Canadian manager eager to learn during time in Southland

It might be on the other side of the world but a visiting local government manager from Canada believes Southland had plenty to teach him.

Ramin Seifi, from the Township of Langley in British Colombia, will spent two weeks in the Southland District as part of an exchange programme, before attending the SOLGM Summit. His Southland counterpart, SDC general manager, community and futures Rex Capil will then visit Canada in June next year after being awarded a New Zealand Society of Local Government Management (SOLGM) Managers Exchange, sponsored by Marsh (JLT).

Seifi, general manager, engineering and community development in Langley, said he was eager to experience Southland.

“It’s colder than I expected but the warmth of the people more than makes up for it,” he said.

“This was an opportunity to come and see another part of the world and it’s good to learn from my counterpart, so to speak, from another municipality in a totally different part of the world to see how similar we are in some aspects and how different we are in other aspects,” he said.

Pervious programmes have taken Seifi to Vietnam, Trinidad and Tobago and Columbia.

“Exchanges such as this are really important. There’s a lot of value because it helps managers like myself and Rex understand how other communities deal with issues which are similar. It’s only positive when you learn from another experience and perspective. You can only provide a better service to your community as a result.”

With a population of 120,000, the Township of Langley is one of 22 municipalities in Greater Vancouver.

“I look after all of the engineering in terms of infrastructure along with community development which, as the name suggests, is to do with growth management,” he said.

“We have the highest rate of growth in the lower mainland of British Columbia which is about three percent per year. That’s been the case for the past 20 years and we expect that to continue for the next 20 years with a population projected to be around 240,000 people by 2040.

“It comes with challenges all local government faces. How do you deal with the aging infrastructure? How do you pay for replacements? How do you manage rapid growth while meeting the needs of the current population?”

Working with a joint approach in the infrastructure and community development space had proved beneficial.

“It’s a very nice mix – to be able to break down silos and bring people together to work as part of a team. Historically, engineers blamed planners for not being conscientious of the need for a certain perspective, for example maintaining certain assets which have been procured for development.

“Having both divisions under my area of responsibility allows me to have the planners and the engineers talk to each other more for an integrated approach.”

Specific areas of interest during his time in the south include climate change, seismic considerations with respect to building standards, emergency planning and public engagement.

“I don’t think there’s any dispute as to the reality of global warming – how do we deal with it is the big question,” he said.

“We need to develop resilient communities so one of my focuses is on how to deal with floods that we’re getting more and more of, global warming, earthquakes, disaster management - things of that nature.”

Seifi spent time with Emergency Management Southland and visited various places throughout the Southland District, including Winton, Lumsden, Te Anau and Stewart Island, before attending the SOLGM Summit in Napier which was held on 26 and 27 September.

“I will be immersed in local government here. The other programmes didn’t have the same level of immersion so I’m excited about that.”