Metro Vancouver residents don’t often hear splashy announcements about underground infrastructure, sewer and water systems, because it is not all that sexy and often taken for granted.
However, more than a century go, it was the talk of the town. The region’s population was booming and inadequate sewer systems resulted in typhoid outbreaks and beach pollution. This led several metro municipalities to come together to develop a long-term strategy to fund, build and maintain infrastructure we use all day, every day.
While we have more sophisticated infrastructure today, the challenges remain exactly the same as they did more than 100 years ago. We have a rapidly growing population, greatly influenced by federal immigration targets, that requires additional housing and an equally rapid expansion of water and sewer infrastructure.
The Metro Vancouver region is expected to grow by over 1 million people over the next 30 years and we anticipate $11.5 billion in growth-related sewer and water infrastructure.
Compounding the problem is a housing and overall affordability crisis – issues that capture headlines.
Federal and provincial governments, along with opposition parties, are desperately trying to address the solving crisis and are turning to local governments to deliver more housing, more quickly.
In British Columbia, the provincial government set housing targets for 10 municipalities (noting this is just the beginning with more municipalities to come). Something I agree with.
Nationally, the federal government launched the Housing Accelerator Fund to incent local governments to increase housing supply and deliver more affordable housing. As these applications are being approved, federal conditions include asks for increased density in traditionally low-density neighbourhoods.
I do not take issue with the greater engagement of provincial and federal governments – setting policy targets and including conditions on grants are not new tools. I have spoken to MPs and MLAs from all sides about this. Nor do I take issue with the fact that municipalities, including my own, need to enable greater density and approve new homes faster. We are working to do just that.
That said, municipalities manage more than 60 per cent of Canada’s public infrastructure. Much of that infrastructure is aging, must be replaced and greatly expanded to meet never before seen population growth and housing densification.
In recent weeks, Metro Vancouver, your regional government responsible for your sewer system, clean water supply, air quality monitoring, regional parks and affordable housing, has been the subject of much discussion and scrutiny over proposed development cost charges*. The guiding principle behind DCCs is that growth pays for growth; they are designed to recover capital costs associated with residential growth from developers so current residents don’t have to pay.
Metro Vancouver, along with Translink and all municipalities levy funds related to new development and forecasted infrastructure needs. The alternative is to fund these infrastructure needs by increasing ratepayers utilities bills or undertake longer-term borrowing to be paid by the next generation. In both scenarios – it is residents – working families and people that pay more. In the midst of an affordability crisis and an all-time inflationary environment, these costs add up and have a cumulative impact on households.
And all the while, municipal governments are reliant on a 19th century property tax system to fund 21st century infrastructure needs that far exceed the roads and sanitation of days past. Local governments are dealing with almost century old infrastructure that needs replacement and new infrastructure in the face of issues like climate change. You need only look at the King tides of 2022 that destroyed parts of the Stanley Park Seawall or the 2021 flooding of the Fraser Valley to appreciate the modern day issues facing cities.
Building new housing quickly is crucial in an environment where too many residents can’t find an affordable home. But municipalities can only approve new developments if new and existing infrastructure is built and maintained. Here’s the brass tacks: You can’t move into a new home without a working toilet or running water.
Local governments rely heavily on provincial and federal dollars for capital infrastructure, and we are grateful for what we receive. However, it is not enough and likely will never be enough. Other levels of government who have greater taxation and revenue powers also need to respect local government’s autonomy to address the gap through their own revenue tools.
Moreover, we need to continue the dialogue on municipal finance reform. Both the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) have called for new frameworks to address community infrastructure needs, including sharing in provincial/territorial sales tax revenues.
Let’s continue this work in a pragmatic, non-political way and advance a new approach so all levels of government can better work together to solve the challenges people elected us to do.
*** After writing this blog, the federal Housing minister requested Metro Vancouver delay implementation of the DCCs and consider additional waivers for non-market rental projects. I thought these were reasonable asks in the interest of housing affordability concerns and working together. I moved a motion at our November 27th board meeting to delay enactment of the DCCs by 12 months. This motion was defeated. However, Metro Vancouver has committed to continue economic analysis of the DCCs, report to the provincial and federal governments annually, and explore additional waivers for rental projects.
