Metro Vancouver directors to elect new chair amid board tension

The 41 directors who represent the 21 municipalities, one electoral area, and one treaty First Nation in Metro Vancouver will determine a new chair to lead them on Friday after the previous chair, Delta Mayor George Harvie, was removed as his city's regional representative by his own council.

The election of a new chair comes at a tense time for the Metro Vancouver Regional District — which is responsible for drinking water, sewage, regional parks and some housing — as it faces public backlash over vast cost overruns for a new wastewater treatment plant in North Vancouver, plus questions over spending on international travel.

Vancouver Coun. Lisa Dominato, a Metro Vancouver director hoping to replace Harvie, says the organization has an important role for the most populous region in B.C. and its chair needs to address what she calls a lack of public confidence.

"That reputation is being tarnished and what we need to do is restore confidence," she said.

The chair of Metro Vancouver is paid $105,039 a year and is responsible for being the organization's chief spokesperson, presiding over board meetings and establishing standing committees, which includes appointing members.

In early May, Delta council passed several motions aimed at limiting Harvie's influence, which ultimately removed him as Metro Vancouver board chair effective July 1.

Councillor Lisa Dominato is pictured during a council meeting on the city’s budget at City Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, December 7, 2021.
Coun. Lisa Dominato pictured during a Vancouver city council meeting in December 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Several councillors around Metro Vancouver were critical of Harvie's taxpayer-funded travel budget to far-flung locations, billed as opportunities to learn about best practices from other jurisdictions.

Documents provided by Metro Vancouver showed $21,213 was spent on an airfare for Harvie to attend a February Canada-in-Asia conference in Singapore.

A Netherlands trip was to cost $5,307, but Harvie pulled out of the trip after public scrutiny, saying he didn't want to be a "distraction."

So far this year, Harvie's expenses, including the cancelled trip, are $32,852. The regional district has defended the expenses, saying they align with the annual budget.

Spending scrutiny

In addition to the vote for a new chair on Friday, directors will consider a motion from Bowen Island Mayor Andrew Leonard and New Westminster Mayor Patrick Johnstone that would require more board oversight for committee member travel expenses.

Any of the 41 directors can put their hand up to be considered for the chair position at Friday's meeting. They will be given time to promote their merits to the group before votes are cast.

Dominato says whoever becomes chair will need to make an effort to align the board.

There was discord among directors in May when they disagreed over how much municipalities outside of the North Shore should pay to cover the cost overruns of the wastewater treatment plant — a facility they will not directly benefit from.

"The leadership that's needed is to help this board come together to tackle some of the big issues facing the organization, but also some of those governance issues that have been raised," said Dominato.

One of Harvie's last initiatives as chair was to call for an independent review of the wastewater treatment plant, whose cost soared from $700 million in 2018 to $3.86 billion now and whose completion date moved from 2020 to 2030.