To provide context for the Rethinking the Region V, here are some things we learned about the local government citizen advisory bodies operating in Metro Vancouver:
- All 21 municipalities have some type of ongoing citizen advisory body or committee; as does the Tsawwassen First Nation.
- About 250 such groups officially advise local governments in Metro Vancouver. The precise number depends on the definition of citizen advisory bodies.
- Many of the smaller municipalities have only two or three citizen advisory bodies. Some of the larger municipalities, such as Surrey and New Westminster, have between 12 and 20.
- The island municipality of Bowen Island — with a 2016 population of about 3,700– is notable for having a large number of advisory bodies. These include its own heritage commission, advisory design panel and advisory planning commission.
- Some of the most common types of citizen advisory bodies are committees or commissions on the following topics: planning, transportation, social policy, community services, accessibility and disability, heritage, environment, and public art.
- There is much overlap in the names and topics of citizen advisory bodies. In some cases, however, name variations suggest a locally tailored approach to certain issues. For example, New Westminster, has a ACTBiped Committee that deals with bicycle and pedestrian issues. Burnaby has a Sustainable City Advisory Committee rather than an environment committee.
- The types of citizen advisory bodies in each municipality provide a window into the concerns and challenges in that community. Only some municipalities have an agricultural committee, or one for dealing with railway or airport issues. Others have advisory committees to deal with a particular property or geographic area. These include Coquitlam’s Riverview Lands Advisory Committee and Vancouver’s Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee.
- The City of Vancouver alone has about 30 advisory bodies. These include some that are unique in Metro Vancouver, such as the Urban Aboriginal People’s Advisory Committee, the LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee and the Renters Advisory Committee.
- Metro Vancouver as a regional government does not have ongoing citizen advisory bodies in the way that its member governments do. It does, however, sometimes set up public advisory committees for specific projects.
- TransLink has a Users’ Advisory Committee.
- Metro Vancouver residents participate in an advisory capacity on both local government standing and select committees, as well as commissions and more project-oriented task forces and working groups. Under the Community Charter (see sections 141-143), the mayor “must establish standing committees for matters the mayor considers would be better dealt with by committee and must appoint persons to those committees.” At least half the members of those standing committees must be council members.
- Select committees, by contrast, require a minimum of only one person to be a council member and may be established by council to “consider or inquire into any matter and to report its findings and opinion to the council.”
- Advisory planning commissions are provided for in the Local Government Act (section 461), as well as the Vancouver Charter (section 574). The Local Government Act (section 597) also deals with the establishment of heritage commissions.
- All advisory committees seem to be supported by staff in some capacity.
- Some local governments have recently reviewed their approach to public engagement and/or the role of their advisory committees. These include Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Moody, West Vancouver and Vancouver.
- It is important to note that while the citizen advisory bodies that are the focus of this forum are officially mandated and supported by their local governments to provide them with advice, many other groups also play a vital role in, or attempt to influence, local government policies. These include advocacy groups, developers, nonprofit service providers, and resident, business improvement and professional associations.