•• Part 1 in a five-part series ••
It’s difficult to find anyone in the Capital Region who thinks local government is perfect the way it is.
Businesses, municipal councillors, developers and, most importantly, residents, know something needs to change, but that’s where the collective agreement ends.
Amalgamation proposals are almost as numerous as the region’s 91 municipal politicians. But an organized and motivated group of residents is igniting a grassroots push to turn ideas into reality.
The News is taking a comprehensive look at amalgamation with a five-part series, beginning with what the Capital Region’s 13 mayors think about the ‘A’ word.
Next, we’ll talk with key stakeholders from Halifax, a similar-sized region that went through a rocky amalgamation in the mid-1990s. Former politicians, journalists and stakeholders tell us what they’ve learned, what the process was like and how things are today.
In Parts 3 and 4, organizers from local citizen group Amalgamation Yes lay out how they plan to convince the region’s 360,000 residents why merging is better, while politicians and devoted council attendees trumpet the beauty of direct democracy.
Finally, we discuss the changes already taking place with policing, emergency services and transit throughout Greater Victoria.
We asked the mayors of the CRD municipalities: ‘Do you support some form of municipal amalgamation?’
1- Wendall Milne, Sooke
“No, I don’t support Sooke amalgamating with other municipalities in the CRD, however I support amalgamation with the unorganized areas surrounding Sooke, subject to the desire of those residing there. Sooke is distinct from the municipalities in the CRD because of the geographical separation between the populated areas. But Sooke has many similar interests as the unorganized areas surrounding the municipality.”
2- John Ranns, Metchosin
“Perhaps. The fiefdoms currently work well and amalgamation does not save money, so any change should be done to solve problems. Issues such as policing, transportation, settlement patterns, sewer, etc., would be easier to resolve under a single urban authority. Successful amalgamation models must recognize low-population rural and agricultural areas – they won’t survive unless they are governed separately.”
3- Stew Young, Langford
“Yes. I support amalgamation if the region was divided into three areas: Saanich Peninsula, Downtown Victoria core and West Shore. The CRD is taking on too many divisions and areas aren’t getting proper representation. The CRD worked in the ’70s, but now it’s really run by bureaucracy.”
4- Carol Hamilton, Colwood
“Yes. Communities as a whole are trying to strive for that wholesome sustainability and it’s difficult to do when you have a smaller geographic area, or if you have only one particular entity within your boundaries. Looking to the West Shore, I see the opportunity for some success in moving towards that model. I think we have a stronger presence and a more sustainable presence as a West Shore group.”
5- Graham Hill, View Royal
“No. I don’t believe that the history of amalgamation has illustrated benefit. I believe that the residents of my community would not particularly benefit in terms of the cost of operations and I also expect as the City of Victoria’s potholes get smaller, those in View Royal could get bigger.”
6- Barb Desjardins, Esquimalt
“No. Local land-use decisions are best dealt with by local communities through planning processes which incorporate the values of the residents of the area. The region could do a better job in co-ordination in such areas as public safety and transportation. The key to regional oversight is the governance model which must not allow one area or two areas to control the region.”
7- Dean Fortin, Victoria
“Yes. Amalgamation, done well, can give the residents of Greater Victoria better planning: of civic infrastructure, of public transportation and of land-use patterns. It can offer efficiencies in the delivery of services and programs. Program and service design can ensure responsiveness to local and community values so that all voices are heard.”
8- Nils Jensen, Oak Bay
“No. Amalgamation, like fool’s gold, has a shiny attraction but little value. Bigger government, bigger bureaucracy does not work – bigger is not always better. Smaller government is more economic and more responsive to the real needs of residents. Where amalgamation has been tried costs have gone up and quality of service has gone down.”
9- Frank Leonard, Saanich
“No. I think we can accomplish improvements to our communities by integrating services, where appropriate. That’s what I’ve always worked on.”
10- Jane Mendum, Highlands
“Perhaps. Highlanders voted to incorporate just 20 successful years ago, and we value our self-determination. The current regional governance/administrative model is diverse, dynamic and representative of local values, and responsive to local needs. If other municipalities choose to join together, I maintain that potential outcomes need to demonstrate an actual net benefit for residents over the current model.”
11- Alastair Bryson, Central Saanich
“It would be an uninformed position to make any type of representation at this point. My job as mayor is to get information and then talk to our communities. It’s not our role as mayors to represent our personal opinions. I am certainly in support of having a better understanding of what the opportunities are for our communities to work more closely together.”
12- Larry Cross, Sidney
“I need to see the analysis of the impact on Sidney residents regarding costs, services and accessibility, first. I believe municipalities can do better in seeking benefits from closer co-operation, however.”
13- Alice Finall, North Saanich
“No. Small governments are more responsive to residents in terms of balancing desired services with the amount the community is prepared to pay for them. Amalgamation does not reduce costs, it increases them. Taxes, debt and other charges increase dramatically due to cost levels rising to the highest common denominator. Where issues and needs overlap municipal boundaries, the CRD administration structure has been praised as efficient and effective.”