2018 local elections: backlash, reform, status quo

Coquitlam Central, 2014

October’s local elections in urban southwest British Columbia showed no clear trend. Each of the more than 30 municipal jurisdictions has its own political cycle, based on local history and personalities. In Surrey and Maple Ridge we saw a return to the past; in Coquitlam, New Westminster and North Vancouver, something like the status quo; and in Mission, Port Moody, City of Langley and elsewhere, the rise of a new generation.

Looking at some of the issues that we have reviewed on Fraseropolis.com since 2015:

Rapid transit in Surrey and crime in Surrey: Doug McCallum, mayor of the City of Surrey from 1996 to 2006, was returned to his old job in October 2018. His previous term was notable, in my view, for a commitment to urban sprawl and for the mayor’s resistance to the expansion of services for addicts and the homeless. (I worked for the regional health authority for part of this time.) Voters in Metro Vancouver’s fastest-growing city took a new direction in 2005 when they elected councillor Dianne Watts. She spearheaded the development of Surrey Central, a new downtown district, and a light rail transit plan to support downtown growth.

In opposition, McCallum built a movement called “Safe Surrey” around public anxieties related to violent crime. Safe Surrey took all but one of the Surrey Council seats in 2018, promising to terminate the City’s contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and create a local police service. I support this idea on balance, but it will not deliver a magical end to crime. The City of Vancouver, for example, already has its own police service, and its crime severity index (as reported in Maclean’s in 2018) is almost identical to Surrey’s.

Safe Surrey also promised to kill the fully-funded Surrey Light Rail project, which was scheduled for construction in 2019. The new Council has made good on that transit promise within a month. Mayor McCallum has us that the transition to the elevated alternative, SkyTrain will be smooth; but SkyTrain is more expensive, and Surrey may face big delays. LRT died because it was said to be too slow, and because it runs at grade. In fact, it would have played a positive role in linking the new downtown with the emerging employment areas around Newton and Guildford.

Fraseropolis Demoviction metrotownDevelopment and renoviction in Burnaby: Derek Corrigan was unchallenged as mayor of Burnaby for four terms, but he was badly defeated this time out. With a high local and regional profile, he was also a key figure in the BC New Democratic Party, the party of social welfare, even as he insisted that poverty and homelessness were somebody else’s problems. He was closely associated with the destruction of rental housing in Metrotown to make way for condominium towers.

Leading up to the election, the Burnaby Greens worked hard to highlight the “demovictions” issue; Rick McGowan, who spoke to Fraseropolis.com in 2016, came close to victory, and vintage rocker Joe Keithley became the first-ever Green member of Burnaby council.

However, Corrigan didn’t lose the mayor’s chair to the Greens. He lost to Mike Hurley, a former firefighter. It may be that municipal labour relations issues helped to swing organized labour from Corrigan to Hurley. There was also taxpayer resentment about the huge reserve funds that Corrigan had amassed with taxpayer money. Expect Hurley to dip into these reserves in order to keep tax increases low.

Metro Conversations: Through 2017, the Metro Conversations group hosted public discussions on regional issues. All four young members of the group were re-elected in 2018: Nathan Pachal in the City of Langley, Patrick Johnston in New Westminster, Keirsten Duncan in Maple Ridge, and Matthew Bond in the District of North Vancouver.

Nathan assisted Fraseropolis as a co-tourist in 2012 before he ran for office. He is an intrepid transit user in the deep ‘burbs, advocating for affordable housing and pedestrian safety, and he topped the polls in Langley City. He joins a new labour-sponsored mayor, Val van den Broek, who defeated a high-profile former Liberal cabinet minister.

Patrick Johnston was part of the Mayor Jonathan Cote team that took all seven seats in New West, based on their previous hard work in managing traffic and development in one of the region’s most innovative cities. Mayor Cote is a true believer, to the extent that he gave up his City Hall parking stall and had it converted for bicycle storage.

Homelessness in Maple Ridge: Councillor Kiersten Duncan of Metro Conversations will be challenged to survive as a liberal voice on a new right-wing  Council in Maple Ridge. The outgoing mayor, Nicole Read, presided over a nasty civic fight related to homeless camps; some online groups advocated for police-state tactics. Voters chose Michael Morden to fix public homelessness, addiction and street crime, but those are high expectations to pin on a former councillor who lost his seat in 2014. Mayor Morden was one of the few local politicians in Metro Vancouver to vote against the regional growth strategy in 2011. At the time, I thought this was because he sees no problem with sprawl.

Voters in Surrey and Maple Ridge returned to politicians they had turfed in the past, but veterans in some other cities suffered surprising upsets. Voters in Mission rejected long-time mayor and former BC Liberal cabinet minister Randy Hawes, in favour of the much younger Pam Alexis, who had one term on Council. In the City of Langley, former BC cabinet minister Peter Fassbender failed to reclaim his old office, losing to one-term councillor Val ven den Broek. Voters in Port Moody traded in their incumbent mayor for a 28-year-old newcomer, Rob Vagramov. Long-serving councillors such as Michael Forrest in Port Coquitlam, Barbara Steel in Surrey and Heather Deal in Vancouver also went down to defeat.

