It’s not peculiar because it’s significant. It’s peculiar it’s so insignificant.
That was the reaction of Simon Fraser University political science professor Stewart Prest to Port Coquitlam’s decision to withdraw from the Lower Mainland Local Government Association.
The LMLGA represents 29 municipalities throughout the region including Coquitlam and Port Moody. However, Port Coquitlam opted not to renew membership earlier this year due to: “not getting value for taxpayers’ money,” according to the city’s chief administrative officer Rob Bremner.
The LMLGA essentially functions under the umbrella of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, a collective that aims to give local governments a stronger voice when dealing with the province on issues ranging from housing and transportation to drug decriminalization and urban deer management.
Given the low cost of membership – $2,256 in 2021 – and the general inoffensive nature of the “talk shop,” taking the trouble to leave seems perplexing, according to Prest.
“Its entire purpose is to generate worthwhile initiatives for municipalities in the Lower Mainland,” Prest said. “You almost need to see some evidence of negative value . . . that it’s somehow hurting the municipality to be worth the time to withdraw.”
Port Coquitlam gave no notice nor issued any complaints with the association, according to LMLGA president Patricia Ross. The city issued a letter informing the LMLGA of their decision but did not provide a reason, she stated in an email to the Dispatch.
“We believe the Lower Mainland LGA has a lot to offer communities, but it is their personal choice to withdraw and we respect that,” she wrote.
Port Coquitlam also withdrew from Urban Development Institute and the Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement this year.
The LMLGA is largely an advocacy organization. However, Port Coquitlam “advocates strongly to other levels of government,” Bremner explained.
“The city felt that paying for additional taxpayer monies to a third-party organization was not needed for what we are already doing,” Bremner stated.
That explanation seems incomplete, according to Prest.
“It feels like there’s a piece missing because the two are not mutually exclusive,” he said, noting that a municipality can lobby senior levels of government as well as belonging to the LMLGA.
Withdrawing from the LMLGA seems odd for a municipality that is largely facing the same challenges as its neighbouring cities, according to Prest.
“I don’t know if other municipalities will be as eager to work with a municipality that is signalling that it wants to go its own direction,” he said.
In general, LMLGA is a “minor instrument of governance,” according to Prest
Prest also suggested the decision may reflect an attempt to cultivate a more straightforward form of governance.
“It may be more of a political move to try to signal a move in a more populist style of governance, not necessarily endorsing institutions . . . but rather trying to give the impression of speaking directly on behalf of the people,” he said.
City staff produced an internal report regarding withdrawing from the LMLGA. However, because it pertains to “labour relations/employee negotiations,” the report is not public, according to the city.
While the decision is “a bit of a headscratcher,” Prest also suggested the move could relate to the internal workings of council.
Port Coquitlam Coun. Laura Dupont served as LMLGA president from 2020-2022.
Council voted to censure Dupont in 2020 after Dupont shared sensitive information about potential tree removal caused by a pending development.
After a B.C. Supreme Court justice upheld the censure in 2021, the city issued a release stating that the information released by Dupont could have undermined the city’s bargaining position with a developer.
Dupont responded by pledging to fight for a healthy environment and for residents who feel they aren’t being heard.