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A SkyTrain commuter train travels into downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday April 11, 2012. (Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail)
A SkyTrain commuter train travels into downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday April 11, 2012. (Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail)

Stephen Quinn

Langley Township 'not District 12' Add to ...

“We're not District 12 and I don't think we should be treated like District 12.”

Those were the emphatic and slightly out-of-context parting words of Langley Township Councillor Kim Richter at the end of a conversation this week.

We were talking about her motion to explore the possibility of pulling her township out of Metro Vancouver and forming a new regional district with other municipalities south of the Fraser River. The threat of such a drastic move comes as a result of feeling slighted by the region's plan (or non-plan) for transit expansion south of the Fraser.

The District 12 to which the councillor is referring is the fictional district from which the heroine Katniss Everdeen emerges in the novel and film, The Hunger Games.

District 12 is one of the poorest and most ridiculed districts in the fictional nation of Panem.

While coal mining may not be the Township of Langley's chief industry, and while, to my knowledge, the residents of the township are free to come and go as they please without the impediment of a high-voltage electric fence, and while I have no way of confirming the non-existence of a black market called “The Hob” where wild game from outside the fence is slaughtered and sold, I think I get the councillor's point.

Ms. Richter refers to “a cabal” of Metro Vancouver mayors bent on exerting their influence over her not-quite-yet-dystopian suburb. “Meddling,” she says, in the township's land use and development decisions. (Asked for an example, the councillor referred vaguely to Maple Ridge, then told me she couldn't be more specific about examples in her own municipality because the items in question were still in-camera.)

She refers to what she calls “a booming little empire sitting in Burnaby,” which, if I were to guess, would be the Metro Vancouver Board or, to continue the analogy, The Capitol, whose wealth and success is fuelled by the industry and forced labour in the surrounding districts.

See how this all fits?

Wait, it gets better.

At the centre of it all sits a hegemonic leader – in this analogy played by Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan.

Mr. Corrigan, you see, has been less than sympathetic about the plight of those in the districts beyond, especially when it comes to the lack of transit.

For Ms. Richter, the straw that broke the camel's back, as she puts it, were the comments Mr. Corrigan made to a local Langley newspaper, comments she was happy to read to me verbatim after quoting source and page number.

“Langley politicians have themselves to blame for pushing the province to expand the Highway 1 freeway, which Metro planners warned would undercut future demand for transit. Langley residents are now absurdly complaining about both the tolls as well as the lack of transit, but they wanted the bridges and the roads and now they say they want transit too.”

Councillor Richter's response prompts her to abandon her first metaphor, and move on to the French Revolution. “I mean, this Marie Antoinette attitude to the outlying areas in Metro Vancouver is just simply no longer tolerable. The arrogance has reached a level where it has to cease and desist. We don't need cartels, and we certainly don't need, I think, a Vancouver-Burnaby ‘let them eat cake’ cartel.”

Clearly, the councillor is upset, and when it comes to transit services, she has a legitimate grievance. People who live south of the Fraser will tell you transit service there is woefully inadequate. But residents there pay the same premium at the pump borne by residents of Vancouver or Burnaby, which, combined, have 31 rapid transit stations and frequent bus service. Yes, communities south of the Fraser are getting a new bridge, but one that will cost them every time they cross. Every conceptual drawing of that bridge showed transit of some kind whisking commuters home. That isn't going to happen; TransLink's plans to expand transit south of the Fraser have been abandoned for lack of funding.

Ms. Richter can be forgiven for using words like “cabal” and “empire,” and for her allusions to dystopian worlds and revolutionary France. She's trying to mobilize voters and sway public opinion. She wants her constituents to get upset. Council will talk about the issue more at a workshop meeting Monday.

The councillor may be missing the target, however, by wanting to punish Metro Vancouver for the sins of TransLink. After all, as Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore points out, Metro doesn't decide where transit goes – it supplies the water and takes away sewage and garbage.

Cut off those services and Ms. Richter's fear of becoming District 12 is one step closer.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver. @cbcstephenquinn

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