North by North-West, The Outlook hosts a mayors summit
Nov. 20th 2005: Three newly-minted, bleary-eyed North Shore mayors meet at Bean Around The World coffee house at Lonsdale Quay, the day after the election.
A framed photo commemorating the occasion hangs in each mayor’s office at their respective city halls, a constant reminder that the North Shore is comprised of a family of municipalities that leans on each other for advice and, in some cases, presents a unified front on behalf of a combined 162,000 residents.
Six years and two terms later, mayors Richard Walton (District of North Vancouver), Darrell Mussatto (City of North Vancouver) and then-mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (District of West Vancouver) settle in together on the couch in Goldsmith-Jones’ office on an October afternoon to reflect on the end of a political partnership.
All three of their personal and political paths have crisscrossed the North Shore well before they were elected to the mayor’s post in 2005: Walton grew up in West Van; Goldsmith-Jones is a one-time DNV councillor alongside Walton; and Mussatto is a long-serving local paramedic (currently on leave).
These born and bred North Shore mayors say their working relationship is unique because of their ability to look beyond geographical boundaries.
“When we sit at the Metro Vancouver table people now see us as ‘oh that North Shore, they all get along’”, volunteers Goldsmith-Jones.
The North Shore Spirit Trail – a 35 km walking and cycling path that stretches from Deep Cove to Horseshoe Bay – is perhaps one of the greatest examples of the cooperation that exists between the three municipalities; in 2007, they jointly applied for $3.7 million in provincial funding for this legacy project of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
There have also been some municipal savings, as a result of shared fire and rescue resources in North and West Vancouver.
A Shared Services Study drafted this past spring recommended that fire trucks should be dispatched on a “closest truck goes” basis; each department should provide agreed-upon specialty services on a North Shore-wide basis (for example, the CNV has extensive hazardous materials training); and education and prevention services should be consolidated over time.
Currently, hiring and training for all North Shore fire and rescue members is streamlined; however, when it comes to fully amalgamating the three North Shore fire departments, the mayors aren’t convinced it would be prudent.
“The three [fire] chiefs aren’t sitting there doing little work,” explains Mussatto. Fire services has changed in the last 20 years. Now, they do a tremendous amount of medical aid, they do hazardous material response, they do search and rescue in the urban area. I think it’s a little bit more complex than just saying one instead of three.”
Fresh off the annual meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities, the North Shore mayors weigh in on the highly-contested municipal auditor general debate.
The motion that came forward is the UBCM is opposed to a municipal auditor general’s office, but will work together with the province.
“Our council is in favour of it, but I also think the UBCM raised some really good questions,” says Goldsmith-Jones.
Walton explains how there are different kinds of auditing, saying the province isn’t being forthright with their plans for the new office.
“And I think when it first came out there was no discussion at all about what the municipal auditor general would do,” says Walton. “Who would they take direction from? It precedes any discussion whatsoever so you expect people to get defensive and ask the tough questions.”
Mussatto is also still to be convinced on the municipal oversight matter.
“I think the municipal level of government is the most accountable level of government. We do public hearings; the provincial government doesn’t need to do public hearings they just enact legislation.
However, Goldsmith-Jones notes there are times when municipal auditing can be beneficial.
She says when the West Vancouver Police Department was audited eight years ago it resulted in a list of 30 items that needed to be fixed.
“And [the fixing] was really hard to do but the audit helped us,” says Goldsmith-Jones.
The conversation smoothly transitions into a topical policing issue: RCMP contract negotiations with B.C.
A hypothetical question is posed to Mussatto and Walton: If B.C. adopted a provincial or municipal policing model could you glean insight from Goldsmith-Jones’ experience in running a municipal police force?
“I think there would be a lot to learn [from the WVPD],” says Mussatto. “I think it’s really premature to do that.”
Walton says he and Mussatto meet with the RCMP regularly and work closely with them, but the level of municipal involvement is a lot less on a day-to-day basis.
“If it was a provincial police force the first question that comes up is where is the locus of control with a provincial police force?” asks Walton. “Are we back to back to something like the RCMP where the headquarters are in Kamloops and Victoria and we have no local control, or are we using a local police board model using contract employees?”
There are other lessons to learn from policy developed in each individual municipality.
Secondary suites were legalized in the DNV when Goldsmith -Jones was on council there in the mid-90s.
“[Legalizing suites] again here in West Van recently, I learned a lot from [the DNV]; the challenge of getting people to register their suites with the district,” she says.
And, like any close-knit relationship, there are times when the three municipalities don’t always agree. Take the Squamish Nation billboard issue, for example.
DNV council took a very vocal anti-billboard approach; meanwhile, the DWV had a completely different tactic.
“... I’m just going to go under the radar here and work with the [Squamish Nation] chief and work with Ottawa,” says Goldsmith-Jones. “But together [with the DNV] we managed to get the number of billboards reduced. Sometimes the disagreeing is how you get a good solution.”
Walton estimates 23 billboards were originally slated for Squamish Nation land on the North Shore; the total number was eventually scaled down to seven.
As Goldsmith-Jones prepares her departure from municipal politics in November, Mussatto and Walton recall the lighter moments of their political relationship. .
The trio started the North Shore Mayors’ Golf Tournament in 2008, which raises over $100,000 annually for social services on the North Shore.
I’ll miss the laughter, we’ve actually had a lot of fun,” says Walton.
And now that Goldsmith-Smith has official handed over the mayoral reins to Michael Smith, West Vancouver’s new mayor wants to maintain the district’s strong relationship with the two North Vancouver municipalities.
“I’ll hope that they both offer to buy me a beer - isn’t that how these relationships are started?” says Smith in jest, in a recent phone interview.
In regards to upcoming projects, Smith says he is looking forward to collaborating with the DNV and CNV on the completion of the North Shore Spirit Trail. The proposed $1-billion Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant is another instance when Smith will want to come together with Mussatto and Walton to talk funding strategies.
“That’s a crucial project,” said Smith.