Pre-Budget Submission: Letter to BC’s Finance Minister

The Honourable Carole Taylor
Minister of Finance
PO Box 9048
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2

Dear Minister Taylor:

I am writing in response to your recent invitation for pre-budget submissions. Let me begin by thanking you for involving residents, businesses, community organizations and municipal governments in your deliberations.

As you know, my colleagues and I have established five goals to guide our service to Vancouver:

  • Developing the strongest regional economy in Canada;
  • Ensuring civility on our streets;
  • Becoming a world leader in environmental practices;
  • Ensuring the most accessible & inclusive city in Canada; and
  • Making Vancouver a premiere destination for the celebration of arts & culture.

Over the past two years, we have made significant progress to achieving these goals, thanks in large part to improved relations with provincial and federal governments. Premier Campbell and Prime Minister Harper have been very responsive to many of Vancouver’s pressing needs.

The attached submission focuses on four specific City of Vancouver priorities for you to consider in the 2008-2009 Provincial Budget:

  • municipal fiscal imbalance
  • public transit
  • sustainable development
  • strategic infrastructure

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide a submission to your department.

In the coming weeks, I will be in Victoria and would appreciate an opportunity to discuss these items with you and answer any questions you may have regarding the points I have raised.

Yours truly,

Sam Sullivan

Sam Sullivan


Summary: City of Vancouver Provincial Pre-Budget Submission

This submission focuses on four City of Vancouver priorities for you to consider in the 2008-2009 Provincial Budget:

  • municipal fiscal imbalance
  • public transit
  • sustainable development
  • strategic infrastructure

Municipal Fiscal Imbalance

Today, Vancouver is delivering many important services that have traditionally been the full responsibilities of senior governments (e.g. social housing, port policing, drug policy leadership, daycare, social service agencies).

Unfortunately, our ability to fund these programs has not kept pace with demand.

Compared to growing provincial and federal surpluses, municipalities across Canada are struggling. Where senior levels of governments are able to reduce taxes, the burden on municipal taxpayers is growing.

To meet increased service demand, the City of Vancouver has been left with little choice but to increase property and business taxes by 25% over the last five years. Other revenue sources available to the City cannot fill the gap between growing costs to service our citizens and a sustainable level of property taxation.

Municipal revenues have not kept up with federal and provincial growth. At the same time, payments from the Provincial and Federal Governments now comprise a smaller portion of our overall revenues.

This decline is in contrast to the rate of federal transfer payments to British Columbia. Since 2001, our province has benefited from billions of dollars of increases in federal transfer payments (CHST and Equalization entitlements). In 2008-09, the federal payments to British Columbia are likely to increase even more.

I know we agree the property tax situation I have described is unsustainable and underscores the need to address the municipal fiscal imbalance. The Government of British Columbia must be part of the solution by delivering stable new revenue sources.

In this light, the City of Vancouver is recommending you take steps to address the municipal fiscal imbalance by re-instating a revenue sharing program with municipalities – and that these revenues be stable over time.

For example, prior to 1997, the Revenue Sharing Act provided for a sharing of provincial revenues with municipal governments on an unconditional basis. A share of provincial sales tax, corporate income tax and resource revenues was transferred annually to municipalities. In 1996, Vancouver received more than $20 million.

In 1997, the previous Provincial Government eliminated these transfers, forcing municipalities to increase their reliance on property taxes. With the federal and provincial fiscal position greatly improved, we believe it would be appropriate to reconsider this approach. This program could make over $300 million available annually to municipalities in the province — or over $40 million for Vancouver each year.

In addition to supporting the City’s operating budget, renewing those transfers would help mitigate proposed property tax increases and rekindle the municipal/provincial partnership in our province.


The Union of British Columbia Municipalities may be very well positioned to review additional options to address this issue.

Public Transit

Your government is to be commended for your support of regional transportation infrastructure in Metro Vancouver. The Canada Line and hundreds of new buses will help secure our economic and environmental future for generations to come.

Completion of the Millennium Line remains the City of Vancouver’s top transit infrastructure priority. Rest assured we are also supportive of the Evergreen Line as the region’s top priority.

In partnership with TransLink, we are currently initiating a study and public involvement process to engage local residents, businesses and community organizations in the Millennium Line’s development.

In this light, the City of Vancouver is recommending the Province accelerate their discussions with the Federal Government to secure funding for the completion of the Millennium Line to Arbutus Street — and eventually UBC.

In addition to direct investments in transit infrastructure, the City of Vancouver is also recommending the Province consider other measures to support sustainable transportation options:

  • Allow TransLink to implement transportation demand-related revenue measures rather than relying on fare increases and municipal property tax increases.
  • Change vehicle registration fees to reward fuel-efficient vehicles – low cost for small/clean engines & high cost for inefficient large engines.
  • Eliminate PST on car sharing.
  • Investment to complete Downtown street car network.

Sustainable Development

Urban planning is a significant tool municipal governments can use to help combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to establishing ambitious environmental targets, we have introduced our EcoDensity plan to build on Vancouver’s tradition of excellence in urban planning and design. We were honoured to be recognized by Premier Campbell at this year’s UBCM with a $200,000 “Greenest City” award.

EcoDensity represents an alternative to sprawl and aims to reduce our ecological foot print. In addition to supporting completion of the Millennium Line, your upcoming budget can help Vancouver achieve EcoDensity.

In this light, the City of Vancouver is recommending the Province establish policies that reward municipalities that support higher densities and reduce greenhouse gases. This can include direct, sustainable and local investments for community amenities, recreation and park facilities.

We would also encourage your Government consider plans to establish Vancouver as an international centre for carbon trading in advance of 2010.


Last year, the City of Vancouver invested more than $200 million on municipal infrastructure ranging from water works, traffic lights, bike lanes, parks, community centres and sewer systems. In the coming year, we will invest an additional $200 million.

To complement these investments — and in addition to delivering structural improvements associated with the fiscal imbalance – your government must continue to fulfill its responsibility for strategic regional infrastructure.

In addition to completing the Millennium Line, Vancouver priorities include:

Project Civil City – One year ago, we introduced Project Civil City as a comprehensive plan to deliver compassionate solutions to our social challenges. The goal is to eliminate homelessness and improve public order. I want to recognize the leadership of the Premier and your government on the investments you have announced for new social/supportive housing in Vancouver — and across the province.

The initiatives we have announced together over the past year will have an impact on our community for generations to come — but more must be done.

To further support Project Civil City objectives, Vancouver is recommending your government:

  • provide investment for the construction of at least 1000 new social and supportive housing units on the 12 city sites allocated for this purpose
  • match federal prevention and treatment investments from the national anti-drug strategy to combat addiction in Vancouver
  • match federal funding for new law enforcement officers in Vancouver — particularly to fight organized crime and combat street disorder


Arts & Culture— To support Vancouver’s goal to become a premier international destination for arts and culture, the City of Vancouver is making significant heritage investments. This week, City Council approved $26 million for improvements to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

As you know, the City of Vancouver has been working with your government over the past year to improve our cultural infrastructure in Downtown Vancouver. The planning stages of this initiative are nearing completion and the time to confirm strategic infrastructure investments will be upon us this year.

In this light, we are recommending the Province confirm plans to support the completion of this plan to help make Vancouver an even more attractive regional, national and international destination for arts and culture.

This investment would complement the leadership your government has demonstrated to support BC’s cultural sector in the past year — including your support for the BC Arts Council.

Additional investments to the BC Arts Council will have a very positive impact on our city’s cultural organizations and Vancouver’s quality of life. We appreciate your knowledge in this sector and welcome initiatives in this regard.