High Ground 2023: Home

SAVE THE DATE: High Ground 2024 will be held at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. from Friday, March 22 to Saturday, March 23, 2024! 

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.


Friday, March 24


Pre-Conference Workshop: Women in Leadership Dialogue

Room: Coronet

Several women have stepped away from their high profile roles in recent weeks: Jacinda Arden as Prime Minster of New Zealand, Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the Scottish National Party, and here in BC, former cabinet minister Melanie Mark. What challenges do women in politics face? How does intersectionality factor in—and how can people be better allies in light of intersectionality? This workshop is a place for women holding elected office to share stories, solutions, and solidarity.

Please note that registration is required to attend this workshop. Please select the Pre-Forum Session when registering or email averdeflor@columbiainstitute.eco to register. A donation of $10 is suggested to help cover light lunch.


Alison Gu Charley Beresford

Friday, March 24


Introduction and Welcome

Room: Forum
Sussanne Skidmore

Territorial Welcome

Room: Forum

With Ryan Charlie from the Sts’ailes Nation.


Stratcom Presentation

Room: Forum

Bob Penner from Stratcom will be joining us virtually to talk through our survey results and what they mean for local electeds.


Opening Plenary - Joint Services: A Case Study of Collaboration between the District of Hope and Chawathil Nation

Room: Forum

The opening plenary will explore the ongoing collaboration between the District of Hope and Chawathil Nation. Speakers will talk through the necessary relationship development as elected officials from the municipality and nation develop and expand collective agreements for emergency services, housing, economic development, and infrastructure.

Aaron Pete Victor Smith Amy Lubik

Health and Wellness Break


Beyond the Open House: Engaging Youth in Local Government

Room: Forum

Youth are one of the demographics who are most affected by our cities’ greatest challenges, from climate change to inaffordability. While there’s a greater recognition that youth are not disengaged and do in fact want to engage on these issues, local governments and leaders still struggle to meaningfully engage youth in decision making. In this one hour session led by CityHive, participants will get to walk through practices and tools to engage youth and map out pathways for youth engagement in your community.

Veronika Bylicki Rowan Gentleman-Sylvester Monica Cheema Vaidehi Gupta

TRC Calls to Action

Room: Canada

It’s been seven years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 Calls to Action. Settler governments, especially local governments, have an essential role in advancing these survivor-designed steps toward decolonization. Women Transforming Cities will share takeaways for local leaders from their recent report, “The TRC Calls to Action in BC Municipalities: Progress, Barriers, and Opportunities to Accelerate Implementation.” The second part of the workshop will provide opportunities for peer-to-peer learning. Participants will be invited to exchange lessons learned and avenues for TRC implementation from their own communities.

Clara Prager Dr. Joy Masuhara

Health and Wellness Break


Plenary - Mental Health and Policing

Room: Forum

This plenary will explore examples of civilian-led mental health crisis response teams in Victoria BC (Peer Assisted Care Team) and Portland OR (Portland Street Response), as well as the difference between these types of teams and teams in which police are embedded. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the planned expansion of the Peer Assisted Care Teams in BC and what they need to know to get programs like this started in their communities.

Kim Mackenzie Nadine Nakagawa Robyn Burek Lacey Mesley

Recharge Break


Networking Reception

Room: Miama/Cheam

Buffet Dinner

Room: Rainbow/Cascade

With an introduction from Kim Novak, President of UFCW 1518.

Keynote - Michelle Laviolette

Meaningful Reconciliation – Vancity’s learnings and strategy development journey.

This session starts at 7:45pm.

Michelle Laviolette

Emerging Solutions

A signature High Ground event, the Emerging Solutions plenaries aim to give key insights into an issue affecting communities across Canada, and the innovative steps that either have or can be taken to solve or manage the issues.

Presentations will be followed by a Q&A session.

This session will start at 8:15pm.

Fiona Koza Dave Thompson Veronika Bylicki Rowan Gentleman-Sylvester Cheeying Ho

Saturday, March 25



Room: Forum

Trustee Networking

Room: Canada

Hosted by the BC Teachers’ Federation.


CEU Showcase - Timely Climate Emergency Campaigns for Municipal Leaders

Room: Forum

In this showcase, Seth will share a few climate emergency campaigns underway that will be of interest to municipal councils and school boards. Specifically, the campaigns to ban new buildings from tying into gas lines, the Just Transition Transfer, and the Youth Climate Corps.

