Democracy, governance and Metro Vancouver: decision-making and the regional growth strategy

Author/s: Mark Friesen

Creation date: 2014 

Contact info:

Senior supervisor: Patrick Smith

Keywords: metropolitan governance, new regionalism, democracy, deliberative democracy

Geographic focus: Burnaby, B.C.; Metro Vancouver; British Columbia, Canada

Research question/s: Did the process to create Metro Vancouver 2040: The Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) demonstrate the collaborative, consensual, decision-making possibilities envisioned under new regionalism?


Metro Vancouver’s approach to governing a city-region is unique in North America and possibly the world.  The Metro Vancouver organization includes boards comprised of elected officials from each of its local governments and authorities, including one First Nation and one electoral area. As an increasing share of the province's population makes its home in the Lower Mainland area governed by Metro Vancouver, it is essential that all its 24 local authorities collaborate and make decisions together. This study examined the extent to which the City of Burnaby and civil society organizations (CSOs) across Metro Vancouver influenced and shaped the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) ratified in 2011. In doing so it provides insights into whether the Metro Vancouver approach to regional governance may provide a model of how multiple actors and agents within a city-region can make collaborative decisions.


Through a detailed document review and in-depth interviews, the author found that local authorities did collaborate and deliberate with each other during the RGS process, as envisioned by proponents of “new regionalism.” The author also found that the Metro Vancouver organization facilitates a considerable degree of learning and deliberation between local authorities on an ongoing, consistent, basis. However, civic associations did not work with each other or with municipal authorities in a meaningful or sustained way within or beyond the RGS process. In order to enable collaborative regional decision-making by and among disparate groups, the author recommends the following: 1) ensure all actors have opportunities to interact and learn from one another over time and 2) provide them with opportunities to share their vision and goals, instead of only inviting their comments on strategies and tactics. The author also found that the more regulatory approach of the RGS (compared to previous regional land use plans) narrowed the range of issues that could be addressed or brought up in the planning process and restricted the potential for collaboration.