Province eyes amalgamation

Some local mayors are excited about the prospect of a regional governance study.

Premier Christy Clark is moving full steam ahead, establishing a timeline to explore options for amalgamation that has some local mayors excited about the prospect of a regional governance study.

Following a cabinet shuffle last week, Peter Fassbender is taking over for Coralee Oakes as minister of community, sport, and cultural development, and will also be the minister responsible for TransLink. Oakes was named to the new ministry of small business and red-tape reduction, responsible for the liquor distribution branch.

“It’s hard to see Coralee go, but I think [Peter Fassbender] will be an excellent minister in this area and I’m looking forward to meeting with him before or at UBCM,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

Last month, Oakes met with Desjardins and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps to discuss the idea of amalgamation in the Capital Regional District.

After the shuffle, Clark sent a mandate letter to Fassbender, stating he is to “develop and present options to cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June 30, 2016.”

Helps was excited to hear that a timeline has been set.

“I think there’s a strong mandate from the residents of this region to at least explore what a more comprehensive approach to regional governance might look like,” she said. “I think Minister Fassbender will step into the role and pick up where Minister Oakes left off, which is a commitment to have something underway sooner rather than later.”

Helps hopes to have a regional governance study done to determine the best way to integrate services such as water, parks, transit, resource recovery, waste collection, fire and police, followed by a binding referendum question on all municipal ballots in 2018.

“It’s a really important topic. I think it’s one that doesn’t have the urgency of homelessness, sewage or economic development, but it’s not unrelated to all of those things,” she said. “Governance is critical to have good systems in place. I’m glad the premier sees it as something that has a timeline attached to it.”

According to Desjardins, there has been discussions with the police board and the chamber of commerce about how to integrate services more effectively. Desjardins was quick to note, however, amalgamation is not a priority for the township and will wait to hear from residents at an upcoming town hall meeting.

“You’re seeing internally, within municipalities, that we are striving to do more work together and see how that turns out,” she said. “The province may have the mechanics and resources to look at what models work across the country and beyond and that would be helpful to municipalities.”