Time to Amalgamate?

Tricities Amalgamation

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.

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  1. Cynthia van Ginkel says:

    Good discussion; I have long thought the fire service (and police) should be amalgamated at least, given the lengthy and convoluted borders of the municipalities and locations of fire halls. I have never heard a convincing reason why that wouldn’t serve the residents better for less money.

    I don’t know the Abbotsford example, but I know Toronto has had some problems with amalgamation, so there are lots of lessons to investigate before considering wider amalgamation.

  2. I really don’t want to live in the same municipality as PoCo. I’m a purist that way. 😉 It’s the Surrey of the tri-cities.
    I’m half-joking, of course.

  3. Though I’ve spent most of my life in Port Moody, I was in Waterloo, ON for two years. There, they still have separate adjacent cities – Waterloo, Kitchener & Cambridge – as well as a smattering of rural towns & municipalities surrounding them, all part of the “Region of Waterloo” entity. The entire region shares police & firefighting services, while each city still maintains its own city council. I think that’s a model worth investigating for here. We already have some combined services across the entire GVRD, such as water management and (to some extent) transit planning.

  4. Hey Jon, is it Amalgamation discussion time again ?? Must be an election on the horizon !

    I certainly agree with most of your points – I regularly, when talking to our ‘neighbours’ in the region, remind them that if we work as a group and even include ridge meadows, we are a significant population base. There’s been no question in my mind that for years our sub-region has been largely ignored, and I think you are right, that is because of different cities persuing different agendas.

    You can certainly see that now in the approaches to the RGS : PoCo signs on relatively quietly and they are doing substantial development and growth. Coquitlam seems to want even more growth and is willing to take GVRD to court over it. And Port Moody saying no more growth without the infrastructure we need in the region. Those pieces dont go together to form a very good puzzle !!

    I think the differences in approach there show why amalgamation has been, and continues to be , a non starter. Even Lindsay’s “half joking” comment above is “half joking” typical of residents in the tri cities. We all move about the region – we play soccer in Coquitlam, picnic at Rocky Point, swim at Sasamat, and shop at Costco in PoCo (that’s for you Jon !) , and for the most part we don’t even know or care where the boundaries are.

    BUT, don’t ever ask someone on Thermal, Mariner, or Panorama if they live in Port Moody. Or someone
    of Forest Park Way if they live in Coquitlam. Or especially ask anyone in Anmore if they live in Port Moody (unless they are at the rec centre in PoMo of course !) And I cant even figure out where the PoCo / Coq border is on Shaugnessy , but i can guarantee you the guy on the PoCo side is either mocking or being mocked by his Coquitlam neighbour every garbage day !!

    There’s a lot of civic pride in the tri cities , and for the most part, rightly so. Each municpality does things a little differently and the residents who move into the region tend to make their choices based on which ‘niche’ suits their lifestyle. Port Moody residents really value our parks and our police services – just as examples. (not in any way to take away from the other communities). PoCo is becoming a powerhouse for arts and culture. And Coquitlam has the most spectacular recreation facilities (ie: town centre park) I have ever seen.

    I think ahead of amalgamation, we need to get some good co-operation going. Certainly in the REGION we need to get together as a sub region to ensure that Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver aren’t just constantly getting everything while we are left out in the cold (ie: UBC skytrain extention).

    Locally, we really need to realize what each of the municipalities does well and what we should maybe be leaving to the others, rather than trying to duplicate services. For example , there is no reason nor any economy in Port Moody trying to build an aquatic centre that could compete with Coquitlam’s. We don’t have the population to support anything of that scope. We do however have a fabulous library, parks, and arts centre. I’d hate to think that one of the other tri cities would start a rival ‘wearable arts awards’ or something !

    So what we should be doing is getting together amongst our cities and having those conversations .. “Hey, PoCo , don’t be building a new olympic size ice rink, Port Moody already has one… why don’t you build some covered tennis courst instead ? We could all use those !”

    As Scott says, we already have many regional services via GVRD and Translink, but we are also starting to get duplication of services there – with GVRD parks and now ‘culture’ programs overlapping and duplicating municipal services, and we need to make sure that isn’t happening. Big downside of having regional governance, as Waterloo does, is when the region and the muncipalities start conflicting in their goals. We see that already at GVRD with things like removal of lands from ALR in Delta and Maple Ridge in the last few years. Sometimes it becomes convenient poltically to ‘offload’ a decision to the region then claim ‘it wasn’t our decision’ ! (aka Translink !!)

    We already have mutual aid and co-operation between fire and police services, but maybe we can work more on specialized areas in each city (ie: Port Moody has done significant investment in training for wildland interface fire fighting and I imagine Coquitlam with all the new highrises is investing in High Angle rescue – maybe we can work together more on those services that we don’t all need every day and share resources more).

    We do great resource sharing in our libraries that most people aren’t even aware of, via Interlink and other resource sharing. We have integrated teams in policing (IHIT, IRSU, etc). We could probably look at doing more co-operative purchasing / tendering (things like sand or road salt.. maybe even fuel.. are we all buying this stuff seperately ?? ) Our youth services work together all the time including summer camp and events for the kids. Arts Connect serves us very well as a tri-cities umbrella organization for the arts and culture groups and events they work with.

    The time for increased co-operation is certainly upon us, and that’s where I would like to see the Tri Cities / NE Sector going in the short term. Maybe that would lead long term to actual amalgamation, but I have my doubts, unless someone can really make the economic case, which so far, I’ve never seen – there might be a benefit in Anmore, or Belcarra, if they wanted to expand their services, which would be more difficult on the scale of a small village – but for the most part the other tri cities are ‘balanced’ in their services and wouldn’t realize any significant impacts through amalgamating.

    • Thank you Jon/Amber for getting the conversation going. I am pleased to see Mike Clay’s comments and to hear from others on amalgamation. As I read through the comments what strikes me with clarity is that the concern might be we are doubling up on services therefore being inefficient with taxpayers money and we are not getting the services we ought to have because we cannot (I prefer ‘will not’) work together to make sure our collective residents get the resources they need. So the problems are inefficiencies and lack of advocacy/consistency. Amalgamation is one potential solution to these problems….and there are other potential solutions for us to explore. I hope that with the upcoming civic election we can continue to challenge ourselves (and the electorate can challenge us as candidates) on how we will work together with our neighbours to cooperate, advocate and ensure that regionally our needs are met.

      I would like to see the three councils working together to identify priorities and projects that we can ensure get the attention they need so that collectively we all benefit.


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