Too many politicians in the municipal kitchen (Dermod Travis, IntegrityBC)

Dermod Travis photoThis commentary by Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC.ca was also featured in The Straight, and Huffington Post in November. We reprint it here, with permission. MetroVanWatch finds it interesting for the numbers involved.

Who knew? Count ‘em all up and B.C. has 1,660 elected officials sitting on 250 local councils and school boards across the province. That works out to one for every 2,000 registered voters.

It’s also a lot of paycheques. Some of the lucky ones get to collect two paycheques, if they happen to be chosen to sit on a regional district. The two biggies of course being Metro Vancouver and the Capital Regional District.

According to their websites, “Metro Vancouver delivers regional services, planning and political leadership on behalf of 24 local authorities” and “the Capital Regional District is the regional government for the 13 municipalities and three electoral areas that are located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.”

That’s 40 communities with a combined population of 2.7 million or a little more than 60 per cent of B.C.’s total population each elbowing the other for political space within the two districts. The City of Toronto is home to 2.8 million residents.

Practically speaking though neither Metro Vancouver or the Capital Regional District have much in the way of real authority despite their lofty mission statements, because Big Brother is never really far behind. Think debating clubs with privileges. Should one of the districts actually choose to bite off something contentious, chances are it will still need Victoria’s stamp of approval.

Metro Vancouver wants to burn a cool half billion dollars on a new garbage incinerator, but they’ll need Victoria’s a-ok before striking the match. In fact, they need it just to put a proposed solid waste management bylaw into effect.

The folks at the Capital Regional District are being called upon to make all the politically smelly decisions regarding a new sewage treatment plant, while the purse strings remain tightly controlled over at the offices of Partnerships B.C. The federal and provincial governments called it a condition of funding. Cynics might have another expression for it.
So if it’s all mostly show, imagine how local taxpayers must feel. Voters don’t get to choose their district representatives, local councils do. The power of the ballot box is far removed from the daily goings-on at the two regional districts.

That’s why it’s far easier to vote to try and place a sewage sludge treatment facility in someone else’s backyard as the Capital Regional District sewage committee wanted to do earlier this year, if you don’t have to face those voters yourself.

But even though the regional districts aren’t exactly omnipotent, sitting on one does make balancing the family budget a little easier.

Last year, councillors and mayors from the Lower Mainland who were among the lucky few to be chosen as Metro Vancouver directors collectively took home $870,000 in stipends plus $61,000 in expenses; and all of it on top of their local council salaries.
Christmas even came early for them. Last month, Metro Vancouver awarded its directors a 2.3 per cent pay increase retroactive to the beginning of 2013; despite the fact that there were no reports of directors panhandling to make ends meet during the year.

For a Metro Vancouver director that means $354 for every regional district meeting that is wrapped up within four hours or $88.50 per hour. God forbid the meeting should run over four hours because then the fee doubles.

For directors with additional responsibilities or titles, it can bring a whole new meaning to two-income households.

The mayors of Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond and the district of North Vancouver all took home at least $26,500 from their gigs at Metro Vancouver last year and that’s on top of the average $105,000 that they were each paid by their respective communities.
And for Metro Vancouver’s top dog, Greg Moore, it means an extra $70,865 from Metro Vancouver over and above his $85,418 salary as mayor of Port Coquitlam.

All nice work if you can get it, but likely not the most ideal model for regional governance in 2013. Two mega cities isn’t the answer, but maybe 40 communities is no longer appropriate. And it’s time for the provincial government to step up and show some leadership on the issue.

*******

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC (www.integritybc.ca), a non-profit group dedicated to restore a bond between citizens and their elected officials. He has been the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee from 2007 to 2011, and is the founder of PIRA Communications.

Travis is a former member of Quebec’s Estates General on the Situation and the Future of the French Language and its Comité d’examen sur la langue d’enseignement. He has given guest lectures at the Université de Montréal, Columbia University, Concordia University, Carleton University and McGill University.

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