Reason for concern? Concentration of regional power into civic parties in Vision Vancouver, Surrey First and Burnaby Citizens Assn.

Vancouver, Surrey, and Burnaby alone have 48% of the weighted votes (see table and graph) on the Metro Vancouver board of directors, yet they are largely controlled by three civic parties. Many people do not realize that civic parties are a rarity in our region.

  • Vancouver is dominated by Vision Vancouver (8 of 11 seats on council, gained by heavy financing — what may have been $5 million, largely from the development industry, unions, and foreign funders), which has claimed all six Vancouver posts on the Metro Vancouver board of directors. (Yet their councillors earned 14% of votes by registered voters in Vancouver.)
  • Burnaby is dominated by the Burnaby Citizens Association, which claimed all 9 seats on Burnaby City Council. (Their councillors earned 51% of votes by registered voters).
  • Surrey is dominated by Surrey First, which swept to power again this year, reclaiming the mayor’s chair and garnering all eight council seats.

We understand that during the last term, Vancouver city councillors who were not on the Metro Vancouver board did not receive critical reports and updates during negotiations on the Regional Growth Strategy. Articles like this one about concerns that Surrey First councillors’ control of city committees may quell opposing voices (Surrey North Delta Leader, 20-Dec-2011) also raise eyebrows.

The media, public, and city councils in other parts of the region should put some effort into better understanding how Vision Vancouver, Burnaby Citizens, and Surrey First are funded, how they operate behind the scenes, what are their various affilations, and how they connect to politics at other levels of government.

Some people have observed strong connections between the Vision Vancouver and the BC NDP (some of their top leaders publicly endorsed Vision candidates during the November civic election, and all Vision councillors were apparently at the recent NDP convention). Where are they planning to go with all this, and what will these influences have on decision-making in our region?

A major task of newly-installed board chair, Greg Moore, mayor of Port Coquitlam, will be to show the two million citizens of the 24 local governments in the region that the board he now governs is open, is transparent, and is truly able to balance the diverse needs of all stakeholders in the region. His selection of people to chair and co-chair Metro Vancouver committies, particularly the most influential committees (regional planning, etc.) will be one of his first tests and opportunities to show how he intends to operate.

On the positive side, we have received word (unconfirmed) that Metro Vancouver is actually considering introducing streaming video. We are attempting to confirm this with the corporate secretary’s office. This would be another positive step forward.

Outgoing chief administrative officer Johnny Carline was quoted as saying that ‘engaging citizens has become ever harder because residents feel increasingly detached from government and decision-making,’ yet we note the irony of his words, as he stickhandled negotiations on the RGS, including barely-advertised public hearings in November 2010,  then used that process as an excuse to try and prevent public access to all elected officials in the region before adoption of the 30-year bylaw. Many other processes of Metro Vancouver are not publicly transparent. The board chair is selected by secret ballot (each year), for example, so citizens who elect their mayors and councillors have no idea who their municipalities’ board directors vote. As another example, we have video of of a board vote on a motion under former Board Chair Lois Jackson (Delta) in which the show of hands (for, against, abstentions) on the motion ended faster than it took to sweep the camera across the board room.

We hope that Board Chair Greg Moore will do better and work hard to restore and maintain the precious public trust in Metro Vancouver. His current search for a new CAO will also be a critical step. (Chief financial officer Jim Rusnak, currently assistant deputy CAO, is apparently interested in the job.)

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