Abbotsford and several smaller Lower Mainland communities are now being excluded from some closed-door meetings of the Metro Vancouver board that they were previously permitted to observe.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman calls the May 16 policy change a "gag order" he suspects is about blunting his outspoken opposition to Metro's plan to build a new garbage incinerator.
"I'm pretty disappointed," he said. "This is the equivalent of putting bureaucratic duct tape over our lips because we might sway people's thinking a little bit."
Banman called it "bad policy" that does a disservice to democracy, and said it "appears to be all about incineration."
Abbotsford is part of the Fraser Valley Regional District but Banman and Coun. Patricia Ross sit as Abbotsford directors on the Metro board because Metro runs regional parks there. They can only vote on parks matters, but both are vocal critics of any new incinerator they say would worsen air pollution.
Similarly, directors from Anmore, Belcarra and the Tsawwassen First Nation are not part of the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District (Metro's companion board in charge of the sewage system).
White Rock isn't a member of the Greater Vancouver Water District because it has its own well. And Abbotsford, Bowen Island and Lions Bay aren't part of the sewerage or water district boards.
By informal practice, those Metro directors had been allowed to remain in their seats and listen to debates in which they have no vote on the understanding they don't participate.
Banman, newly elected in November, said he was never told that and believes Metro should let non-members speak on issues even when they don't have a vote, as is custom at the FVRD.
"If this is their idea of consultation, I think they need to look it up in the dictionary," Banman said, referring to the order from the provincial government requiring Metro to closely consult the FVRD on the waste-to-energy strategy.
"Your neighbours may have a point or two."
Board chair Greg Moore's January decision to merge Metro's environment and parks committees resulted in Banman hearing more waste-to-energy deliberations than previous Abbotsford reps did.
"Then, magically, this new gag order comes to be," Banman observed.
Moore denied the change is to quell debate on incineration or silence Banman, adding new directors had come on the board and it was a good time to clarify directors' roles and responsibilities.
He said it's appropriate that voting and debate be limited to only directors whose cities are served by and pay for a specific Metro function.
In open meetings, excluded directors can now listen from the audience but have no standing to speak.
TFN Chief Kim Baird said she thought the rule change might have been directed at her, as there have been sensitive deliberations at Metro's sewerage district – which Baird is now barred from – over the extension of sewer to proposed new developments on TFN land.
Baird added she expects TFN to become a full member of the sewerage district in the months ahead.