Lisa Dominato is a two-term Metro Vancouver Regional Director and Vancouver City Councillor with a background in public policy. She is also a Board Director with Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
I can be trusted to lead with integrity and common sense. I listen, bring people together and focus on getting results. I work directly with residents and businesses who reach out to me looking for help. I will continue to focus on cutting red tape and transforming city services so residents and businesses can thrive and make Vancouver home.
I represent the diverse interests of Vancouverites on critical issues like housing and homelessness, affordability, safe and inclusive neighbourhoods, public spaces, core services and resilient infrastructure.
I am committed to fostering a culture of service excellence at city hall where we put serving people and outcomes first.
Enabling Housing Options and Improving Affordability
- Pushed for missing middle housing to add gentle density to our neighbourhoods so families can stay in Vancouver and newcomers can make Vancouver home.
- Led transformation of the permit system to expedite permits to build and renovate homes.
- Secured support for expanded youth housing options so that young people who age out of ministry care transition into secure and affordable housing.
- Approved a range of housing options and policies from affordable home ownership and rental to non-market and co-op housing.
- Built on my experience serving in the non-profit housing sector to advocate for co-op housing lease renewals, security for residents of False Creek South, reducing red tape to ease pressure on our housing system, a faster laneway home permit process, and more.
Standing for Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability
- Supported efforts to create a independent Auditor General, and was part of the selection committee to choose Vancouver’s first Auditor General to increase transparency, accountability and efficiency in the City’s programs and services.
- Pushed for increased planning and transparency around the annual budget process.
- Consistently opposed exorbitant property tax increases that do not prioritize core services.
- Brought forward measures to improve accountability and transparency of Council.
Supporting Small Business and the Local Economy
- Approved a 3 year tax shift from commercial to residential properties to support small businesses.
- Transformed the permit and license system to expedite both permits and business licenses.
- Advocated for split assessment to address the ongoing pressure of highest and best development on small businesses.
- Supported policy to enable walkable neighbourhoods including retail space in new buildings, activation of public spaces, pop-up kitchens and retail, outdoor patios and BIAs.
- Advocated for a Night Economy strategy.
Amplifying Safe and Inclusive Neighbourhoods
- Consistently supported front line public safety including police, fire and Vancouver Emergency Management Services to ensure we have safe and inclusive neighborhoods.
- Pushed for safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists through a public facing portal for street improvements like pedestrian crossings and a more efficient reporting system for light outages.
- Approved new park acquisitions and investments, more outdoor eating and entertainment spaces, and more pedestrian-friendly streets.
- Collaborated to address proliferation of graffiti by awarding grants to BIAs and calling for a new enforcement system.
- Led the charge for a new PNE amphitheater that will create jobs and a wide range of fun festivals and events when it opens in 2026.
Prioritizing Reliable Services and Resilient Infrastructure
- Pushed for improved city services in the areas of permit and license applications, resident queries and navigation for services.
- Supported climate mitigation measures including green buildings policy, natural climate solutions, regional solutions to congestion, accelerated sewer separation, shifts to more renewable energy resources, and local EV infrastructure.
- Supported and advocated for increased investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure including maintenance of sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, lighting, and bridge upgrades like the Granville Street bridge.
- Consistently supported city services such as increased street cleaning and graffiti removal.
- Supported public transit expansion, including the Broadway Line to UBC.
My recent comments on public safety in and around downtown. Mike Smyth Show – 980 CKNW. October 5, 2021.
In recent months there have been growing concerns about public safety in downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods. Residents and businesses alike are asking – what can be done and what are we doing to ensure the city is safe and inclusive for all residents?
