Metro Vancouver is quizzing provincial political parties to test their positions on select issues and try to steer this spring’s election debate in a direction favourable to local cities.
The regional district has quietly endorsed a “pre-election advocacy strategy” that asks the parties questions in six areas of concern for Metro’s board and its member municipalities.
The topics listed in the questionnaire obtained by Black Press are new relationships, municipal financing, affordable housing, protecting the environment, public transit and regional planning.
Letters from the regional district board to the leaders of the BC Liberals, NDP, Greens and BC Conservatives urge them to answer the questions and “engage in a constructive dialogue” on the issues so Metro can develop a “close working partnership” with the next provincial government on regional concerns.
Board chair Greg Moore said it’s important voters understand how political parties intend to treat cities, which blame senior government downloading for much of the pressure on them to raise property taxes and fees.
“We’re not going to take a position on who to support or who not to support,” Moore said. “But we’re going to make it transparent as to what those answers are. And we’re also going to highlight what areas they could actually address better based on their answers.”
He said Metro sent its request well in advance so the parties can carefully consider the questions and possibly even alter their platforms.
One question asks what provincial revenue sources B.C. should share with cities to provide critical services.
It doesn’t spell out a proposed source, but a recent Metro-sponsored financial symposium heard various ideas, including a one per cent increase in the GST flowing to municipalities. A similar “penny tax” funds many U.S. cities and is being considered by some provinces.
Metro also asks if the province will join Ottawa in each providing one-third of the cost of a future federal infrastructure grant program and whether cities will be forced into P3 deals with private partners on major projects.
Another question takes aim at Port Metro Vancouver’s potential expansion onto farmland, asking how each party will “prevent the encroachment of industrial uses onto viable, protected agricultural land.”
The region also asks the parties to take a stand on potential new funding sources for TransLink, including a road pricing policy for the Metro Vancouver area and the sharing of some of the carbon tax collected in Metro.
Other areas where Metro is seeking commitments include:
– Governance changes for TransLink to better align transportation and land-use needs and provide more public input via “elected representatives.”
– Support to address housing affordability, including reforms to expand rental housing stock and more funding for shelters.
– More money for the Agricultural Land Commission to enforce protection of ALR land.
– More flexible use of federal gas tax transfers for TransLink.
– Inclusion of local cities in negotiations and consultations with First Nations on decisions that may affect them.
Metro expects responses by March 15 and intends to post them at a new website, localgovernmentsmatter.ca.
Moore said the idea was partly inspired by a similar effort led by Calgary and other Alberta cities to advance civic concerns last year’s Alberta provincial election.
Business Council of B.C. executive vice-president Jock Finlayson said Metro’s aim to pry away more taxation power from the province is a “forlorn hope” because there’s “simply no pot of ‘extra’ money sitting in Victoria that can easily be redirected” without raising other taxes or cutting provincial spending.