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Different groups have been pushing for a regional economic development agency for at least 30 years, but they’ve failed to get it off the ground or failed apart after short period of operation. (Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail)
Different groups have been pushing for a regional economic development agency for at least 30 years, but they’ve failed to get it off the ground or failed apart after short period of operation. (Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail)

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Co-operation among cities crucial to Vancouver region’s economic prosperity Add to ...

The Vancouver region is losing good-paying jobs and economic prosperity because its 21 cities aren’t co-ordinating their efforts to attract and support businesses, say backers of a new effort to bring them together.

But the solution isn’t amalgamation, something that was forced on Canada’s two other major cities, Montreal and Toronto.

Instead, Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore is hoping to create a new body that could act as an economic driver for the region.

“We think the solution is working together,” said Mr. Moore, also the mayor of Port Coquitlam, as he goes into 2016 with an initiative to bring together business, government, universities, labour and others into a new non-profit that could help determine what the economy of the Lower Mainland consists of and how it can be improved.

Mr. Moore emphasized, as does a recent report produced by Metro Vancouver staff, that the region has one of the lowest median incomes in Canada among major metropolitan areas – about $63,300 – and among the lowest per-capita gross domestic product. It is also unusual in its lack of a centralized economic development agency, an entity that exists in all of the major West Coast cities in North America, as well as in all major Canadian cities.

The void is especially noticeable because Vancouver, unlike every other major Canadian metropolitan area, is divided into many small cities.

Unlike Toronto and Montreal, it was never forcibly amalgamated; and unlike Calgary or Winnipeg, it isn’t a city that has grown by simply expanding its municipal boundaries.

So trying to improve the region’s weak economic performance is a frustrating job because each city oversees its own economic development and none has a truly regional picture of what makes up the economy.

“There’s no focus on addressing the issues here because we don’t have data,” said Mr. Moore, who is organizing a round table in the spring to bring the partners together. “And how do you effect government policy change if you don’t have the data?”

He said people in the region don’t clearly understand the role of the resource industry in the city or the size of the construction industry.

The new Metro initiative is getting praise from the Business Council of British Columbia, which has been begging the region to get itself together for years.

“We’ve got a third of the head offices we should have for a city this size. We have lower wages, fewer jobs, less tax revenue,” said president Greg D’Avignon said.

The lack of a co-ordinated agency or effort in the Lower Mainland is one of the reasons behind the region’s low economic performance, he said.

“I was in Hong Kong in November and three different municipalities [from the Lower Mainland] came through, all with a different message. We need a common brand, a common strategy,” he said.

The business council, which supports a federal initiative started in February called HQ Vancouver, has found that many businesses considering coming to the region are confused by the multiple cities that seem to be operating independently.

If Metro’s effort to create a new economy-focused entity is successful, it will have beaten considerable odds. Various groups have pushed for a regional economic development agency for at least 30 years. They’ve all failed to get off the ground or fallen apart after a short period of operation.

Several municipalities, including Vancouver and Surrey, co-operated to attract businesses during the period around the 2010 Winter Olympics. But that group has disbanded.

One long-time regional planner who has seen many efforts at co-ordination come and go is dubious about the current plan.

Former Metro policy and planning manager Ken Cameron said one problem is that local politicians often don’t want to support a regional effort because “local economic development to a lot of politicians means trips for them.”

As well, he said, one of the region’s biggest economic problems is not a lack of co-ordination among cities, but a lack of co-operation between the region and the province.

The latest example, he said, is the provincial government’s decision to fund a 10-lane bridge across the Fraser River, while declining to help find a solution to expand transit.

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Metro Vancouver Prosperity Report

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