Some weeks ago I wrote a post about threats issued by certain Port Moody Councillors, suggesting they would close the Murray-Clarke corridor to Coquitlam residents. Port Moody Council had voted to re-claim control of the section of road following TransLink’s decision to not proceed with the much-needed and long-overdue Murray-Clarke Connector. While I understood their frustration, I was disappointed by their choice to target their vitriol at Coquitlam residents, specifically.
As I consider inter-municipal politics and policies here in the Tri-Cities, I have to wonder if the time has come to consider amalgamation. As long as we have separate cities serving separate agendas, conflicts are inevitable. If we were all working together, we would have a better shot at serving the best interests of the region as a whole. We would also likely have more clout, if we were a single city of almost 220,000, instead of three individual cities of 126,000, 57,000 and 34,000 (I got my population numbers here). We would be the fourth largest city in BC, ahead of Richmond, North Vancouver and Abbotsford.
At the moment, here in the Tri-Cities we pay for three fire chiefs and three city councils. All of our municipal roadways, city parks and recreational facilities are managed – and planned – separately. And as cities act, there is no specific requirement that they consider the impact on their neighbours. Not only are we duplicating our efforts, we’re sometimes being less-than-considerate, approving developments that put pressure on another city’s infrastructure, or threatening to bar access to public roads.
Jon and I grew up in Abbotsford, at a time when it was actually two municipalities – Abbotsford and Matsqui. Matsqui had a much larger population, and was home to most of the shopping, the airport, the stadium and fairgrounds. If we were to extrapolate to the Tri-Cities, it was the Coquitlam. Like the Tri-Cities, Abbotsford and Matsqui shared a school district, and did not share police services (at least, Port Moody does not share police services). Unlike the Tri-Cities, they also shared recreation and fire services.
In 1994, following a report that indicated they would save approximately $2 million dollars a year, the local residents voted to amalgamate, and that’s what they did in 1995. While I moved away in September, 1994, approximately four months before amalgamation occurred, Jon continued to live in Abbotsford off and and through the late 1990s, and both sets of our parents still live there, as well as many friends. I can tell you that amalgamation has been a positive thing for the city. Operational savings were realized, services were improved and a greater sense of civic pride resulted.
There are differences between the Tri-Cities and the former Abbotsford-Matsqui. Not all municipal amalgamations go smoothly. Costs can rise as salaries increase to bring one former city’s employees in line with their new colleagues. Taxes may also increase for residents who paid the least under their former municipal government. Priorities and plans shift, and if everyone isn’t equally committed to the new city, resentments can arise.
However, as we see ongoing issues involving transit and transportation, including the Murray-Clarke connector and the Evergreen Line, and we see Port Moody struggling with fire hall upgrades, I think it may be time to talk about the possibility. This is an election year, which makes it an excellent time to open the discussion. Are we being well served by having three separate cities? Could combining certain services work to our advantage? I believe it’s an idea that’s at least worth considering.