Seth Klein

Lessons Learned from Last Municipal Elections

Room: Canada

From some big upsets at the council level, through to coordinated efforts amongst anti-sogi candidates at the school board level, this session will explore some of the key learnings and share takeaways from the November 2022 local government elections in BC. We’ll look at how the election outcomes might impact progressive agendas locally across the province over the next 4 years and the lessons learned for next election.

Nikki Hill Neil Gaudreault Arzeena Hamir DJ Pohl

Co-ops and Local Economies

Room: Coronet

This workshop explores the impact of cooperative enterprises in addressing the cascading challenges of economic inclusion, housing affordability, and climate change. Join Njeri Kontulahti from Vancity Credit Union and David Ng from VALU co-op as they discuss how co-ops address local needs, keep capital local, and reduce the barriers to access for needed goods and services.

Njeri Kontulahti David Ng Tiffany Ottahal

The Limits and Opportunities of Being a Trustee

Room: Forum

In this breakout workshop, we’ll explore what it means to be a school trustee today, covering a broad range of topics including the education sector, roles and responsibilities, opportunities and limits, legalities and K-12 stakeholders.

Karen Ranalletta Clint Johnston Carmela Allevato Jennifer Reddy (Moderator)

Health and Wellness Break


Safeguarding Our Digital Home: Strategies for Addressing Online Harms and Promoting Positive Engagement

Room: Coronet

The online world is an extension of our homes and communities, and it is essential that we work together to address the challenges that come with it. This session will focus on online harms such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and misinformation, and their impact on our sense of safety and well-being at home. We will explore innovative approaches and collaborations between local governments, businesses, and community organizations to create a healthier online environment and promote positive digital citizenship.

Yusuf Siraj Tariq Tyab Arzeena Hamir

School Boards and Child Care

Room: Forum

As senior levels of government fund the expansion of a $10/day childcare system, this session will explore how school boards can support the implementation and expansion of childcare including before and after school care provision.

Karen Ranalletta Sharon Gregson Jennifer Reddy (Moderator)

Equity Guide for Cities

Room: Canada

Social inequality continues to shape our cultures and cities, but it doesn’t have to. Becoming a more equitable municipality isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s essential to a city’s social and economic success. Hosted by YWCA City Shift, this workshop will provide an overview of our Equity Kickstart Guide for Cities. We will highlight key actions municipalities should consider as they work towards becoming more equitable and highlight case studies and promising practices from other Canadian cities.

Shauna Shortt Amy Juschka Amina Yasin

Buffet Lunch - Fireside chat with Tara Marsden

Room: Forum

In this showcase, Tara/Naxginkw will share a brief primer on the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), how philanthropy can take a lead role in implementation, and then introduce the UNDRIP plenary.

Tara Marsden/Naxginkw 

Plenary - UNDRIP: A Case Study in Vancouver

Room: Forum

In 2022, the City of Vancouver, in partnership with the Squamish Nation, Musqueam Indian Band, and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, approved a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) strategy to advance reconciliation and Indigenous rights. Join Christine Boyle, Councillor at the City of Vancouver, and Dennis Thomas “Whonoak”, Councillor at the Tsleil-Waututh Nation as they discuss the collaboration, implementation, and path ahead for the first-ever co-developed UNDRIP strategy between Indigenous communities and a local government.

Christine Boyle Dennis Thomas “Whonoak” Tara Marsden/Naxginkw 

Health and Wellness Break


Plenary - The Role of Local Government and Affordable Housing

Room: Forum

Presented by CityState, Alex Boston, Michelle Bonner, and Thom Armstrong discuss the role that municipalities play in facilitating affordable housing stock. With an emphasis on utilizing public assets and leveraging decarbonization as a tool to deepen affordability, not hinder it, all three panelists present proven solutions that can be applied in every municipality across B.C.

Aidan Shirley Michelle Bonner Thom Armstrong Alex Boston

Closing Remarks

Room: Forum

Testimonials from High Ground 2022

  • “Thank you for all your hard work. This is the best conference I attend each year. The learning experience is beyond compare.”
  • “Even though it was virtual, it still was very engaging.”
  • “Thank you kindly for High Ground 2022. It is always inspiring and thoughtful.”
  • Thank you for the engaging, impactful 3-day forum… So grateful to learn more in depth on emerging and urgent conditions on many fronts.”
  • “I think the Columbia Institute did a very good job of covering topics that are very relevant and important for the time we are living in.”


Thank you to our 2023 sponsors (in alphabetical order):

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
Earnscliffe Strategies
Real Estate Foundation of BC
UFCW 1518