Time for BC’s Capital To Make a Move

Some people might not realize this, but at one time New Westminster was the capital of the “colony” of British Columbia. After the mainland and island colonies merged around 1866, the capital was eventually relocated to Victoria. The time has come for us to rethink whether having our capital on the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island makes good business and political sense.

If one were to ask Premier Christy Clark about the merits of moving the capital back to the Lower Mainland, she might have a sympathetic ear.

During the 2011 BC Liberal leadership race, Clark stirred controversy by saying Victoria had developed a “sick culture.” She made no bones about the fact that given the option, she’d rather spend time away from the insular nature of B.C.’s legislative precincts.

Whether or not you agree with Clark’s assessment, the fact remains that having our capital on an island no longer makes financial sense.

A government “purchasing card” published online reveals just how much provincial public servants spend on helicopter and plane travel to and from Victoria — helping make the case for relocating the capital.

Take, for example, the Ministry Children and Family Development. During the 2011-12 fiscal year, this ministry used government credit cards to purchase $303,316.43 worth of Harbour Air and Helijet tickets. These boutique airlines primarily service the Vancouver-to-Victoria market. Numerous additional flights were also purchased on Air Canada, but they were not itemized separately.

And remember, this is just one of many ministries spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these flights.

The report didn’t factor in the enormous costs to the private and non-profit sector, which are also forced to do business in Victoria. Few could argue against the fact this money and time would be better invested delivering front-line services.

Maybe a citizens’ group should start a referendum forcing government to issue a request for proposal (RFP) asking which Metro Vancouver city wants to become the new “working capital.”

As part of the RFP, the old legislature would remain standing and be used solely for ceremonial events. This would immediately save taxpayers an estimated $250 million in seismic upgrades.

A series of modern buildings would then be constructed in Metro Vancouver where the real capital would be located.

Cities such as Coquitlam might get creative and propose to work with developers to densify large tracts of land, such as the Riverview Hospital site. Burnaby’s bid could include a new legislature next to the Metrotown SkyTrain station. Heck, even New Westminster might have an interest in regaining the title of capital again.

Before traditionalists set their hair on fire, they should remember one thing. Relocating our capital back to its original roots in Metro Vancouver is as traditional as it gets.