Election season is traditionally a chance to find out where the divisions lie between different political parties, slates, and factions.
Often, this means parties will argue over which issues are most important – are taxes too high, or do we need to raise them? Should we prioritize public transit or wider highways?
But this year, here in Langley and across Metro Vancouver, it seems the same handful of core issues are top of mind: homelessness, housing affordability, development pressures, and transit. All the candidates are arguing that their plans are the best to solve these woes, and the solutions are often very similar, differing largely in emphasis.
But we’re also seeing a peculiar disconnect between the problems municipal governments are being asked to solve, and the tools they have to solve them. Remember, cities have a limited number of funding options – mostly property tax and a few development-related fees – and powers that are strictly limited by provincial regulation.
In relatively small towns, this works reasonably well.
But Metro Vancouver isn’t a “small town” and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s a collection of more than a dozen municipal governments of wildly varying sizes, responsible for more than 2.6 million people. All of them now have the problems and opportunities of urban centres like Vancouver, which is a big change from 20 or 30 years ago.
So if we really want to get some of those problems solved, we need either direct provincial intervention, or we need new powers.
There’s a few options.
First, we could create a mega-city, as Toronto and Montreal did. There are significant drawbacks to this approach – how are you going to standardize municipal salaries, what happens to the 17 or so leftover city halls, etc. – but the biggest problem is that, in the end, you wind up with a bigger city that has no more powers than the old ones had. It might have a louder voice in Victoria, but it still can’t meddle in provincial jurisdiction.
Another option would be to create the mega-city, but with a new, special provincial charter that did give it more powers than a typical municipal government.
Direct control over TransLink and the ability to set gas and sales taxes would be a good start for new powers.
Finally, we could make the biggest leap of all, and create a new province.
That’s very unlikely to fly, but I would note that at 2.6 million people (almost 2.8 million if you throw in Mission, Chilliwack, and Abbotsford), the province of Vancouver would already have more people than P.E.I, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, or Saskatchewan.
It would also have more people than what would be left of B.C.
If I had my choice, I’d pick the middle option. Local cities need more powers if they’re going to be asked to tackle huge problems.
Either that, or the province will have to step up, and step in, to fix these issues.
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