SULLIVAN: The ‘A’ word: Win or lose, amalgamation rides again

The next municipal election, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20, just got more interesting, thanks to the “A” word.

“A” stands for amalgamation, a big word with even bigger implications for the people of North Vancouver.

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For reasons obscured by the passage of time, the City of North Vancouver seceded from the District of North Vancouver back in 1907, and some people have been trying to glue them back together ever since.

And now the forces of amalgamation want to turn reunification into an election issue by sponsoring a survey of all North Van citizens on both sides of the border. Wherever that is.

Seriously, wherever you are in North Van at this very moment, do you know if you’re in the city or the district? Do you care?

Well, North Vancouver District Coun. Roger Bassam cares enough to spearhead this latest effort to “knit up the ravelled sleave of care” (Macbeth, famous Scottish politician). That was Roger on the front page of the North Shore News recently, sporting his best Mona Lisa smile, standing on the border of North Van and North Van, which runs right down the middle of East 14th Street.

Roger and his colleagues on district council care because as housing and traffic pressures mount on both sides of the confusion, two councils and two bureaucracies pursue radically different agendas.

Meanwhile, over at city hall, there is no taste for this survey. There appears to be a suspicion that the district is more interested in the city’s tax surplus than anything else. “Get stuffed” was the short answer from Coun. Rod Clark.

So, sensing a lack of enthusiasm, the district will go ahead with the survey on its own and has commissioned Western Canadian research firm NRG to ask the musical question: Should we explore the costs and benefits of one North Vancouver?

When I talked to Roger the other day, he had his optimistic hat on, predicting that 80 to 90 per cent of district residents will say yes, and 60 to 70 per cent of city residents will respond positively. If that actually happens, the district will work to get that very question onto the ballot on Oct. 20.

The last time anyone held a vote on reunification was almost 50 years ago in September 1968 when district residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of amalgamation, while city voters were split right down the middle. The initiative failed as a 60 per cent majority was required.

Perhaps to ensure such equivocation doesn’t happen again, the question is a little less apocalyptic – should we explore costs and benefits of one North Vancouver? Who wants to argue against that?

Do we really need two councils and bureaucracies for a combined entity the size of Coquitlam? Do we need two fire departments, library boards, etc.? The answer is of course not, but that’s just me.

The real problem is planning – transit planning, for example. TransLink plans to run the B-Line along Marine Drive, which makes me wonder if anyone from TransLink has ever tried to traverse Marine Drive at peak times of the day. The bus would pursue a course that crosses North Van borders numerous times. How are two councils going to agree on all of the peevish little complexities that govern this passage when they can’t agree on the name of North Vancouver?

What the district has done to the city is fiendishly clever, bypassing the guardians at the city gate and going straight to the voters. If the results, which Roger anticipates will be ready toward the end of May, come out strongly in favour of taking reunification further, it will have huge political implications.

Can city politicians continue to oppose amalgamation if their voters approve of further exploration? Of course, the converse is true; if the response is underwhelming or negative, will district politicians fold their tent and creep back onto their side of East 14th?

So, win or lose, amalgamation rides again. Roger Bassam says he hopes the issue will drive voter participation above 30 per cent, and I second the motion. The Oct. 20 election is shaping up to be a good one, and we’re voting for two new mayors whatever else happens.

Make no mistake. Political fortunes will be made or squandered. As for Roger Bassam’s political capital, is he planning to spend some on a district mayoralty bid? Well, he’s not ruling it out. Maybe someday he’ll preside over Metro Vancouver’s fifth largest city, North Vancouver.

Not the city, not the district. Just North Van.

Finally.

p.sullivan@breakthroughpr.com

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna.

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