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Surrey councillor asks if city is getting ‘proportionate’ share from Metro Vancouver

Coun. Harry Bains says he’s asked for a report to ‘clear the air’
File photo: Tom Zytaruk

Surrey taxpayers need to know if they are receiving an “equitable level” of benefits from Metro Vancouver compared to their counterparts in other cities.

That’s what Coun. Harry Bains said Monday when he asked city staff to report back on whether that’s the case.

It’s a question that’s been asked before by former Surrey councillor Brenda Locke, whose similar request in June 2021 to secure a breakdown on what Surreyites get for taxes paid to Metro Vancouver was defeated by the dominant force on council at the time, the Safe Surrey Coalition.

“Metro Vancouver is a valued organization and we recognize that we are a region and that many of our services are shared,” Bains told council on Feb. 13. “I would like to request of staff to produce a report to council that addresses the question of whether or not Surrey has received equitable and proportionate treatment as compared to other cities in the Metro Vancouver region when it comes to services and benefits rendered.”

Bains told the Now-Leader on Feb. 15 that his request was not intended to be a settling of old political scores.

“This is just a request for information at this point,” he said. “I’ve spoken with a lot of individuals and they always have these concerns that Surrey contributes a lot but may not be receiving an equitable and proportionate investment into our city. I’m not supporting that, I’m not saying that’s true, but I’d like to clear the air. I’d like to get that information.”

Surrey city Councillor Harry Bains. (File photo)
Surrey city Councillor Harry Bains. (File photo)

Bains noted that Metro Vancouver provides resources we all use.

“There’s water, there’s the things we all use as joint services but Metro Vancouver has obviously expanded like housing, and regional parks.”

Metro Vancouver is a federation of 21 cities and municipalities, one electoral area, and one treaty First Nation that collaboratively plans for and delivers services in this region, on a regional scale.

Surrey council has tangled with it in the past, particularly over land use decisions.

In November 2021 then-mayor Doug McCallum charged that Metro has “really stepped over the red line as far as planning is concerned,” in response to a corporate report that addressed Metro Vancouver’s Draft Regional Growth Strategy – Metro 2050.

“They have crossed the line as far as what they want to say as far as controlling Surrey,” McCallum said at the time. “They’ve crossed the red line at this stage, as far as I’m concerned, as far as controlling cities’ land use uses.”

Coun. Doug Elford also argued at the time that Metro is “creeping into” areas of governance it doesn’t belong.

“I just don’t like the idea of Metro trying to control our planning process,” he said.

READ ALSO: Surrey council clashes with Metro Vancouver over land use decisions

READ ALSO: Safe Surrey Coalition council majority tells Metro to back off

Coun. Brenda Locke, now Surrey’s mayor, said in November 2021 that “scope creep with Metro Vancouver is a problem, that’s something we have to be alive to,” she said. Speaking to Metro Vancouver’s housing projects, she noted that Vancouver had 14 housing projects, Richmond nine, and Surrey five.

“Our residents pay exactly the same taxes, so that’s a concern to me,” Locke said at the time. “Building those resources for Surrey is important.”

Metro Vancouver raised Surrey council’s hackles again in June 2022 with its request for Surrey to accept its regional growth strategy.

“Metro’s trying to control Surrey,” McCallum charged at the time. “Other mayors from other cities in Metro are trying to control Surrey and again our residents are saying we don’t want that, we want to do the controlling ourselves.”

Locke, at that time, presented a notice of motion to council calling on it to direct city staff to “prepare a cost/benefit analysis on a per capita basis of the Metro Vancouver taxes paid by Surrey residents in relation to the services and facilities provided by or paid for by Metro Vancouver for the City of Surrey.”

But McCallum slammed it hard, remarking that “to put this kind of question to Metro about whether the cost benefit, whether we’re getting our share, astonishes me, absolutely astonishes me.”

Locke noted that her Metro Vancouver Taxes rose by 18 per cent in 2021.

“I think it’s just important that the residents of Surrey believe that their taxes are well spent, and they’re well spent equally throughout the region,” she explained.

Elford was among those who opposed her motion.

“I think we’re getting real value for our money,” Elford said in 2021. “I don’t know if I want to ask staff to spend all this time on that and I also don’t, I’m not too sure if I want at this time to create an adversarial relationship with Metro.

“We’re really getting our fair share.”

READ ALSO: Surrey council endorses Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy

READ ALSO: Surrey utility rate hikes on the way if council approves city staff recommendations

READ ALSO: Surrey council approves utility rate hikes for 2023

After the current council was elected, in December 2022, it endorsed Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy, flipping a decision made by the previous council. Elford and Coun. Mandeep Nagra opposed this, with Elford arguing that while Metro Vancouver has a significant impact on taxes it should confine itself to its core services such as “water, sewage treatment and solid waste.”

Elford said he doesn’t support Metro Vancouver reaching beyond that. “Metro provides a variety of service that benefits smaller communities but not to the benefit of Surrey. This results in duplication of services that the taxpayer bears the burden for.”

On Jan. 30, Surrey city council approved without debate a staff recommendation to hike water, sewer, drainage and solid waste utility rates in 2023.

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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