We’re writing this letter to tell you – we hear you, we share your concerns, and we are taking steps to address them. This means:
- Supporting and appropriately funding our police force so they can respond to emergencies as well as proactively address vandalism, crime and safety issues;
- Increasing police presence and patrols in affected neighbourhoods;
- Continuing to advocate strongly for Provincial support of:
- More wraparound services for people in need, including mental health and addiction treatment and recovery options
- A complex care housing system that provides services for people who are falling through the cracks in the current supportive housing model
- On site supportive services in dedicated social housing projects
- Ensuring police officers are trained in de-escalation, trauma informed response, conflict resolution and anti-racism;
- Supporting de-escalation information and resources.
During last year’s budget debate, we opposed deep cuts to the police budget, and fought to support the Vancouver Police Board endorsed budget, which would have made some of these actions possible.
Police and fire are critical services – services that have changed with the times and need to continue to evolve to effectively serve our communities.
The Province has recognized this, and is currently undertaking an important review of the Police Act. Recommendations from the review are expected next Spring. We can expect those recommendations to consider a more health-centered response to mental health and addiction crises. And we need to be open to exploring new approaches to an opioid crisis that takes more lives daily and annually than the Covid-19 pandemic has.
Meanwhile the fact remains that we do not have an alternative framework for effectively or safely responding to the myriad of issues that are playing out on our streets. We need to concurrently support and fund our police force so they can serve our collective interest in a city where everyone feels safe to live and work.
Like many organizations, police forces need to look inwards and address systemic racism and biases. Knee jerk moves to defund the police are not the answer. Thoughtful and planned systems change is the only way to address public safety, and to adapt services to respond to the mental health and addiction related crises playing out on our streets and in our neighbourhoods.
Through the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) Conference this week, we are actively meeting with Provincial Ministers including the Ministers of Public Safety, Housing, and Mental Health. These issues are top priorities for our discussions, and will continue to be our focus to bring solutions forward working with the different levels of government to address these critical and complex challenges.
We encourage the Mayor and Council to come together and have a real discussion about the critical issue of public safety in the city. While the Province continues its cross-ministry work on issues related to mental health, addictions, and complex care housing, we cannot simply sit and wait. Our mandate as local government is to work effectively with police and ensure public safety.
Like many cities around the world, the city is striving to reduce GHG emissions from buildings and vehicles to address our changing climate. There is no denying the science that points to climate change and at a city level buildings and combustion vehicles are the biggest emitters. To this end, last fall Vancouver City Council passed a series of recommendations to help reduce these emissions. As a mom of two young daughters, I care about their future and the world they will inherit. This is why I supported many of the recommendations to reduce our carbon emissions; however, I took issue with the approach to mobility pricing and citywide parking.
The issue that dominated the discussions was the proposed Metro Core transport pricing framework. And while congestion pricing is likely the way of the future for the lower mainland due to our growing population, I was opposed to a Vancouver only approach that red-circled our downtown core. The independent commission on mobility pricing was clear that a regional approach is essential to a successful transport pricing framework and that revenues should be reinvested in public transit to enable people to make different choices. Neither of these ingredients were part of the transport pricing framework proposed by city staff. There was no economic impact analysis to look at the implications for small businesses in and around the downtown core, nor to consider the current pandemic. While this issue will be studied further by city staff as a result of a last minute amendment, we would be wise to wait and see the results of Translink’s Transport 2050 report due later this year and focus on a regional approach.
Two issues that got little or no attention in last fall’s staff report were a proposed citywide parking permit program and the proposed expansion of electric vehicle charging stations.
The proposed citywide parking permit would impose not only a parking permit system, but also a non-market rate fee for drivers who park their cars on residential streets. This parking program would include market rate fees in later years, such as the West End currently has in place to manage curbside use ($400/year). The rationale for the proposal was that it would help reduce the number of vehicles in the city and allow us to use the curbside differently.
Staff presented a technical briefing today of what such a program could look like: a citywide street parking permit of $45/year, plus a carbon surcharge for newer, combustion vehicles ($500 – $1,000/year) and an overnight parking fee for visitors (10pm to 7am). The proposal is now positioned as a pollution charge.
While I believe we need to do our part to reduce carbon emissions, I opposed this proposal last fall because I don’t believe it is the right tool in the toolbox.
