Chow will present the local economic and environmental benefits of mass timber construction and explore what local governments can do to champion mass timber in their communities. This discussion, which will be moderated by Gaetan Royer, a Research Associate with the Columbia Institute, will include an open Q&A session.

Date and Location
May 17, 2:00pm – 3:00pm PST.
Via Zoom
Register Now

If you have any questions or are having trouble registering, please email Aidan Shirley at ashirley@columbiainstitute.eco

We look forward to seeing you there!

Hosted in partnership with

High Ground 2022: Civic Governance Forum

High Ground 2022

The 2022 civic governance forum was held virtually from Thursday, March 24 to Saturday, March 26, 2022.

This year’s theme was Seeking Higher Ground: Leading Through Instability. We wanted to explore this theme as we are in a period of governing, at all levels, within ongoing, long-term, urgent and emergency conditions on many fronts. At High Ground 2022, we explored how local electeds can do their work in both proactive and responsive ways that advance progressive visions and action in their communities.

Thursday, March 24, 8:30AM – 12:45PM
Friday, March 25, 1:00PM – 6:00PM
Saturday, March 26, 8:00AM – 1:15PM

Mayors, Councillors, Regional Directors, and School Board Trustees.

Via Whova

Conversation Series #2: What’s Next for Local Climate Action & Resilience for Elected Officials?

Our second edition of our Webinar Conversation Series continues with a necessary community conversation on the connection between climate change, income security, community resilience, and power. We’ll look at how income security policies can connect to and encourage local action on climate change. Hosted in partnership with the Columbia InstituteThe Green Resilience Project, and NewStories, this virtual interactive conversation for local electeds across British Columbia will take place on Wednesday December 8th from 9:30AM – 12:00PM PST.


This community conversation aims to gather your perspectives on big-picture problems like climate change, unsteady incomes, and structural racism and discrimination, which is affecting  people’s lives and choices in the communities we serve. Furthermore, we will be exploring and documenting the links between community resilience, income security, and the shift to a low carbon economy.

In the lead up to next year’s municipal elections, let’s have a real dialogue about what’s working, where we’re stuck, and what help we need. What are the concrete next steps for communities across BC? And how can Mayors, Regional Directors, City Councillors, and School Trustees support climate and community action moving forward?

Let’s explore how we can work all together to build stronger, healthier, more resilient communities, with the tools and abilities to meet their unique needs in a rapidly changing world.

Date and Location
December 8, 9:30am – 12:30pm PST.
Via Zoom
Register Now

For more information or if you have any questions, please email Isabella Johnson at ijohnson@columbiainstitute.ca

Thanks to our sponsors for helping make this event possible.

Conversation Series #2: What Can Local Electeds Do About Islamophobia?

Our second edition of our Webinar Conversation Series continues with our webinar on What Can Local Electeds Do About Islamophobia on Tuesday, October 26, 2021, 12:00pm-1:00pm. Organized in partnership with the Foundation for a Path Forward, this conversation asks what Mayors, Councilors, School Trustees, and Regional Directors can do to tackle Islamaphobia in communities of all sizes and types (rural, urban or mixed). To address this question, it sets out, first, to explore how Islamophobia shows up in communities; and then, to explore the role the Internet currently plays in propagating hate against Muslims.

Register Now!

You’ll hear from:

Sharmarke Dubow (Moderator)
Sharmarke is a Councillor for the City of Victoria. After resettling in Canada in 2012, Sharmarke cast his first vote on October 20, 2018, and at the same time was elected to Victoria City Council. Sharmarke’s passion and commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and his work for immigrant and refugees at the local and national level has earned him a reputation as a respected community leader and voice for human rights.

Arzeena Hamir
Arzeena is the Area B Director on the Comox Valley Regional District and runs Amara Farm, a certified organic farm the Comox Valley. She received her BSc in Crop Science from the University of Guelph and her Master’s in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of London, England. She helped to launch the Richmond Farm School, Mid Island Farmer’s Institute, and the Merville Organics Grower Co-op to support the farming and food sector. 

