North Vancouver amalgamation issue ramps up

Unite North Van plans 2 slates for 2014 civic elections

Expect to hear the "A-word" a lot more in the run-up to the 2014 municipal elections as a campaign is now underway to amalgamate the District and City of North Vancouver into one municipality.

Unite North Van founder George Pringle is planning to run a slate of candidates in the city and district whose sole purpose is sewing back together what was torn apart in 1907 when the city hived itself off, largely for the financial interests of the more urban Lonsdale corridor.

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"Basically, everything we do in North Van. .. is hampered by having two municipalities," said Pringle, a longtime city council watcher and blogger, past mayoral candidate and political activist who has volunteered on scores of small-c conservative political campaigns. "Every issue flows out of amalgamation - and until you get amalgamation right, you can't do a proper job at addressing any other issue on the North Shore."

Though Pringle doesn't like seeing taxpayers funding two councils and two bureaucracies providing similar services along a zigzagging border, it is the hodgepodge of planning development, transportation and infrastructure that is his primary reason for launching Unite North Van.

If the party can elect four members to each council or persuade a majority on each council to pass a motion in favour of amalgamation, it will trigger the official process. The province will fund an amalgamation plan that covers the nuts and bolts of reconciling finances, bylaws, powers and services. Once that report is presented to the public, residents will have a chance to see for themselves how their taxes and services would be affected under a single North Vancouver. If they like what they see, they can show it in a simple majority referendum in each municipality to ratify amalgamation.

Those are several big "ifs," Pringle admits, but he said he likes his chances of getting at least two members elected to both councils.

The typical argument against amalgamation is that whenever it's tried in other jurisdictions, it always ends up costing more for taxpayers, the whole always being more than the sum of its parts.

But, Pringle argues bringing the city and district together would be much simpler than the bungling stories of amalgamation in Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax, with only two governments to meld and only one union to negotiate with. Those amalgamations also suffered from the fact they were imposed by their senior provincial government, rather than requested by citizens.

"I want to see a grassroots amalgamation that starts with the people," he said.

Many of the old assumptions that were fought over in previous North Vancouver amalgamation attempts aren't true anymore, Pringle added.

"The standard myth is the district is land-rich and cash-poor and the city is land-poor and cash-rich," he said. "It's a question of destroying some of the myths. That's task 1. The people in North Van are in a fairly educated riding. I don't think they are easy to be fooled once there's two sides of an issue, and right now we're only hearing one side of the issue."

Candidates who want to run under the Unite North Van banner will be vetted by Pringle based on their electability, commitment to amalgamation and actual ability to carry out the duties of a council member - not where they stand on other municipal issues.

"One of the precepts of Unite North Van is we only have to agree on amalgamation. It doesn't matter if you're fundamentally against other things that I've been for," Pringle said. "If somebody likes tall buildings but is for amalgamation, it doesn't disqualify them."

Pringle will be taking nominations for candidates in May 2014. In the meantime, he is looking to build up the Unite North Van party infrastructure and recruit members who will help in the November 2014 election push.

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