Alpha-metro Vancouver? Rethinking the Region 2019

April 02, 2019

Rethinking the Region is an annual day-long event that provides an opportunity for thoughtful consideration and dialogue about crucial big picture questions facing the Vancouver region.

When: Tuesday, April 2, 2019 | 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 

Where: Room 1400, Harbour Centre, 515 W. Hastings St.

Cost: Free, lunch provided

This year's theme

Vancouver is routinely listed among the most livable cities in the world. But the name “Vancouver” is a misnomer: the City of Vancouver proper represents only a quarter of the population of the region that most people here and in the rest of the world think of as “Vancouver.” As a region, Vancouver is third in size after Toronto and Montreal. As a city, Vancouver sits as the 10th largest in Canada, behind Quebec, Hamilton and Winnipeg.

When thinking about and ranking global cities, size matters – and Vancouver is only classified as a “beta.” Could an amalgamated Metro Vancouver unleash a sleeping “alpha”? Should we be looking at the experience of other cities such as Toronto and Montreal, which have implemented partial or complete amalgamations in order to “modernize” their structures to compete in a global array of “alpha,” “beta” or “gamma” cities?

Across Canada, actions to amalgamate have turned most major city-regions into regional cities, based on goals of efficiency as well as status and stature. But not Vancouver. “Vancouver” as a region consists of more than 20 separate local governments and one First Nation, loosely bound together in the Metro Vancouver Regional District. Has Vancouver dodged the bullet of amalgamation suffered by other urban regions, or does amalgamation allow other Canadian cities to punch above their weight, leaving Vancouver disadvantaged?

The regional district governance model in which Vancouver sits has certain features that have functioned well for more than fifty years. This structure has managed growth that has more than doubled the region’s population and has provided services to support a quality of life that is coveted around the world. But this structure was designed when colour television was first becoming available. The world has changed. Have our expectations of local government also changed? Faced with an uncertain future full of instability, do we need a new model of local and regional governance to better meet our expectations and serve our needs?

Rethinking the Region will raise these questions:
• Do we think our local government can or should help to find solutions to housing affordability, refugee settlement, climate change or the opioid crisis?
• Does our regional district model continue to be “fit for purpose” going into a future of rapid economic, social and technological change?
• Does our global context govern us, or do our local conditions set the stage for our global standing and interactions?
• Should Metro Vancouver amalgamate into a single local government, in order to capture the putative values of a megacity or alpha-city under global city ranking standards?
• What is the problem that amalgamation promises to solve? What risks does it present?

Key speakers

  • Andrew Sancton, professor of political science, Western University
  • Peter Trent, former mayor, Westmount, QC
  • Kim Baird, former chief, Tsawwassen First Nation

And more local leaders and change-makers, to be announced soon!

This event is part of SFU Vancouver’s 30th Anniversary.


As always, we are grateful to the Real Estate Foundation of BC and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board for their financial support of Rethinking the Region via the Initiative in Sustainable Urban Development.

We are also grateful to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade for their support of Rethinking the Region 2019.