Hiba Alodat
Hiba is a former Syrian Refugee who came to Canada as a teenager. She is a youth leader with the Muslim Care Centre which provides daily meals, addresses social and wellness issues including addiction recovery, holistic wellbeing, and social services for vulnerable populations in Vancouver and Surrey. Due to her academic and community accomplishments Hiba is a recipient of the Beedie Luminaries Scholarship

Tariq Tyab
Tariq has been a community capacity builder for over 20 years. His passion for breaking silos and building bridges has enabled multiple organizations to work with new Multicultural and Faith community allies. He is a co-founder of the Official Faith Based Community Convener for Resilience B.C., Foundation for a Path Forward, as well as Islam Unravelled Educational Initiative, and the Muslim Food Bank. Tariq also serves as the VP of Media for the BC Muslim Association, the province’s largest Muslim organization. As a social entrepreneur, Tariq is also a co-founder of a technology company focused on developing solutions for shared community challenges. 

Organized in partnership with:

Foundation For A Path Forward has worked with allies across communities in building a #HateFreeBC. Due to this work, we were nominated by the Province of B.C. to be the Official Faith Based Community Convener for anti-Racism, working in partnership with Resilience B.C. and Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, MLA Rachna Singh.  They aim to develop and deliver creative and impactful solutions for Racism, Climate Change, Gender Equality, Youth Engagement, Mental Health, Social Technological Innovations, LBGTQ2S+ Inclusion, and Refugee/Immigrant Support. https://www.foundationforapathforward.org/

Date and Location
October 26, 2021, 12:00pm-1:00pm
(discussion followed by Q&A)
Via Zoom
Register Now

For more information or if you have any questions, please email Isabella Johnson at ijohnson@columbiainstitute.ca

Thanks to our sponsors for helping make this event possible.

Conversation Series #2: Municipal Best Practices for Sex Worker Safety

We are pleased to announce the second edition of our Webinar Conversation Series. We’ll be launching this series with a workshop on Municipal Best Practices for Sex Worker Safety, organized in partnership with Living in Community.

Local governments have an important role to play in implementing policies, bylaws, and regulations which both protect sex workers and prevent human trafficking. While the laws governing sex work in Canada are federal, the municipal level has many tools at its disposal and is often best positioned to address sex work through localized solutions.

This workshop will help local elected officials understand sex work in their communities and how to regulate it safely and equitably. Attendees will also leave with a deeper understanding of how stigma, stereotypes, and biases often influence how we see the issue of sex work.

Register Now!


Alison Clancey (she/her) and Kerry Porth (she/her) are Community Developers with Living in Community (LIC), and have delivered training LIC’s since 2013.

Nadine Nakagawa, a City Councilor, will open up the discussion and share the experience of New Westminster in developing a motion for the municipality.


Living in Community (LIC) began in 2003 in the City of Vancouver as a result of critical concerns about sex workers’ safety. LIC brought diverse stakeholders together, including sex workers and sex work support organizations, businesses, policing, health organizations, neighbourhood houses, Indigenous organizations, and more, to build relationships and collaboratively identify solutions. Over time, the LIC model formalized into a Steering Committee of these diverse stakeholders guiding our work in anti-stigma education and training, policy advocacy to all levels of government, and sharing of our unique model of community development. Our goal is to create communities that are healthy and safe for everyone, centering the needs and rights of sex workers.

Since 2013, LIC has provided training and education to service providers and policymakers across BC, the Yukon, and Newfoundland about a collaborative and community-based approach to sex work and community safety. We have also mentored other communities in developing local LIC models, including St. John’s, which established LIC St. John’s in 2017.

