British Columbia·Analysis

'It's time for a restart': Metro Van mayors hope new government brings new relationship

The government is getting good marks for pledging to listen to local mayors.

Transit, affordable housing and tax reform are all on the wish list — so is better communication

The Burnaby, B.C. head office for Metro Vancouver, the regional government for 21 municipalities in the Lower Mainland. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

A decade ago, Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore wanted to become a B.C. Liberal MLA. He ran for the party in 2005 and became a regional organizer for them. 

But when Moore looks back at how the previous provincial government worked with cities like his own, he is less than complimentary. 

"There were some areas that we worked well together, but there were big files ... that we really didn't work very well together," he said. 

"There was definitely disagreement."

Moore is chair of Metro Vancouver, the regional organization that provides services and plans for regional growth across 21 municipalities. 

On the two issues that dominate political debate in the Vancouver area — affordable housing and transportation infrastructure — the previous provincial government didn't always see eye-to-eye with municipalities.

"It was strained. It was very difficult for them to come and see our way of doing things," said North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto.

But as the NDP begins governing in the legislature, both mayors say the relationship is improving.

"It's time for a restart, a reboot," said Mussatto. "So far, I'm encouraged with what I've heard."

Rejected referendum

It's possible the bonds between municipalities and the B.C. government were doomed from the moment in the 2013 election campaign when former premier Christy Clark said the government would require a referendum before it would approve new transit funding.

That took many mayors by surprise and launched a contentious back and forth with the B.C. government on how a referendum would unfold, with voters ultimately rejecting the proposal in 2015. 

"We put a 10-years mayors' vision in place, we get buy in, with all but one mayor in the region saying this is the right way to go, we've got great community support, and then come into a road block not getting funding for it ... was a real frustration," said Moore.  

Did it poison the well?

"It might have."

Musatto also said there was a general lack of communication between mayors and the province.

"The provincial government didn't really value our input. We didn't feel like we were playing as equals at the table."

Commuters line up to take the B-Line at Cambie and Broadway in Vancouver. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

Encouraged by Massey reset

Ironically, it's another delay on a major transportation project — putting the Massey Tunnel replacement project on hold — that gives many mayors in the region hope that things will be different with the NDP. 

For one, it means the government might put more attention on the 10-year TransLink plan developed by the region's mayors, which puts a focus on rapid transit expansion and replacing the aging Pattullo Bridge. 

However, it was Transportation Minister Claire Trevena's pledge to directly consult with municipalities on the future for the Massey that heartened them the most.

"Work the mayors' council, work the various cities, I think that will get us far farther than the stubborn approach that has been so narrowly focused in the past," said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie. 

It's an approach that Selina Robinson, minister of housing and municipal affairs, seems to be fulfilling.

"I've met with the minister multiple times, talked about different projects," said Moore.

"So far they're walking the walk of wanting to work with local government."

An artist's rendering of the proposed bridge to replace the George Massey tunnel, which was put on hold by the B.C. government. (CBC)

Major changes still a ways off

Moore's comments come before Monday's budget update, and it's an open question how much the NDP will increase spending on affordable housing — 114,000 units have been promised, partly through partnerships with local governments — and transportation funding.

And it's unknown if the NDP will introduce any bills this legislative session that have long been on municipal wish lists. Metro Vancouver has asked the province to reform the school property tax and property transfer tax, but Robinson wouldn't comment on those issues when asked by CBC News on Friday. 

For now, a little consultation is going a long way to satisfy mayors.

"We have disagreements on different things, but we work through them together," said Moore. 

"If you're sitting at the table and working together, although you might have even major disagreements on one topic, you can still work together on other topics."


About the Author

Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.