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Local Government

The Council has become more engaged in local government matters as a response to the growing role of regions and municipalities in economic development. The Council’s work addresses a number of local issues that affect the BC business community, including property taxation, regional land-use planning, infrastructure matters, local fiscal accountability and cross-regional co-operation.

Bold, long-term transportation vision required

This week’s Massey Tunnel report released by the Provincial Government is the latest reminder, over the last number of years, that we desperately need a smart, consolidated and province-wide transportation strategy that secures our future.

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Finlayson & St. Laurent Op-Ed: A Tale of Two Economies: Leveraging Regional Immigration to Enhance Growth (PeopleTalk Spring 2017)

Two factors will largely determine the future trajectory of economic growth in  British Columbia:  productivity performance, and the extent to which the labour force expands over time. The hurdles to achieving long-term economic growth include an aging population, a low natural birth rate, and intense global competition for talent and capital.

Urbanization Feeds Divergence
The outlook for economic growth across B.C. is not uniform. In fact, ongoing urbanization and regional gaps in economic opportunity are feeding into a story of two increasingly diverging economies in the province.

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Finlayson & Peacock Op-Ed: Metro Vancouver needs a cohesive economic development plan (Business in Vancouver)

In today’s global economy, the competition for talent, investment and high-value business activity increasingly is playing out at the metropolitan level. According to the Brookings Institution’s Global Metro Monitor, the 300 biggest cities account for almost half of world production and consumption, despite being home to only one-fifth of the population. Canada has six metro areas big enough to rank in Brookings’ top-300 list: Toronto, Montreal, Greater Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton.

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Vancouver’s Plan Will Hurt Residents and Local Businesses

Affordability is a key challenge for people residing in the City of Vancouver (COV). Yet, earlier this week, the COV’s Green Buildings Policy for Rezoning came into effect. Once implemented, it is sure to exacerbate this problem, not just for citizens of COV but for the province as a whole as well as for the surrounding municipalities of Metro Vancouver. The policy effectively bans the use of natural gas in new buildings. It also sets the stage for Vancouver to squeeze out natural gas as an energy source for existing buildings and facilities over time.

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BC2035 is about creating a shared vision of BC’s future and laying down a pathway to realize that vision. It is about initiating conversations, fostering greater collaboration and getting politicians, policy makers, First Nations leaders, and business leaders to think about, prepare for and act on the future.

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Finlayson & Peacock Op-Ed: More fiscal discipline needed down at your local city hall (Business in Vancouver)

Added together, the 21 municipalities that make up Metro Vancouver spent $3.74 billion on operations in 2015. This is separate from their outlays on infrastructure and other capital projects; nor does it include spending by the regional district.

In B.C., municipalities are responsible for delivering a wide array of services, including fire and police protection, garbage and recycling, water and sewer services, parks and recreation and roadworks. In a region that’s home to 2.5 million people, it is not surprising that local governments must earmark sizable sums to supply these services. What is striking, however, is the pace at which such expenditures have been growing in Metro Vancouver. As documented in a recent Business Council of British Columbia report (, over the past decade total municipal spending in the Metro Vancouver region jumped by a hefty 67%. Spending growth has slowed in the last few years, but the magnitude of the increase since 2005 stands out.

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Better, But Still Rising Steadily: An Update on Municipal Spending in Metro Vancouver

In real per capita terms, municipal government expenditures in Metro Vancouver grew by 6.9% over the past five years. This is a notable reduction from the 20% jump recorded between 2005 and 2010.

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Peacock Op Ed: Consideration for Transit: More People are Settling in Surrey than any other B.C. City (Surrey Business News)

Which B.C. city has experienced the largest population increase since 2011? Most readers will not be surprised at the answer: Surrey. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 43,000 additional people became residents of Surrey, which translates into an average of 900 more people per month over the past four years. During the same period, the City of Vancouver recorded the second biggest absolute population gain of just over 29,000, followed by Coquitlam (+14,000), Richmond (+11,700) and Langley District (+10,600).

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PART TWO: Municipal Tax Burden Varies Widely Across Smaller BC Communities

This is the second blog documenting the level and growth of municipal property taxes in BC, using data compiled and reported by the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.  The first blog  examined property taxes for larger municipalities with populations in excess of 10,000.  This follow up piece looks at the level and growth of per capita taxes for municipalities with populations between 2,000 and 10,000.

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PART ONE: Municipal Tax Burden Varies Widely in BC and Continues to Outpace Inflation

The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development compiles data on local government finances, including figures on per capita levels of property tax.  What is discussed below and shown in the graphs is the total amount of tax levied on all nine property classes, as defined in provincial legislation.  This provides a gauge of the overall tax burden in each municipality, with the per capita data allowing comparisons to be made across municipalities of different sizes.  To make such comparisons more meaningful, the figures below show per capita taxes just for municipalities with populations that exceed 10,000.  Taxation in smaller municipalities will be discussed in subsequent blog posts.  The first figure shows the 2015 per capita levels of property taxes for BC’s larger municipalities.  The additional numbers on the right side of the chart are the average annual growth rates of per capita taxes in each municipality over the past three years, and are included in the graph for quick reference.

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Review finds higher pay levels and outsized wage increases in BC's municipal sector

Concerned about rising taxes at the local level?  Employee compensation in your municipality is probably a factor. 