In 2019, LIC established the BC Sex Work Support Service Network, which is a network of over twenty sex worker-serving organizations from diverse communities across BC. LIC convenes this group on regular calls and virtual trainings for members to share the challenges in their communities, learn from each other, and develop a unified voice for sex workers’ rights in BC. This Network is a key voice in ensuring that sex work best practices do not only speak to the issues seen in larger urban centres, but instead include the unique needs of those in rural and remote communities as well.

Further Resources: https://livingincommunity.ca/fact-sheets/ 
About Living in Community: https://livingincommunity.ca/

Date and Location
October 5, 2021, 12:00pm-1:00pm
(discussion followed by Q&A)
Via Zoom

For more information or if you have any questions, please email Amor Verdeflor at averdeflor@columbiainstitute.ca

Thanks to our sponsors for helping make this event possible.

Conversation Series: Webinar 4

We are pleased to announce the final edition of our Webinar Conversation Series, which will zoom in on Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a collaborative community safety effort that offers law enforcement an alternative to jail and prosecution by diverting individuals to case management and supportive services.

During this conversation, we’ll hear from Lakewood, Colorado Mayor Adam Paul on the City’s recently-approved (LEAD) program—what it looks like and the measures that were taken to make the change.

LEAD: “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a pre-booking diversion pilot program developed with the community to address low-level drug and prostitution crimes … The program allows law enforcement officers to redirect low-level offenders engaged in drug or prostitution activity to community-based services, instead of jail and prosecution. By diverting eligible individuals to services, LEAD is committed to improving public safety and public order, and reducing the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program.” LEAD reduced recidivism by 22%.

We’ll also have a conversation with experts around the potential challenges and opportunities for local electeds and communities around this model.


  • Lindell Smith, Councillor, City of Halifax (Recently appointed as Chair of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners)

Setting the stage: What do we need to know about LEAD

  • Malika Lamont, Project Manager, LEAD Washington State Expansion and Project Director, VOCAL-WA

Colorado’s experience with the LEAD program

Potential impacts/benefits

Date and Location
January 25, 2021, 12:00-1:30pm
(Panelist discussion 12:00-1:00pm followed by Q&A 1:00-1:30pm)

For more information or if you have any questions, please email Aidan Shirley at ashirley@columbiainstitute.eco.

Special thanks to Amy Lubik for getting this amazing line-up of speakers together!

Thanks also to our sponsors for helping make this event possible.

2021 High Ground: Be Bold!

High Ground 2021: Be Bold!

Our civic governance forum spanned three days, with online sessions on Wednesday, March 24 (morning), Friday, March 26 (afternoon & early-evening), and Saturday, March 27 (morning).

Conversation Series: Webinar 3

Our third webinar for local electeds from across British Columbia looked at how we can address the ongoing housing crisis and provide good, affordable homes for all. It was co-hosted by the Vancouver and District and New Westminster and District Labour Councils.

The panel was chaired by Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and included Michael Andersen of Sightline Institute, Jill Atkey of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), Paul Finch of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), and Summerland Mayor Toni Boot.


Friday, November 13, 1:00 to 2:00pm PST / Post-webinar conversation until 2:30 PST

Aidan Shirley at ashirley@columbiainstitute.eco

Thanks to our sponsors for helping make this event possible.

Conversation Series: Webinar 2

Another Covid 19 Webinar: Mobilizing municipalities for climate action – a conversation with Seth Klein

Our second webinar for local electeds from across British Columbia and Canada featured a conversation with Seth Klein about the recently released A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency. Amy Lubik, a city councilor in Port Moody, facilitated the conversation.

In his book, Seth makes a new and significant contribution to the struggle for bold and transformative climate action in Canada by proposing a new approach to tackling the crisis. In doing so, he shares what Canada can learn from the urgency and ingenuity displayed during the Second World War — and, most recently, the response to the Covid 19 pandemic. He also had some valuable insights on the key issues local electeds should be highlighting at this time.