The City of Vancouver is an interesting case of disruption and continuity. Vancouver is known internationally for its grand redevelopment schemes, at the centre (e.g. Yaletown) and on the perimeter (e.g. the River District.) This type of wreck and building comes at a political cost. The ruling party (Vision) collapsed in 2017-2018, and not a single Vision councillor was returned on election night. However, voters who wanted to stop development had no place to turn. The new independent mayor, Kennedy Stewart and his council of Greens, leftists and the centre-right are all generally agreed on the need to keep building — although they will want to be seen to be doing a better job of listening.

Family incomes in Metro Vancouver

Yaletown, 2017

Statistics Canada has added new community profiles to its website based on the 2016 census. These include income measures the federal Conservative government axed from the 2011 census — possibly because open up a discussion about economic inequality.

Within Metro Vancouver, the highest median family income, in North Vancouver District, is 50 per cent higher than in Richmond, which has the lowest family and individual incomes and the biggest low-income population (“federal Low-income measure, after tax”). Continue reading

Metro Vancouver’s homeless report: where to from here?

2017-metro-homeless-report-cover

With a growing number of homeless camps (now estimated at 70) dug into Metro Vancouver communities, conversation on the issue has veered into a world of personal attacks and draconian proposals. One sample “solution,” endemic in community news chat threads, would re-establish the vast 1905-era asylum on its hillside in Coquitlam and lock homeless people inside.

This is a waste of time, of course. There’s no cheap or easy route to rolling back the homelessness problem. In fact, a new report from the Metro Vancouver regional authority is daunting in describing the actions that would be required even to hold the status quo. Continue reading

Light rail for Surrey?

Library and civic plaza seen from Surrey City Hal

Library and civic plaza seen from Surrey City Hall

Surrey’s trimmed-down, still iffy light rail project is entering the preliminary design stage. We may get details in 2018, if things go well, on how the new train line and its stations will affect streets, sidewalks and private properties.

This project is a key component in local government’s drive to knit Surrey’s pattern of subdivisions into an urban unit. The new trains would link Newton and Guildford, both sizable retail and employment zones, with City Centre and nearby Innovation Row. Surrey’s population is approaching half a million, and the 10-year-old City Centre initiative is creating a new hub for jobs and investment with the potential to rival downtown Vancouver  The LRT project is also intended to spark mixed-use development in neighbourhoods along the way. Continue reading

The shift to apartment living

Joyce-Collingwood urban village, Vancouver

Joyce/Collingwood urban village, Vancouver

A couple of decades ago, half the private dwellings in Metro Vancouver were classified as detached homes. That share has dropped steadily, to one-third or less. A growing majority of private dwellings are apartments, townhomes or duplexes.

Post-2000 detached houses, Marpole, Vancouver

Post-2000 detached houses, Marpole, Vancouver

The trend is not news. Most of the available statistics, posted again in this month’s Metro Vancouver Housing Data Book,  date from 2011. Even so, the discourse around housing continues to highlight low-density, high-prestige home ownership, even when this housing type has moved beyond the reach of most working families. National media coverage of Vancouver-area real estate in 2015 and 2016 focused on the stunning rise in detached home prices, not on the more modest increases in townhome and apartment prices. Controversies around  residential development, from Marpole on Vancouver’s west side to Brookswood on the region’s eastern edge, are most often constructed around perceived injury to the interests of detached home owners. In a July 2016 legislative debate on measures designed to cool Metro Vancouver’s housing market, British Columbia’s finance minister noted that the absolute number of detached homes in the Metro region has dropped over the past 25 years despite the addition of more than a million people to the population. He called this data “fascinating”, as if he was coming across it for the first time. Continue reading

A climate forecast for Metro Vancouver

crescent-beach-2-reducedThe Greater Vancouver regional authority has published a “Climate Projections” document that predicts a rise of 3 degrees Celsius in the local average temperature by the 2050s, within the working lifetime of people now in their twenties.

Mountainside reservoir; photo from

Mountainside reservoir; photo from “Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver”

Among other impacts, we can look forward to:

  • Reduced snowpack on the coastal mountains, hotter and drier summers, and lower summertime water levels in local reservoirs.
  • More very hot days and tropical nights, with demand for energy to run refrigerators and air conditioners forecast to increase to 6 times the current requirement.
  • A 45% increase in “growing degree days,” a measure of the warmth that grows crops.
  • Tough times for winter recreation operators.

Continue reading

Managing traffic through New Westminster

Pattullo Bridge, Saturday afternoon

Pattullo Bridge, Saturday afternoon

New Westminster within the region, from the New West Master Transportation Plan

New Westminster within the region, from the New West Master Transportation Plan

New Westminster is at the crossroads of Metro Vancouver, with commuter traffic  pouring through from all directions and industrial zones in neighbouring cities around more than half its perimeter

The city government’s 2014 Master Transportation Plan reports 75,000 vehicles per day on the Pattullo crossing of the Fraser River, and 80,000 on the Queensborough crossing. This compares with fewer than 63,000 on the Lions Gate Bridge and fewer than 45,000 at the north end of the Massey Tunnel (provincial estimates for the same year.) Continue reading