Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy is on hold because Coquitlam’s non-acceptance has triggered the dispute resolution process. Coquitlam has requested a voluntary resolution process as allowed under legislation to address their reasons for not accepting the plan, but the region’s bureaucrats under Metro Vancouver’s chief administrative officer, Johnny Carline, are recommending to the Metro Vancouver board that the province immediately force a binding resolution.
There is a Metro Vancouver staff report to be debated by the Metro board on Friday (April 8) at 9 a.m. That report outlines the results of the municipal acceptance process and the recommended next steps.
Coquitlam’s objections, which triggered the dispute resolution, are broad. They include many of the valid concerns raised by other municipalities, however, those concerns were not made conditions precedent by those other municipalities, the way Coquitlam has done.
The issues include governance, the transfer of land use authority, and the lack of details regarding the legal, administrative, and financial cost implications for Metro Vancouver and member municipalities arising from implementation of the RGS, including Metro Vancouver’s role in land use planning. Coquitlam also requests that the Westwood Plateau Golf Course, riparian areas, and several local parks be changed from General Urban to Conservation Recreation.
The Regional Growth Strategy is a 30-year plan intended to replace the existing Livable Region Strategic Plan. Although the Regional Growth Strategy claims to prevent urban sprawl, it in fact allows sprawl. One example is the replacing of the Green Zone in the Livable Region Strategic Plan with an Urban Containment Boundary that can easily be moved with only a 50-percent-plus-one vote of a quorum of the Metro board to allow agricultural or conservation lands to be converted to industrial. Another example is that even some lands that are now designated agricultural, conservation, parks, and golf courses will be designated as General Urban in the Regional Growth Strategy.
Although most municipalities have accepted the Regional Growth Strategy, Richmond, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, and Tsawwassen First Nation have all asked for changes to be made after adoption. The process as it is written in legislation in fact calls for changes to be requested as conditions to be satisfied before the Regional Growth Strategy is adopted.
Port Moody did not accept the Regional Growth Strategy but identified conditions under which they are prepared to accept if certain provisions do not apply to them. Their main concern is about the delay in building the Evergreen rapid transit line. They have requested that the growth projections for Port Moody be reduced until the transit is provided.
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.
Critics are watching to see whether the new premier, Christy Clark, will continue the same approach, typical of the Gordon Campbell B.C. Liberals, of overriding citizens’ concerns. The unfolding of this dispute resolution process will show whether Premier Clark differentiates her governance style from that of the Campbell era.
Randy Helten of CityHallWatch says, “Binding arbitration imposed on Coquitlam would be an unwelcome precedent, and the sign of many problems for everyone in the future.”
However, if the non-binding dispute resolution process is entered into as Coquitlam has requested, the locally elected government and the citizens who they represent would have an opportunity to resolve their concerns.
Elizabeth Murphy has a background in development and project management.