Will money troubles push some mayors over the edge and split the regional district?
A small item in the Vancouver Sun this week regarding a meeting of south of the Fraser River mayors caught my attention. The municipal politicians gathered to discuss a number of topics including transportation, jobs and infrastructure projects.
While I don’t have a problem with the Mayor of Surrey talking shop with the Mayor of Langley, I suspect this could lead to a much broader discussion about the future of Metro Vancouver itself. You see, the mayors governing cities south of the Fraser are feeling hard done by their neighbours to the north. Whether it’s a lack of public transit or a lack of respect for this fast growing part of the region, it would appear some local politicians are getting restless.
Maybe it's only a matter of time before a few of these mayors put forward a proposal to establish a new South of Fraser Regional District. In other words, they could threaten to separate from Metro Vancouver unless some of their demands are met. If nothing else, this threat of separation can be used as a powerful bargaining chip.
Those demands might include better transit, a larger say in the future planning of the region, and more schools to help relieve the overcrowding situation in places like Surrey and Langley. Depending on how cities like Burnaby and Vancouver react, we could face a showdown of monumental municipal proportions.
But what would life be like for the new South of Fraser Regional District (SFRD) after it has separated from Metro Vancouver and decided to go it alone? Let’s fast forward to March 31, 2018, one year prior to the kickoff of a new SFRD.
Now that they are no longer being serviced by TransLink, SFRD realizes they will have to establish their own transit bureaucracy. Due to the low densities found in almost every one of their cities, transportation planners tell them they simply don’t have the ridership to build costly things like rapid transit.
In addition, projects like a light rail network must also be put on hold until local densities more closely resemble that of Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver and New Westminster. Unless they are willing to take on massive debt, SFRD residents are stuck with a patchwork of buses that now run less frequently and in fewer areas than under the previous TransLink regime.
Meanwhile, now that Vancouver transit riders are no longer subsidizing bus commuters in Surrey and Langley, TransLink announces plans to expand bus service and lower fares by 6% next year in the new North Fraser Regional District (NFRD).
One of the realities of our region is that all of our fresh water comes from reservoirs located on the North Shore. The new SFRD announces plans to borrow billions to set up a new water filtration plant on the banks of the Fraser River in North Surrey. SFRD residents can say goodbye to clear glacier fed tap water and hello to H2O that local sturgeon and herring poop in every day.
On a side note, protracted negotiations are underway as to how much of the debt servicing charges the new SFRD will have to take on regarding the Seymour filtration system Metro Vancouver built a few years ago. North of Fraser residents don’t want to be left holding the bag for an $800 million dollar filtration system that was forecast to provide fresh water to the whole region. Needless to say, talks aren’t going well and SFRD says they won’t pay a dime.
The SFRD continues to argue that cost-prohibitive $7 (per one-way fare) tolls on the Port Mann Bridge are too much of a cost for local citizens to bear. They threaten to install new toll booths on the south side of the Alex Fraser and Pattullo bridges to make their point. The North of Fraser Regional District (formerly Metro Vancouver) says this is totally unfair and appeals to the province to step in and put a halt to this madness.
In retaliation for not lowering the tolls on the Golden Ears, Pattullo (soon to be opened) and Port Mann Bridge, SFRD announces they will implement a new Cross Border Business Tax (CBBT). The new levy will apply to all NFRD based enterprises that want to do business in an SFRD community. It is estimated the levy will create $13M in new revenue for the municipalities affected. The Vancouver Economic Development Commission estimates the new CBBT could cost Vancouver businesses an estimated $5M in new fees that they will eventually have to pass along to local consumers.
A new One Company – One License initiative will also be launched at the same time as the CBBT. This allows businesses operating in any of the SFRD cities to only apply once for a business license. It’s hoped this initiative will help steal jobs from NFRD and repatriate them into the southern suburbs. Local economists are quoted in 24 Hours Vancouver stating “the whole scheme is nuts.” But the Mayor of Surrey says it will attract over 10,000 new jobs out of the Vancouver, Burnaby & New Westminster corridor and into his region over the next decade alone.
Agricultural Land Reserve
The SFRD appeals to the provincial government to significantly reduce the amount of farm land protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve. One councillor tells the Surrey Now newspaper “for far too long Vancouver has had all the jobs, and we’ve been forced to be the breadbasket of the region. The ALR is draconian legislation that doesn’t allow us to fully utilize the land for jobs in our own communities.” The BC government says it’s willing to talk, but only if the SFRD can come up with a concrete plan on how they can harvest the equivalent amount of veggies and eggs in people’s backyards.
The SFRD announces it will create a new municipal police force and will abandon the RCMP. They will be known as the SFRDPD (try putting that acronym on a baseball cap). As part of this new consolidated police force, the mayors of the SFRD announce they are no longer prepared to help the City of Vancouver police regional events. In the future, if the Mayor of Vancouver wants support for Stanley Cup Playoffs or Symphony of Fire, he will have to provide advance notice and negotiate a fee for service contract.
A new SFRD Economic Development Commission will be established. At its first news conference, it announces the first plan of attack will be to attract a new NHL franchise into the region. The City of Surrey offers up 10 acres of free land near its new downtown core and throws in 1000 free open-air parking spots to help sweeten the deal. While the initiative has broad based support, the Mayors of Abbotsford and Langley openly complain the team should not be named after the host city of Surrey. Rather, they propose the team be called the South Fraser Urban Coyotes!
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman reacts by saying "we don't name teams after a region. The SFRD will have to decide which city the team will be named after. Otherwise this proposal is a non-starter." The Mayor of Surrey then states "the Surrey Saints has a nice ring to it".
Now let’s back up the clock to April 2012. What I’ve just described to you is all fictitious, but not completely outside the realm of possibility. As each year passes, the Mayors of Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, Delta, and White Rock are getting a tad tired of playing second fiddle to their northern neighbours.
However, before local politicians rush out and threaten to bolt from the region, they should think long and hard about what some of the consequences might be. My quick look into the crystal ball isn’t that promising.
What do you think — is breaking up the Metro Vancouver regional district a good idea or bad? Leave your comment below.
- Post by Daniel