As most of you already know, Seth was the founding director of CCPA-BC (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) and has been a long-time advisor to us on all things High Ground (our annual civic governance forum).


Thursday, October 1 from 3:00 to 4:00pm PST / Post-webinar conversation until 4:30


Aidan Shirley at ashirley@columbiainstitute.eco

Thanks to our sponsors for helping make this event possible.

Conversation Series: Webinar 1


In our first 2020 webinar, moderator Rhiannon Bennett led a conversation with elected leaders and educators from across BC on what inclusive, equitable, and sustainable communities could look like both during and after COVID-19. Please join us.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020, 10 to 11am PST

Free (thanks to our sponsors!)

Aidan Shirley at ashirley@columbiainstitute.ca

We’ll have closed captioning available during the webinar. 

Rhiannon Bennett, Co-Founder, Hummingbirds Rising (moderator) Rhiannon (she/her) is Musqueam and a much-sought-after speaker who is well known for asking tough questions in a manner that encourages engagement and dialogue. She is actively working to create a more equitable world for all and has been working with children, youth, and families for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Professionally, she has worked with Indigenous youth and families, with overarching themes of her work being Decolonization and Reconciliation. In 2014, she was the first Indigenous person elected to the Delta Board of Education. While not successfully re-elected, she was inspired to launch a consulting firm with her running-mate, Andrea Hilder, to continue to do the important work. 

Teresa Downs, Superintendent of Schools for the Gold Trail School District Teresa joined us at High Ground 2018, when she shared the story of the “White Privilege Campaign” in School District 7, which covers many communities in BC’s interior. She returned in 2019 to give us an update. Teresa completed her practicum in Gold Trail and has stayed in the district since then. She has been a classroom teacher, Learner Support Teacher, Principal, Director of Instruction and now Superintendent. She is dedicated to improving the quality of the educational experience for each student with a focus on Indigenous learners. 

Sharmarke Dubow, Councillor, City of Victoria Sharmarke cast his first vote in an election on October 20, 2018. In that same election he ran for office and was elected a City Councillor in Victoria, BC — the first Somali-Canadian elected to City Council in Canada and the first Black City Councillor to be elected in Victoria in 152 years. Sharmarke fled his country when he was 8 years old. He was a refugee for more than two decades before he resettled in Canada and worked with migrants in North Africa as a dedicated human rights defender. 

These are just some of the experiences that convinced Sharmarke to dedicate his life to racial, social and environmental justice. He is tireless in his efforts to build relationships, collaborate, and bring people together to improve the wellbeing of communities. In less than two years on City Council, Sharmarke, has taken great steps to make life more equitable, inclusive, and affordable for people in Victoria. He’s passed motions to make public transit free, started a renters advisory committee to give tenants a voice, worked to bring an equity lens to decision-making at the City, fought for the addition of affordable housing in Victoria, police accountability, and more.

Nadine Nakagawa, Councillor, City of New Westminster Nadine is a community organizer and local activist, and was elected to New Westminster City council in 2018. Here, she serves on the mayor’s task forces on affordable housing and childcare, climate change and the environment, and reconciliation, inclusion, and public engagement. Nadine chairs the Environment Advisory Committee and is the council rep on the Youth Advisory Committee. She co-owns a consulting business called Ablaze Services and has a Masters Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Jennifer Reddy, Trustee, Board of Education, School District 39, Vancouver Jennifer is working towards an inclusive community where people are engaged as valuable and deserving individuals, who can use their agency to lead the changes they wish to see. Jennifer holds a Masters in Social Policy and Development, a Bachelors in Development Studies, and a Certificate in Curriculum Development and Instructional Design. From SFU, EdMeCo, and the VSB to Kuru Kuru Training Centre in Guyana, Jennifer has been inspired by global leadership in education and social change.

With an introduction from Sussanne Skidmore, who chairs our Board of Directors and is the Secretary Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour. 

Thanks to our sponsors for helping make this event possible.