Growth happens. We see it everyday in business, population, and our own bodies. Growth has been exploding in Vancouver in the last decade and we are seeing the symptoms of a future metropolis. Today the Greater Vancouver Regional District is a bloated area full of excessive government structures, and it’s time to consolidate it.
I’d like to present the Vancity Buzz proposal for municipal consolidation. The Metro Vancouver community is much more interconnected today than it was in 1967 when the first meeting of the GVRD Board took place. On a city-level, the current structure is inefficient and ineffective to meet today’s demands of an entire community that extends beyond the municipal borders of Boundary Road and surrounding waters. Success of a police, transit, and social strategy is dependent on the proper organization of our city’s own infrastructure and governments in the entire Metro area.
Reasons to Consolidate
Why do Vancouver municipalities need to consolidate? Infrastructure has dramatically interconnected Metro Vancouver and we’re seeing social activity on a completely regional scale. This applies to crime, events, emergencies, transportation, tourism, and business. Looking at the demographics of those who participated in the Vancouver Riot, it’s very evident that a large number of those who participated were from the outside of Vancouver city limits (some figures of arrests point to every 7 out of 8 belonged to neighbouring jurisdictions). The city limits don’t reflect the true nature of the city and its everyday inhabitants.
When tourists fly into Vancouver, the first ground they touch is Richmond, not Vancouver. And when tourists want to experience the beautiful outdoors they visit the North Shore, not Vancouver. However, all of the marketing and “brand” displayed by Vancouver comes from the single municipality itself. So much of the brand disappears when tourists step outside city limits. Although tourism is not entirely determined by city limits, the organization of businesses and tourism incentives are greatly influenced by the city itself. Additionally, Vancouver city hall alone took the initiative to revive the entire tourism brand after the riot.
In public safety, the GVRD’s emergency services are entirely inefficient and fragmented. It took a crown corporation to offer an integrated 911 service (ECOMM). And on an operational perspective, interdependence on neighbouring municipalities for emergency response is continually increasing. HAZMAT and large structure fires can require neighbouring assistance when outside Vancouver city limits. Technical rescues on the Fraser River demand a coordinated response by multiple municipalities. To administer so many departments bloats costs, and every coordinated response requires too much bureaucracy. Such proposals for police consolidation appeared in North Vancouver and West Vancouver not too long ago.
A Safer Public Safety
Consolidate public safety resources, utilize new RCMP resources, and further integrate the regional branch of Emergency Management BC (EMBC). Because a new government agency is under development, Shared Services Canada will impact the future of policing in BC. The possible changes to police systems and record-keeping already open a bigger window of opportunity to consolidate public safety in Metro Vancouver and create a more effective police force in the region. PRIME-BC, our provincial police record system, could be dramatically affected and consolidation of police forces will match upcoming changes. RCMP “E” Division is also building a new and more centralized regional headquarters that will better serve the entire area. It’s very evident that crime moves throughout Metro Vancouver and consolidation will make policing more effective.
Juan de Fuca is a looming threat and continued fragmentation of Metro Vancouver will prove ineffective against a large scale disaster. Currently public safety uses so many different radio and IT systems that interoperability during a disaster will be unachievable and such a response could be just as chaotic as New York during September 11. EMBC, the province’s emergency response coordinator, has much potential to expand its operational capabilities and provide for better emergency response throughout Vancouver. A better integrated EMBC will mean faster allocation of resources in a disaster and a more effective regional emergency response.
Consolidation is a perfect opportunity to implement effective changes in response to this year’s riot. The size of the crowd downtown was much larger than typical events and the size of the police force needed that night is almost the same size of a consolidated regional police force. By eliminating cross-jurisdiction issues, reinforcements can be drawn immediately from across the region and large-scale operations will not be subject to additional bureaucracy.
Merging Similar Municipalities
Consolidate interconnected municipalities and redraw boundaries. Such reorganization will allow for more use of shared resources and reduce the inefficiency of having so many municipal governments. Government activity in the tri-cities is becoming increasingly interconnected, and consolidation will allow for better community programs and more equitable education. The cultural identity of the tri-cities has been experiencing recent change and consolidation today will have minimal impact on the community. It will also have the potential to better support the construction of the Evergreen Line.
The north shore is geographically separated from the rest of Vancouver to qualify as its own municipality. Merging North Vancouver and West Vancouver will also present an opportunity to address social issues that are quietly growing in the north shore. Over the last decade the cost of living has been slowly rising and those who suffer from chronic health issues can also benefit from a consolidated health department that has more resources to address their problems.
Infrastructure and transportation is interconnected enough between Vancouver and Burnaby to support reorganization. Additionally, New Westminster has been left out of past transportation opportunities (except SkyTrain) that its transit is “far” and “remote”. Vancouver can grow to accommodate more area of Burnaby and New Westminster’s merger will address its future transit issues. New Westminster would also benefit from the additional resources because of increasing dependencies in emergency services. Vancouver needs to adapt to accommodate more business, and expanded boundaries provide it more affordable land. Burnaby will benefit by gaining downtown New Westminster and gain a promising tourist face. Burnaby can also capitalize on consolidation to further pursue plans on building a new city center. A total merging of all three is also possible but could be politically challenging.
Richmond has its own potential for development and because it is so culturally different from Vancouver it might be best to either leave it alone or merge it with Delta. A Delta-Richmond consolidation could make sense for long-term economic development since it shares a key transportation corridor to the border.
And then there’s Surrey. This city has developed such a unique character it makes sense to grow the municipality and incorporate interconnected communities. White Rock has strong ties to South Surrey and such a merger might even be unnoticed. Its demographic and character can strengthen the tourist identity of Surrey and White Rock itself could benefit through long-term development and additional resources. A Langley-Surrey merger could make sense, but it’s equally feasible to consolidate the different districts of the Langley area. A consolidated Langley-Surrey has more potential for business development and can alleviate the mass exodus to Vancouver city centres for work.
Leave the smaller communities like Bowen Island alone. Such geographic differences help their tourism and consolidation could potentially hurt their economies.
Protect Social Programs
Provincial downloading will require additional social and health efforts by municipalities. Because the voting population of British Columbia chose to opt out of the HST opportunity, the provincial government will (again) cut social programs. A void will exist in services created by provincial downloading, particularly in Vancouver. Immediately we will see a necessity for municipalities to act on social issues and a consolidated approach will maximize the funds available to support new programs and extend their reach. Further action by consolidated municipalities will also be more equitable, as many of those who experience lower socioeconomics live outside Vancouver city limits.
Another Option: Strengthen GVRD
Transfer power of interconnected services to Metro Vancouver as an alternative. Simply consolidating municipalities might not be enough (or the best answer) and the Metro Vancouver GVRD board somewhat resembles the American “county”. It needs to be mentioned that the American model is not entirely perfect since conflicts arise between counties and city halls. However, by transferring appropriate powers to Metro Vancouver much of the control over regional issues such as police and and transit operations, the entire region still has the potential to gain efficiencies in government administration. The transfer of power might even represent the evolution of the European Union except on a much smaller local scale.
What do you think? Do you have thoughts about how to change Metro Vancouver for the better? Tell us in the comments below!