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Greater Victoria, BC News

ARTICLE

Date ArticleType
6/18/2015 Published Article
AMALGAMANIA!

Amalgamation. A frequent and continuing topic of conversation in boardrooms, backyards and on park benches. Last November, eight of the 13 municipalities within Greater Victoria asked a question on the ballots, one that differed from municipality to municipality. The questions – each following a governance-related theme – asked voters whether they were interested in looking at amalgamation, options related to amalgamation, reducing the number of municipalities, whether they wanted to review governance structure and policies or even be absorbed into a larger municipality.

As could be expected, the different questions resulted in wide range of results. For example, Saanich had 88.5 percent of their 24,217 voters saying Yes to, “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?” On the flip side, Oak Bay had 62.2 percent of their 5,778 voters saying No to the question, “Are you in favour of the District of Oak Bay being amalgamated into a larger regional municipality?”

In the end, seven out of eight municipalities - or 56,134 out of 75,170 voters within 8 of the 13 municipalities – leaned towards a Yes to some course of action. We believe this leaning is a strong indicator that voters are aware of a problem with local government.

With its 13 municipalities and the Capital Regional District, Greater Victoria has a complex arrangement of local governance, yet no one municipality has exclusive influence over any one resident. For example, while we shop, work, play, learn, we regularly – and often without thinking – cross municipal boundaries. We are aware of the inefficiencies in civic decision making – we live and breathe them every day. We see the proverbial train tracks that delineate the fractures in municipal governance. We feel the lost opportunities slipping through our fingers like sand.

The Chamber has been advocating for some form of amalgamation since 1919; however, to even focus on amalgamation at this point in time is not only putting the cart before the horse, but limits our collective options on improved local governance. To consider a course of action such as amalgamation before we have thoroughly examined areas such as the effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery is ill-advised. Such a shoot-from-the-hip approach is not how we operate successful businesses, nor should it be the way we build a vibrant community.

We need to examine local governance models, namely the municipalities and the Capital Region District, to identify the solutions that best fit the needs of our community now and into the future. We need governance that erases the train tracks, seals the fractures, and captures the opportunities.
There is considerable support already behind a study to examine local governance. For example, the Hon. Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, said to media last November, “We will be doing a governance study. It’s going to be hard work. It’s going to be complex. It’s going to be very, very difficult, but we’re committed to doing that.”

There is overwhelming acknowledgement and voter support/demand to improve local governance. We have proven thus far we are not able to make any real progress as individual municipalities. Strong, effective regional governance is needed in order to grow a vibrant and prosperous community.

We at The Chamber recommend the Province commission and resource an independent commission to study local governance. If a referendum question is an outcome of the study, we recommend one question is asked across all municipalities.

Such a study could provide the meaningful and actionable results we want with the regional perspective we need, so that Greater Victoria voters can then compare apples to apples, and speak in one voice.

By Frank Bourree, Chair of the Board of Directors, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce

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