COVER STORY: Sister Cities
Not all sisterly relationships evoke feelings of compatibility, or yield a tangible value.
At least that is the sentiment of two North Vancouver councillors Rod Clark (City) and Doug MacKay-Dunn (District) on inter-municipal sister city relationships.
For years, Clark has encouraged fellow City of North Van councillors to sever its sister city relationships with Chiba, Japan and Huizhou, China.
As recently as last week, he moved a motion at a council meeting to make the subject of sister cities a referendum question in the upcoming civic election. That motion was defeated 5-2.
“The public's never been asked,” he attested, at the meeting. “The city has no business going off to foreign lands. It's not civic business.”
The CNV's twinning relationship with Chiba, Japan has spanned four decades, since being made official in 1969.
Located just east of Tokyo, the prefecture of Chiba inhabits a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean. Warmed by the Kuroshio Current, the region enjoys a moderate climate, year-round.
Chiba is also home to one of Japan's largest industrial areas: chemical production, petrochemical refining and machine production account for 45 per cent of the prefecture's exports.
Coun. Clark toured through Chiba as part of an official CNV delegation in the late '80s.
“[The trip] was under the guise that we were going to talk trade,” says Clark. “And when it came time for that appointment I was ushered into a room with a whole lot of Japanese people and the mayor — and there were a number of pictures taken and then very graciously I was shown the door. There was no real agenda. Nothing productive came of it.”
This same excursion to Chiba — designed to nurture the sister city relationship — has been made by the CNV mayor, a handful of councillors and the city manager, once every five years, approximately.
That amounts to eight trips overall, according to estimates by multiple CNV staff who could not provide an exact number.
In 2009, the CNV pursued a second sister city, this time in Huizhou, China. That same year a delegation was sent to both sister cities — Chiba and Huizhou — in a joint trip funded by a $50,000 grant from the provincial government.
Close to $12,000 was spent on accommodations in both Asian cities during the 13-day visit.
Another $7,800 in per diems was split between the five CNV representatives: Mayor Darrell Mussatto; councillors Bob Fearnley, Craig Keating and Mary Trentadue; and city manager Ken Tollstam.
In a follow-up report to council, Tollstam wrote that some objectives of the Chiba trip were to celebrate 40 years of the sister city relationship, strengthen cultural ties and assist the North Van Lions Club in promoting their home-stay program.
The CNV delegation also toured Chiba's new refuse processing facility which converts waste to electrical energy.
Mayor Mussatto was intrigued.
“It's entirely clean, very few emissions,” says Mussatto, of the waste energy facility.
“So instead of us having to pay to throw away our garbage we could actually make money by using the waste as a fuel source to produce electricity.”
The findings that Mussatto gleaned from that tour he brought back with him to Metro Vancouver where he sits on the waste management committee.
“That very much helped influence me in the decision to support our current waste management plan that has just been approved by the provincial government,” says Mussatto.
Marketing North Vancouver
Promoting North Vancouver as an educational destination was the main focus of the Huizhou leg of CNV's 2009 visit to Asia.
Capilano University sent international relations and continuing education along staff to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Huizhou University.
The career programs offered at Huizhou University mirrors Cap U's educational smorgasbord. Fine arts, film, interior design, political studies and business administration are a smattering of the programs the two universities have in common.
This past July, 20 administrators from Huizhou University spent three weeks in North Vancouver with staff from our local university to study the best practises of a post-secondary institution in BC and Canada. They learned about budgeting, marketing and how Cap U works with the employer community.
"It is really a big deal to get accepted by Huizhou University — everything is done by their government's permission," explains Catherine Vertesi, Capilano University's vice president of international, external relations and new initiatives.
Cap U currently has arrangements with three other post-secondary institutions in China where students complete the first two years of their education at their home university and then bring their academic credits with them to Cap U to finish off their degree.
Between 30-50 international students from China enroll in Cap U's Business Administration program every year, says Vertesi.
North Vancouver high school students have also explored a cross-cultural education for 40 years as a result of CNV's sister city relationship with Chiba. Families in both North Vancouver and Chiba have opened their doors to exchange students for up to two weeks each year. The CNV provides an annual grant to the North Vancouver Lions Club which oversees the home-stay program.
CNV Coun. Bob Fearnley — a proponent of sister city relationships — has seen firsthand the value of student exchanges. In his youth, he was welcomed by a home-stay family in the Philippines.
"It was really sort of a formative experience for me," recalls Fearnley. "I was a kid that came from North Vancouver and hadn't really seen very much of the world."
