More Trouble for Regional Growth Strategy

Thanks to a single municipality with clear vision and sturdy backbone — Coquitlam — the juggernaut Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) has at least temporarily failed to careen its done-deal swath across B.C.’s lower mainland. The RGS aims to provide a policy blueprint that would govern the “pattern and form of development” of Metro Vancouver (formerly Greater Vancouver Regional District) for the next thirty years.

Grassroots criticism of the RGS began to acquire momentum in late 2010. MetroVanWatch has established a base for information dissemination and communication on the RGS issue. Various representations were made (or frustrated in attempt) to Metro Vancouver itself and to the 24 constituent jurisdictions. [See appended note for an account of representation to City of Vancouver.]

Points of concern for ordinary people (not bureaucrats, not politicians, not developer interests) have included:

  • Dubious public consultation process that culminated in a few poorly advertised, ill-timed public meetings late in 2010 for the affected 2.2 million population (locations were Coquitlam, North Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby — nothing in Vancouver)
  • Effective disregard of the overwhelmingly negative feedback received through the perfunctory public process
  • Extensive powers exercised by bodies not accountable to an electorate
  • A “strategy” that seeks to substitute growth for livable region
  • Facilitation of sprawl growth through removal of land from agricultural reserve and through expansion of urban containment boundary

Coquitlam’s refusal of the RGS on 21 March 2011, following a unanimous vote of their council, has thrown the extended and complex policy project into a “dispute resolution process.” On 8 April 2011 Metro Vancouver set sights on recalcitrant Coquitlam, proposing binding arbitration to force acceptance. Nine Metro Vancouver directors opposed that move.

Ida Chong, the provincial minister responsible, has responded to notification and directed Metro Vancouver to initiate instead “a non-binding dispute resolution process by May 16, 2011.” In other words, the Province told the Region to take off the jackboots.

On Saturday May 14, the Vancouver Sun weighed in heavily on the RGS issue, running both a lead editorial and an opinion piece by Daphne Bramham. The editorial in particular aligns with already reported concerns emanating from the province’s “three biggest business groups” — B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Business Council of B.C., Urban Development Institute. In fact, business interests have sought

to participate in the dispute process, saying they weren’t given the chance to be heard during four years of public consultations.   (Sinoski, May 6)

Black humor spreads its wings here. Grassroots critics have been told flatly and repeatedly that the years of process are so adequate they should not dream of making complaint. (Many meetings and passage of much time always provides bureaucratic grounds to assert worth of consultation — regardless of quality of advertisement, extent of engagement, or nature of response to criticisms.) Perhaps business interests will garner more respect?

Besides reinforcing the editorial focus on economic factors, Bramham blasts Metro Vancouver as “probably the most egregious example of Canadian citizens having no voice in decision-making.” Finally grassroots opposition has succeeded in generating this echo in mainstream media.

The worry now is that RGS will be taken to task for the wrong reasons. For example, if the Urban Development Institute wants to affect the current version of policy, it’s hard to believe that things like preservation of agricultural land, respect for a strong urban containment boundary, or maintenance of adequate industrial land will stand at the top of their agenda.

[Late addition: The front-page headline story in the May 17 Vancouver Sun fastens onto the last of the above-noted worries and calls it a “battle”!]

Where all of this RGS debate goes from here depends in part on how well you the reader understand the issues, and whether you take opportunities to speak up.

Footnote on City of Vancouver

In the lead-up to formal consideration of the RGS by the 24 constituent bodies of Metro Vancouver, the City of Vancouver distinguished itself by having a City official present to the public hearings in late 2010, and be recorded (p. RD-30/34) as among a distinct minority who spoke in support. The propriety of this singular early, semi-official pre-approval by a bureaucrat seems highly questionable.

On the afternoon of 3 March 2011 adoption of the Regional Growth Strategy went before Vancouver City Council. The minutes record “five speakers, all of whom were opposed to the recommendations.” The meeting minutes were altered later on at the request of one of the speakers, who initially was recorded only as “one who had concerns regarding views and the public consultation process”!

For the record, RGS adoption was opposed by Councillors Anton and Cadman; absent were Deal, Louie, Stevenson, and Woodsworth; leaving RGS support and approval to Reimer, Robertson, Chow, Jang, and Meggs. See below for links to RGS comment by Reimer and Meggs on their blogs. Note especially that Meggs (the motion mover) trots out the tired old “exhaustive consultation” routine and is not at all happy to see this issue going anywhere near “municipal elections just months away”!

Further Reading:

Essential Background and Context

Metro Vancouver. Regional Growth Strategy
The affected regional body (formerly Greater Vancouver Regional District) outlines its view of the current situation — as of 15 May 2011 described as progress of the [non-binding dispute] resolution process.

A grassroots web site that criticizes and tracks the Regional Growth Strategy.

Joseph Jones. January 2011: Vancouver changed forever? Vancouver Media Co-op (8 January 2011)

Kelly Sinoski. “11th-hour meeting to rally citizens against urban sprawl.” Vancouver Sun (13 January 2011) A7

Vancouver City Council

Minutes – City of Vancouver, Standing Committee of Council on Planning and Environment (3 March 2011 – 2:00 pm)
Policy Report for agenda item 3: Metro Regional Growth Strategy Bylaw No. 1136.

Andrea Reimer. Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy. Andrea Reimer @Large (15 January 2011)

Geoff Meggs. Business lobby wins support of Vancouver Sun to put Regional Growth Strategy in the ditch. (14 May 2011)

Geoff Meggs. Battle lines becoming clearer in debate over Regional Growth Strategy as developers focus on affordability crisis. (20 May 2011)

Recent News Coverage

Janis Warren. “Coquitlam rejects growth plan.” Tri City News (22 March 2011) 1

Elizabeth Murphy. Metro Vancouver wants province to force Coquitlam to accept Regional Growth Strategy. Georgia Straight (7 April 2011)
“The heavy handed approach taken by Metro Vancouver staff in asking the province for immediate binding arbitration to force Coquitlam’s acceptance of the Regional Growth Strategy is unprecedented.”

Kelly Sinoski. “Coquitlam, Port Moody block Metro growth plan.” Vancouver Sun (8 April 2011) A1

Kelly Sinoski. “Metro pursues binding arbitration in growth-plan dispute.” Vancouver Sun (9 April 2011) A6

Kelly Sinoski. Growth strategy could become municipal election issue, regional directors fear. Vancouver Sun (29 April 2011)

Kelly Sinoski. Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy tied up once again. Growth spurts [blog] – Vancouver Sun (1 May 2011)

Kelly Sinoski. B.C. businesses lobby Metro Vancouver for growth plan changes. Vancouver Sun (6 May 2011) A2

Regional growth plan ignores economy, lacks coherence [lead editorial]. Vancouver Sun (14 May 2011) C3

Daphne Bramham. Metro Vancouver deserves a visionary plan. Vancouver Sun (14 May 2011) C5

Jeff Lee / Kelly Sinoski. Battle lines drawn in fight to preserve industrial land. Vancouver Sun (17 May 2011) A1, A8
“The 10 per cent of Vancouver’s land that remains free of residential developments, including 668 hectares (1,650 acres) of industrial-zoned land, accounts for 50 per cent of the city’s jobs.”

Maureen Enser. Metro’s plan will bump housing costs. Vancouver Sun (20 May 2011) A13
[Enser is executive director of the Urban Development Institute]

Jock Finlayson. “Median household income doesn’t cover costs.” Vancouver Sun (21 May 2011) C5