This proposal makes the city less affordable for both renters and homeowners who have been struggling through the current pandemic. Now is not the time to add more taxes and fees to already beleaguered residents, particularly in neighbourhoods where parking is not a problem, public transit is limited, and there has not been adequate consideration for social equity issues.
This proposal is also inequitable. It imposes a base permit fee on 50% of vehicle owners in the city (if you are lucky enough to have a driveway, parking pad or underground parkade, guess what – you don’t pay because the city can only manage and charge for street use.). If you’re not lucky enough to have private parking and need a vehicle for work or family reasons, then you may be a resident who can least afford the new base permit fee.
If we want to encourage people to move away from combustion vehicles or reduce the number of vehicles in the city, then a few more carrots and less sticks would be the route I would go. Explore incentives like reduced property taxes if you park your vehicle on your property or provide laneway housing on your parking pad. Improve public transit access to all corners of the city so that travel across the city is more seamless. Improve pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in higher density areas. Invest in complete neighbourhoods so people can more readily access services near where they live.
We have a robust carbon tax framework in British Columbia, which municipalities benefitted from until the Province recently cancelled the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP). Let’s work with the Province to get more equitable access to carbon tax revenues for necessary civic infrastructure and encourage the Province to introduce additional rebates towards the purchase of electric vehicles and hybrids.
Last fall we invested in EV charging infrastructure at public facilities, neighbourhood hubs and in existing and new buildings to enable the adoption of EVs. This was one of the most understated and underreported aspects of the climate report that I supported. The public is moving in this direction – the number of EVs in the city has gone up 700% over the past five years.
We have socially and environmentally conscious residents, let’s support them in a positive way to make informed choices on their next vehicle choice (if at all). Let’s also respect their pocket books and their concerns about affordability.
Residents have an opportunity to have their say on this proposal starting June 14 until July 5, 2021. I urge residents to weigh in and inform Council’s decision. https://shapeyourcity.ca/parking
Vancouver City Councillor (Independent)
Councillors Dominato, Hardwick and Kirby-Yung leave NPA
Vancouver, BC (April 21, 2021): Vancouver Councillors Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick and Sarah Kirby-Yung are leaving the NPA (Non-Partisan Association) to sit as a group of independents after being blindsided by the NPA board’s secret backroom decision to run John Coupar as the party’s mayoral candidate for the upcoming 2022 municipal election.
“We have heard loud and clear from NPA members and supporters that the actions of the Board and John Coupar do not reflect the standards of transparency, integrity and accountability we all expect from the NPA and each other,” said Hardwick. “NPA supporters and Vancouverites deserve better, which is why the three of us are stepping away from the NPA to sit as a group of independents. Instead of a fair and democratic process to select the best mayoral candidate, the NPA Board and John Coupar sidelined the elected members of the NPA and made a backroom deal. By any measure, it was about as old-boys-club as it gets.”
In an open letter to NPA members and supporters (see below and attached), the councillors said the NPA organization as it stands today cannot be trusted to govern fairly or responsibly and that it does not represent the values and standards that Vancouver residents and NPA supporters expect and deserve. The letter outlines a series of events that unfolded since the current board took control in November 2019, including Caucus demands for an open NPA Annual General Meeting and renewal that have been ignored.
”The NPA Board has gone in the wrong direction and is out of touch with supporters and residents who have been reaching out to express their concerns,” said Dominato. “Women in politics need to stand up for their point of view and lead by example. As a group of independents, we will continue to provide strong leadership at the Council table, focused on bringing the city together rather than divisive politicking.”
“The public response shows the party has lost any connection with the people of Vancouver with this move of pulling a power play behind the backs of their elected Councillors, and with no transparency to the public. We stand up every day in and out of Council chambers to bring Vancouverites voices forward, and wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t stand against this. I’m proud to be serving on Vancouver’s first-ever majority women council and I won’t diminish that by not drawing the line. In 2021 we shouldn’t have to fight for a level playing field but we are,” said Kirby-Yung. “Moving forward, we’ll be sitting as independents working together and across the aisle to deliver strong and smart leadership to help move Vancouver forward. This story is far from over. We expect to have more to say about the future of our incredible city, people and our neighbourhoods in the months ahead.”
