What’s the big deal about District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little’s decision to step off the Metro Vancouver Board?

Perhaps nothing, except that the only other local governments not represented by their top elected officials are Lions Bay and Bowen Island, representing 5,000 of the region’s 2.5 million. (Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov, currently on a paid leave of absence related to a sexual assault charge and pending court date, is still listed as a Metro Vancouver Board member.)

One could say the opportunity to serve on the Metro Vancouver Board is not just an honour, but a responsibility of some significance, perhaps moreso than most municipal committees.

Metro Vancouver is a federation of 23 municipal bodies responsible for the planning and delivery of regional services like drinking water, wastewater treatment and solid waste management, and for regulating air quality, as well as plans for urban growth, including affordable housing. Its Board of Directors governs this mandate, and consists of elected officials from each local government, proportional to their size.

And thus the number of Directors appointed to the Board depends on the population of the municipality (or electoral area, or First Nation). Furthermore, directors are allowed one vote for every 20,000 people in their jurisdiction, up to a total of five votes.

That means, the more populous you are, the more directors and voting power you have on the Metro Vancouver Board.

Does it make sense that the District of North Vancouver, in the midst of broad public scrutiny into its actions (or inactions) to address development and housing pressures, has just one representative on the MV Board for its 88,000 people, and that this representative is NOT the municipality’s elected leader?

Perhaps — DNV is just 3.5% of the region’s population. But once you remove Electoral Area A from the equation, DNV is almost 8% of the region’s total incorporated land.

The person responsible for representing this land is DNV Councillor Lisa Muri. In the same May 27 council meeting in which she was voted in to replace Little on the MV Board, Muri characterized the nature of her initial approach to local development applicant Darwin Construction as “keep your enemies close.”

Darwin, whose corporate principles reflect The Golden Rule and is known for its green building and social housing initiatives, was seeking council to green-light its proposed Maplewood Innovation District project, a mixed-use development, including rental housing, on an old gravel quarry to the east of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge. (Muri’s response to Darwin’s project plan: “I felt like it was a party I wasn’t invited to.” She ultimately voted in favour of a motion, which passed 4-3, to defer the decision on the project to 2020.)

In this era of climate crisis and continued population growth in most of our cities — attributable to regional in-migration, as well as immigration — are planners and developers really the enemy? Land availability, land cost, and the politics of land development and real state speculation have all been the obvious determining factors as to whether we can meet housing demand and population growth projections.

So should we not be determining the leadership of our regional government on the basis of land, the precious resource in question, rather than current population?

Prompted by the this “District of No Vancouver” story, let’s understand the land associated with the balance of Metro Vancouver’s overall decision-making authority.

Here’s how we do things currently: # of Metro Vancouver Board Members by ‘000s of population:

Click on charts for larger versions.

Mini-munis Belcarra, Tsawwassen, Lions Bay, Anmore and Bowen Island get concessions (one member each for sub-5,000 populations); of the balance, DNV is the largest municipality (88,000 people) to have just one Board member.

In terms of # of votes per ‘000s, it’s a similar deal — the eight-smallest munis get a vote, and relative voting power ramps up from there:

But what happens when we look at land? Let’s first start with a baseline value — density, or # of people per square kilometre, which can be seen as a measure of residential land use efficiency.:

(Note the logarithmic scale, used in the following three charts for ease of depicting relative order of magnitude, as opposed to relative values).

Now we’re outside the realm of fair allocation of resources. Clearly, some municipalities (through careful planning or happenstance — take your pick) have taken on the lion’s share of effort on the efficient housing of people, at a baseline minimum rate of 1,000 people per square kilometre.

But these are not the same municipalities that have, by virtue of Board membership and votes, commensurate influence to shape the future of this region, at least on the basis of said land use.

Consider the area, in square kilometres, represented by a single Board member in each municipality:

We can call this ‘weight of responsibility’. And who has the greatest share? Metro Vancouver board members representing municipalities with simultaneously some of the lowest density, largest tracts of land, and populations still hovering in the large town (or small city) category — around 50,000-100,000.

These are cities with room to grow, but quite possibly the greatest expressed resistance to such growth, via their council decisions of recent years, or even since last October’s elections. These are municipalities seemingly failing to meet the weight of their responsibility — to provide more housing, including affordable and non-market/social, to the many thousands of people seeking it.

Now consider area by voting strength:

We can think of this as ‘authority’ — the relative power of municipalities, as represented by the weighting of their seats at the Metro Vancouver Board, to govern land use. The densest cities govern the least amount of land per vote, whereas some of the roomiest, most sprawling municipalities can use their votes to wield a disproportionate amount of authority over our shared land.

The upshot? The 13 municipalities with the greatest land area authority — representing 9 of the 12 least dense jurisdictions, 55% of the region’s population, and 85% of the region’s land mass* — hold unweighted Board majority, as well as weighted voting strength.

Councillor Muri, welcome to the Metro Vancouver Board.

*Again, not including Electoral Area A, which skews land area comparisons due to its vast tracts of unincorporated land.

Comments

  1. Not clear about the dynamics of this board, but the key issue in MetroVan over the last 30+ years is a lack of investment – relative to condo construction and in-migration – into necessary road, bridge, tunnel, LRT, subway and rapid bus infrastructure, esp in N Van but also elsewhere.

    Look no further than the proposed LRT to Langley from Surrey thrown out by its citizens.

    Perhaps it is an indication of the inability of MetroVan Mayors Council on Transportation to govern, or to make sensible proposals?

    Where’s the subway to UBC? Where’s the railway to Abbotsford? Where the LRT/SkyTrain to N Van ie a loop ? Where’s Lionsgate Bridge widening ? Where’s Massey Tunnel expansion? Where’s the proposal to de-clog New West traffic ? Where’s Uber? Where are the road tolls?

  2. Hi Colin,

    Interesting analysis. The graph on density by municipality is a bit unfair to those cities in the region which have a significant (and important) share of ALR. How would your results change if you removed the ALR from your density calculations?

    1. Great point. If I can find ALR break-outs for each municipality, I will update the graph on that basis. The values and rankings will definitely change.

      Will take some time – readers who know this are also invited to contribute.

      1. Hi Colin,
        these density comparisons are tough. If you want to take out natural areas, here is a detailed breakdown by municipality (you can select the municipality at the top of the graph) where you can read off the percentage for each land use.
        https://doodles.mountainmath.ca/blog/2016/02/29/land-use/
        Post and data are a bit dated, but things don’t change that fast. Raw data is here:
        https://doodles.mountainmath.ca/data/land_use_breakdown.json
        derived from the Metro Vancouver Land Use dataset.

  3. Hey Colin,

    West Vancouver’s Mayor has also passed on the role to Craig Cameron as of 2-3 months ago, meaning the North Shore only has one mayor sitting on the Council!

  4. One additional thing to consider is the Metro Vancouver-defined Urban Containment Boundary. When you exclude the North Shore watersheds, the ALR, large regional parks and so forth, the urbanized area is whittled down to about 820 km2 from the overall ~2,800 km2 Metro area.

    In some respects this explains why geometry is as important as political jurisdiction. Ergo, the relevance of density (the byproduct of land use planning) over land area.

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