Ask Pat: Working together

Matt asked—

So once again, the MOT (Ministry of Transpiration) rolls into town looking to save us from gridlock. I won’t bore you with my opinion on this strategy, but it got me thinking: Where and how does the wishes of the MOT mesh/clash with the wishes of the Mayor’s Transportation Plan.

I think you get my point, but let me expand. I understand the MOT is responsible for certain transportation needs, goods movement is one of them. So I know that truck corridors and the like are the purview of the provincial government and municipalities have to play ball. But on the other side of it, when and how does the Province have to place nice with the Mayors’ Council, or less formally, the wishes of Metro mayors?

There are clearly vastly different visions of how to move people and goods within our region between the current provincial government and the (some) regional mayors.

Square this circle for me.

It is pretty simple. Cities exist at the pleasure of the provincial government. Every power local governments have, including organizations of local governments like the Mayors’ Council and the regional government committees, exists at the pleasure of the provincial government. They have the ultimate ability to overrule any local government decision, and the only price the provincial government would pay for exercising that power unreasonably would be a political one.

This should be obvious when looking at the Vancouver School Board situation. A public body, elected by the public through open elections driven by politics, was fired by the provincial government for being “too political”, or more specifically, for acting in a way that was partisan and defiant of the provincial government.

In the case of transportation in the Lower Mainland, you are correct in identifying there are at least two ongoing visions, and some significant incompatibilities between them. The first is outlined in the Mayor’s Vision and TransLink Transport 2040 plan that it supports. This was developed by the region (with, notably, the approval of the provincial government) and was designed to reinforce the Regional Growth Strategy and the Official Community Plans of the 22 Municipalities that make up Greater Vancouver. The second is being driven by the Gateway Council, a business-government hybrid organization that is primarily interested in moving goods through the region by providing subsidies in the form of taxpayer-funded asphalt through our neighbourhoods and cities.

No point of hiding which of the two visions I support.

There is a lot of history to this transportation schism. It goes back at least as far as Skytrain planning and the setting up of TransLink. There are roots in technology choices for rapid transit that resulted in SkyTrain technology being chose, through the Mayor’s refusal to approve building the Canada Line before completing Evergreen, and the subsequent stripping of their powers by Kevin Falcon. It is reflected in the sudden interest in building a $4 Billion bridge to nowhere while putting every roadblock in place to delay funding of critical public transit expansion. It continues today in the Vancouver Board of Trade (a prominent member of Gateway) calling for a 6-lane Pattullo Bridge long after the regions’ Mayors and TransLink have already settled on a 4-lane solution.

It is not cynical to suggest MOT appears to take more guidance from the Gateway Council than from the Mayors. So it should be no surprise when a government so proud of its fiscal prudence suddenly finds $600 Million to build a highway expansion project, and that the residents of those communities are surprised at its sudden arrival.

I have some pretty significant concerns with the project that MOT has presented to New Westminster and Coquitlam. Efforts to improve the Brunette overpass have somehow brought the UBE back on the table, and it is pretty clear how our community feels about the UBE. That said, I also have reasons to hold cautious optimism about this proposal, because it has resulted in unprecedented conversations between the Cities of New Westminster and Coquitlam.

For the first time anyone can remember, staff and elected official from both cities are sitting down together to discuss our transportation connections, our concerns and needs, and are looking for the common ground, in the hopes that it can help define the best approach to the this project for both communities. I cannot speak too much about what is happening at those meetings (there will be press releases when appropriate), except to say that I have learned a lot about Coquitlam’s view of these issues, and I know they have heard and understood our community’s issues. I’m not sure we are going to come out with a perfect solution that satisfies all parties, but I am encouraged by the respectful and honest discussions going on, and the hard work staff from both cities are doing to make our political fantasies something that may be operational (that is more difficult that you may imagine).

If we hope, as local governments, to influence provincial policy as it impacts our communities, we need to work together like this towards practical solutions, and make it easy for the provincial government to agree with our vision. That doesn’t mean we need to fold over to political pressure when bad provincial policy hurts our communities, but it also means we can’t collapse behind our own borders and pretend our local issues have no influence on regional issues. In the end, we may fundamentally disagree, but let us at least assure we understand what the position is that we are disagreeing with, and why.

But to answer your original question – when does MOT need to play nice with municipalities? When the Minister determines it is required for political reasons. Vote accordingly.

2 comments on “Ask Pat: Working together

  1. I don’t understand why the government hasn’t tolled all the bridges for commercial trucks. I live near 8th and have observed an increase in commercial truck traffic since the new Port Mann bridge opened. If every commercial truck had to pay a toll regardless of what bridge they took we may see less traffic and idling. It would be nice if we took better care of the Pattullo bridge instead of making plans to replace it. Why can’t our older infrastructure be maintained like it is in Europe? I would like to see greener solutions to these problems

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