A couple of years ago the Business Council published a report documenting steady and significant increases in local government operating costs in Metro Vancouver’s 20-odd municipalities.  Although the picture varied across communities in the region, collectively municipal expenditures in Metro Vancouver soared by 80% over a ten year period.  Ongoing inflation and population growth mean that municipalities must spend more to meet the service requirements of local residents and businesses.  But we found that even after adjusting for population and inflation, municipal operating costs in the Metro Vancouver area jumped by 32% between 2000 and 2010.  This is three times higher than the comparable rate of growth in provincial government operating expenditures over the same period -- despite the fact that the province pays the lion’s share of costs for health care and education.

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Metro Vancouver’s Transportation Choices: How the Mayors got it right and wrong at the same time

Last week the Mayors’ Council, representing 23 local governments in Metro Vancouver, released their long term vision for the region’s transportation system. On many aspects of transportation planning the Mayors’ proposed blueprint moved the region closer to a comprehensive vision that could, conceivably, pass the muster of a regional referendum. To their collective credit, the Mayors for the most part resisted the temptation to play politics with the priorities - the investment side of the plan displays a degree of reasonableness that has often been lacking in transportation debates in the region.

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Four Observations on Local Government Finances in BC

This week’s Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention showcased a major new report on local government finances authored by a UBCM committee. Entitled “Strong Futures: A Blueprint for Strengthening BC Local Governments’ Finance System,” the report argues that the current municipal financing model, which depends in large part on property taxes to fund local services, needs to be overhauled. In particular, the paper advances a case that municipalities in BC should have access to more revenue sources – including revenue streams that are closely linked to economic growth, such as sales tax and even income tax. Local governments in BC, the paper notes, are “heavily reliant on the property tax, which neither grows with the economy nor distributes costs fairly” (p. 6).

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D'Avignon Letter to the Editor: Mayor should embrace BC's resource industries
(Vancouver Sun)

Re: It’s not just bike lanes; city also improving economy, Letters, Aug. 2

Mayor Gregor Robertson seeks to grow our green economy and technology sectors, which we support. Technology represents an exciting growth opportunity for the region and future generations

However, the mayor ignores the role of natural resource industries as the underpinning of the economic well-being for the Lower Mainland and our province. By repeatedly attacking the coal industry, commodities sectors and the port, the mayor sends a message that the city’s economy doesn’t need natural resource or transportation industries.

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Letter to Metro Vancouver RE: Air Quality Impact of New and Expanded Coal Shipment Activity in Metro Vancouver

The Business Council of British Columbia addressed written correspondence a proposed recommendations on the potential air quality impacts of new and expanded coal shipment activity in Metro Vancouver being considered by the Board of Metro Vancouver on June 14th, 2013.

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Coal in the Local Spotlight

The Mayor or Vancouver recently tabled a motion “to prevent the expansion of, or creation of new, coal export infrastructure within the City of Vancouver”. The Mayor of White Rock has done something similar. Vancouver’s Mayor, the Mayor of Burnaby and the Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation are hosting an event in the near future aimed at rallying support to stop the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Then there are all the various groups and campaigns that seem to spring up around election time which seem to say “no” to just about everything and “yes” to things that cost a lot money (but without any ideas about how to pay for them, e.g., the proposal for a new subway along the Broadway Corridor recently advanced by the City of Vancouver and others).

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Submission: Letter to Vancouver City Council re Coal Export Expansion Motion

The Business Council is disappointed that a majority of Vancouver Council voted to adopt the motion on March 13. This submission outlines the views summarized during the Business Council's appearance before City Council's Transportaion, Planning and Environment Committee.

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Metro Vancouver needs Regional Economic Development Strategy

In today’s global economy, the competition for talent, investment and high-value business activity increasingly is playing out at the metropolitan level. Indeed, urban regions are looming ever larger in the world economy. According to the Brooking Institution’s Global Metro Monitor, the 300 biggest cities and metro areas account for almost half of global gross domestic product, despite being home to only one-fifth of the world’s population.

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Finlayson: Greater Vancouver Regional Economic Policy Needed (Vancouver Sun)

In today’s global economy, the competition for talent, investment and high-value business activity increasingly is playing out at the metropolitan level.

According to the Brookings Institution’s Global Metro Monitor, the 300 biggest cities account for almost half of world production and consumption, despite being home to only one-fifth of the human population. Canada has six metro areas big enough to rank in Brookings’ top 300 list: Toronto, Montreal, Greater Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton.

The idea of the “global city” or “global city-region,” first coined by U.S. sociologist Saskia Sassen two decades ago, has been taken up by academic researchers, business analysts and policy-makers. In B.C., Greater Vancouver — consisting of more than 20 municipalities with a combined population that’s fast approaching 2.5 million — clearly fits the definition of a global city-region, even though few local residents or political leaders appear to think in these terms.

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Jock Finlayson: We need to watch spending by local governments (Vancouver Sun)

A cross Canada, municipal elected officials and their advocacy orga-nizations have been sounding alarm bells over a perceived inadequacy of resources to finance local government services and physical assets. Last month, for example, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) called on the federal government to provide billions of dollars to help close the "infrastructure deficit" that is said to plague many cities and towns.

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