87% support North Vancouver amalgamation study

North Vancouver residents on both sides of the city/district border are overwhelmingly in favour of taking a closer look at reunifying the two municipalities back into one, according to a new survey.

The District of North Vancouver hired a research firm in April to conduct a statistically valid survey of North Vancouver residents. Over the course of the survey period, they reached 615 North Vancouver residents, including 304 from the district and 310 from the city. (One respondent was unsure if they lived in the city or the district).

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There were numerous questions about North Vancouver identity and shared services posed, but for the big question about whether the city and the district “should jointly investigate the true costs and benefits of amalgamation,” the response was overwhelmingly in favour, at 87 per cent.

Broken down where people lived, district residents were 91 per cent in favour, with one per cent opposed and eight per cent unsure. Current city residents were 82 per cent in favour, with seven per cent opposed and 11 per cent unsure.

District council members got their first look at the results on Monday night. While they were hopeful city residents would show an interest in reversing the 1907 decision to carve the city out of the district, some on council were stunned to see just how much support there was.

“The results are very, very significant because they put the lie to an idea, which has been peddled by the political elites in the city, that there is no public support for investigating amalgamation, that there is no interest in reunification. Four out of five residents of the city see it differently,” said Coun. Jim Hanson.

Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn agreed.

“This is evidence. This is not balderdash,” he said. “Now that we know that the people of the city consider themselves to be residents of North Vancouver, as do we in the district. That is a huge step forward.”

Council voted unanimously to have staff begin drawing up a question to be put on this fall’s election ballots seeking a mandate from the public to create an impartial, arms-length citizens’ assembly to further study the issue.

“Having had the response we’ve had from the community, I think it’s important for the politicians to get out of the way and to turn this over to the citizens who live in North Vancouver city and district. I would very much encourage and hope that our colleagues in the city will engage in this process,” said Coun. Roger Bassam.

“I know that we have more than enough qualified people who could form such a citizen body to look at the potential costs and benefits of the potential reunification.”

City Mayor Darrell Mussatto, however, remains unconvinced. In an interview Tuesday, Mussatto said it was frustrating and unneighbourly for the district to be pursuing the matter without consulting with the city. And he added he doesn’t trust the survey’s methodology.

“I believe the district is going rogue. Here’s the thing: their own study said amalgamation would not save the district any money. It would cost money. But they don’t put that in their survey question.”

Mussatto said he believes the survey and the talk of reunification from the district is a politically motivated populist tactic to distract from the issues on their side of the border

“We see this every 20 or 30 years. It’s not like it’s anything new,” he said.

Past amalgamations in other areas have resulted in higher costs for everyone involved, Mussatto noted, adding city residents have clearly steered their municipality in a different direction than the district over the last 111 years.

“The city is seen as more progressive, more densified, we have more things going on,” he said. “We’re doing just fine, thanks very much.”

For District Coun. Lisa Muri, the survey numbers were more confirmation of what she’d always expected.

“I was not surprised at all that we got this response. I thought for years that this was a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we want to bring the municipalities together? We were one before,” she said.

But Muri noted, the current city council has been loathe to co-operate in any meaningful way.

“I find it very irresponsible that elected officials would not be interested in gathering more information because information is power and good information allows good decision making,” Muri said.

Coun. Robin Hicks cautioned his colleagues that, even if the city does participate, residents may find they don’t like what they see when the reunification study is done.

Amalgamations have high transition costs and the benefits may not start accruing for many years, he noted.

“I’ll be dead before any benefits come of it. It’s not a short, simple process,” he said.

The survey, conducted by NRG Research Group at a cost of $22,750, has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 per cent at a 95 per cent level of confidence.

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