If you live in almost any other major metropolitan area in the world—Paris, New York, Toronto—local elections mean voting for a mayor.
And yet, in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria, residents are divided into multiple governments with multiple mayors.
There are 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver alone. On the other side of the Salish Sea, in the Capital Region, there are 13 municipalities.
It may seem strange to an outsider, but there it is historical and political reasons for the piecemeal approach — and experts say that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
“It’s hard for councilors to vote, to put themselves out of a job,” said Mario Canseco, president of polling firm Research Co.
In August, he released a poll showing likely voters in Surrey and Vancouver supported the idea. Reducing the number of municipalities In Metro Vancouver (800 likely voters were surveyed, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent).
Canseco says despite voter interest, it’s up to elected politicians to get the ball rolling, and it’s not on their radar right now.
Application for merger
However, there are arguments to reduce the number of cooks in political kitchens.
“There is duplication and duplication of services everywhere,” said John Treleaven, chairman of Grampy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria, who lives in Sydney, about 27 kilometers north of the capital.
Treliven cited streamlined police and fire services, along with regional responses to climate change and disasters, as reasons for integration.
For a population of about 400,000 residents, the Capital Region has four independent local police forces, plus three separate RCMP detachments.
Treliven argued that it would be safer and more efficient for the police and fire services to have a centralized command center, using the threat of a major earthquake as an example of where multiple first response commanders could be organizational chaos.
“Public safety is at risk given the current governance structure here.”
The province has the authority
This spring, the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich issued a joint statement Amalgamation will be an option under consideration in the civic assembly that begins next year, with the provincial government providing funds for the assembly.
However, there are currently no similar negotiations or discussions taking place in Metro Vancouver.
When it comes to merging municipalities, the provincial government is the “ultimate decider,” says Quest University instructor Stuart Perst, but it’s unlikely to do so without local leaders on board or a clear reason to do so.
“The province does not want to see democracy overridden,” said the political scientist. “They’re not really going to stick their neck out to invite that kind of controversy.”
Perst says that having multiple municipalities in a region can have advantages – mainly that it makes it easier for residents to contact their local council and allows governments to implement solutions tailored to the specific needs of their communities.
In Toronto, where significant annexation took place in the late 1990s, Perst says debates are still ongoing about how best to distribute resources between the suburbs and the downtown core.
District of North Vancouver councilor Jordan Beck, who is running for re-election, says the topic of integration comes up during every local election. On the North Shore alone, there are three municipalities: West Vancouver, the City and District of North Vancouver.
Back says that while he is open to exploring integration, he argues that collaboration, instead, has served the region well.
“I think practically, it’s more realistic for us to be able to do more,” Beck said.
When it comes to fire services in that region, for example, Beck says the three departments hire and train together, and have similar systems and equipment.
They also teamed up with Squamish and Tsleel-Waututh First Nations, along with Bowen Island and Lions Bay, to lobby for priority rapid transit on the traffic-clogged North Shore.
This joint approach can also be used to tackle issues affecting residents across the region — such as housing affordability and taking action on climate change, says Beck.