Councillor Lisa Dominato 778-980-4422
Councillor Colleen Hardwick 778-999-7677
Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung 604-788-1352
April 21, 2021
Dear NPA Members and supporters:
We hope that you are safe and healthy during these unprecedented times we find ourselves in. Regretfully, we are writing to inform you that we are leaving the Non-Partisan Association (NPA).
As many of you know, we were completely taken aback by the recent appointment of John Coupar as the NPA’s 2022 Mayoral candidate. Immediately following the announcement, NPA supporters and members reached out to us expressing deep concern about the lack of transparency, accountability and integrity of the selection process. Many of you questioned this secret appointment, which excluded all elected caucus members including four women on Council. If the past few weeks has taught us anything, it is that women in politics have to stand up for their point of view.
The NPA is supposed to represent your values of good governance and responsible leadership, transparency and accountability to citizens, diversity and inclusion of all Vancouver citizens. This secret appointment did not meet your minimum standards the NPA should represent. Your questions were simple and legitimate: How could this happen and is this the end of the NPA as we know it?
For context, it is important to outline the events that have led up to where we are today.
● November 2019: The November 2019 NPA Annual General Meeting elected a new Board of Directors. Following the AGM, there were a series of media reports characterizing board members as far right-wing, citing specific examples.
● December 2019: Councillor Rebecca Bligh resigned citing concerns that the newly elected board harboured anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiments. The NPA caucus responded with a statement of support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and SOGI 123.
● January 2020: NPA elected Councillors, Trustees and Park Board Commissioners issued a letter to the NPA Board asking them to affirm their commitment to inclusion and diversity.
● July 2020: Four NPA directors resigned citing concerns over the board’s ineffectiveness.
● September 2020: The elected caucus issued a statement regarding an NPA board member’s comments.
● January 2021: The elected NPA Councillors, School Board Trustees and Park Board Commissioners met and collectively decided to call on the NPA Board to hold an AGM. To date, an AGM date has not been announced.
● February 2021: The NPA Caucus met and began the process of activating 10% of the association’s membership to trigger a Special Meeting under the By-laws and Societies Act to set a date for the AGM.
● April 2021: The NPA Board announced John Coupar as the Mayoral Candidate. Elected NPA caucus members were kept in the dark and NPA members did not have a say in the decision.
● April 2021: Councillors Hardwick, Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung issued a public statement in response to the appointment, which they stand by today.
Over the past 18 months, the NPA elected caucus has responded to multiple media enquiries regarding the Board’s directors and policy direction, and issued several statements reiterating the elected caucus’ commitment to inclusion, diversity and stand against hate and discrimination. This has been an enormous distraction from focusing on the critical issues facing the city.
Despite our many efforts, the NPA Board has failed to address a number of issues that NPA members and supporters want:
● Open, accountable and responsible governance, as set out in the British Columbia Societies Act and the NPA bylaws.
● An open and transparent candidate selection process for the positions of Mayor, Councillors, School Trustees and Park Board Commissioners, elected democratically by the membership of the NPA.
● A clear and unequivocal statement of support for inclusion and diversity.
We have lost confidence in the NPA’s ability to govern fairly and responsibly. We don’t have faith the NPA will represent the priorities and values of Vancouver residents, and are looking forward to restoring hope and setting a new direction for the future of Vancouver.
Therefore, we are leaving the NPA and will sit as a group of independents. It is 18 months until the next election. We will continue to provide leadership at Council and consider the best interests of the city.
Councillor Lisa Dominato
Councillor Colleen Hardwick
Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung
Closing comments on motion B. 4 (Dominato and Kirby-Yung): Calling for a Plan to Clear Vancouver’s Permit and License Backlog and Revamp this Critical City Service
Closing comments on Motion B. 4 (Dominato and Kirby-Yung): Calling for a Plan to Clear Vancouver’s Permit and License Backlog and Revamp this Critical City Service