He says marketing North Vancouver as an educational haven makes good economic sense.
"These are people coming from China with dollars from outside the North Shore that they are spending in our restaurants and at our university," says Fearnley. "If they have warm thoughts about Canada, it's good for us in the future."
The District of North Vancouver has never had a sister city, according to DNV Chief Administrative Officer, David Stuart.
However, in 1997, there was an interest in establishing a twinning relationship with Xigang District in Dalian, China.
A Memorandum of Economic Cooperation between DNV and Xigang was signed — and a task force created to explore the benefits of having Xigang as a sister city. In 1999, the task force recommended that the relationship not be pursued, says Stuart.
"It appears that any formal relationship required the approval of the Chinese Central Government — and it was felt by the task force that the benefits of any formalized relationship could be achieved just as easily through the Economic Cooperation Memorandum," he explains.
DNV Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn still bristles over DNV's decision to pursue Xigang .
"My question is where is the return on that investment?" asks MacKay-Dunn. "Nice road trip. I personally think these things run the risk of becoming a boondoggle."
The DNV does have another international relationship, though — a five-year "economic cooperation agreement" with the City of Guro, a municipality within metropolitan Seoul, South Korea.
"We are particularly interested in technology and those kinds of businesses for North Vancouver," he adds.
Funding for the district's initiative came from the provincial and federal governments who are encouraging more local to local relationships between Vancouver and Asian cities as part of the development of Vancouver as a pacific gateway.
Council's strategy was to limit its involvement to practical trade and investment projects that involve district businesses. They also brought on board the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce who signed a cooperation agreement with the Seoul Chamber of Commerce.
In one year, a number of North Vancouver companies have developed relationships with companies, agents and distributors in Korea as a result of the economic cooperation agreement. These include exports in high performance apparel, fish products and various manufactured and consumer products.
"A Korean company is establishing its new Canadian headquarters in the District," says Stuart.
The DNV's economic cooperation agreement with Guro was made on the firm understanding that no local taxpayers' money would be spent on the initiative.
"We are going to use the provincial money - and when that runs out unless there's other grants then that will be the end of the program," says Stuart. "We still maintain some contacts there and try to encourage that business to business relationship - but at this point we are not planning on spending any taxpayers' money."
In 1966, the District of West Vancouver twinned with the City of Verdun, QC.
DWV spokesperson Jessica Delaney says in 1990 a policy was approved (now rescinded) which stated that council has supported a twin-city relationship with Verdun since 1968 — and that the "Freedom of the municipality of West Vancouver" is conferred upon each mayor of the City of Verdun.
In 2002, Verdun merged with Montreal and became a borough of that city, thereby informally ending the town-twinning arrangement.
The policy was officially rescinded in 2004 — and according to Delaney, West Vancouver has not received any requests to investigate a new sister city.
"I am happy to keep working on close collaboration with our neighbours in North Vancouver, and good government relations with Metro Vancouver, the province and the federal government," said Mayor Goldsmith-Jones, in a prepared statement.
CNV Coun. Guy Heywood says the sister city debate prompts discussion around the need for a municipal auditor general.
"I think some clarity and value for money auditing would go a long way to helping people understand what is going on in a civic budget," he says. "On the city twinning issue, I think we wasted some taxpayers' money."
Clark echoes Heywood's sentiments in that not enough preparation was done before CNV's trip to Chiba and Huizhou in 2009.
"When that [provincial funding] came to us there was a whole protocol — a website of five or six different pages of information — and suggestions as to what should happen before the people got on the plane," says Clark. "Get some community and public input involved with this. [CNV] did absolutely none of that."
Francis Caouette, CNV director of Corporate Services, said there were meetings and correspondence between the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and the municipality ahead of CNV's trip to Asia.
"We got a qualified letter of support from the Chamber," he adds.
In reference to the funding protocol, Caouette said it contained an outline of what other municipalities had done.
Heywood says if you extrapolate roughly $50,000 for the 2009 CNV trip — and there have been approximately eight trips — the CNV has spent in the neighbouhood of $500,000 in 40 years on the sister city relationship.
"On the last trip they love to point out that they spent provincial money," says Heywood. "Well there is only one taxpayer so that is still North Van City tax money as far as I am concerned even though it originated from the province."
Technically it's not too late to pose a sister city question to voters on this fall's municipal election ballot, reveals Caouette. It would have have to be agreed to and resolved by CNV council by Oct. 17.
There would virtually no additional costs inherited by the City to put that question in ink.
"If we were to run a separate referendum there certainly would be some extra costs," says Caouette.