Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts commented on Tuesday that municipal issues are being ignored in the current provincial election.
She also made the important point that cities are drivers of significant portions of the B.C. economy, and need to have a good working relationship with the provincial government. What she didn’t say is that cities are actually creatures of the province and all rules pertaining to them come from Victoria.
Certainly, Surrey has received a lot of attention from the provincial government, both under the current B.C. Liberal administration and under the previous NDP government. The province has made millions available for infrastructure projects constructed by the city, and has committed other money to projects within Surrey that benefit citizens. These include new schools, universities, health facilities and upgrades to roads such as Highway 1.
Surrey needs to receive that attention. It is the fastest-growing city in the province, and is rapidly edging closer to Vancouver in population. One day it will be bigger, although even then it is unlikely it will get the same attention that Vancouver does.
The provincial parties which are contesting this election haven’t said too much about municipal issues. TransLink and transit has come up a little bit, although not in Monday’s leaders’ debate — but there has been almost complete silence on issues like regional policing, municipal amalgamation, infrastructure programs or regional districts.
Most outside observers who look at the Greater Vancouver and Greater Victoria regions say we have far too many municipal jurisdictions. While Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Coquitlam are all reasonably sized cities, many others are small.
White Rock, Langley City, North Vancouver City, Lions Bay, Belcarra and Anmore are relatively tiny, and could easily be administered through larger municipalities. However, residents in all these communities are fiercely protective of their independence.
Other municipalities like Delta, Langley Township, Maple Ridge and North Vancouver District are spread out and, in some cases, contain large tracts of farm, land. Putting them together with other large municipalities would make for some large and awkward-sized cities.
Yet administering all these disparate municipalities doesn’t come cheaply. Each has its own administrator, mayor, council, fire department and other separate functions.
In White Rock, for example, independence comes at a significantly higher cost to taxpayers. For the most part, those taxpayers seem quite ready to pay that price.
The B.C. Liberals under Gordon Campbell, who was a former president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, wouldn’t touch this issue with a 10-foot pole. It is surprising that neither the NDP nor the B.C. Conservatives, who say they want to save money, have even talked about this subject.
Perhaps when it comes to municipal issues, the major provincial parties have taken the advice of former prime minister Kim Campbell, and decided that an election campaign is no time to talk about serious issues.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.