There is a lot of debate currently about municipal leadership in Greater Victoria. Whether it is the Capital Regional District’s ongoing stumbles on sewage locations and community consultation or the continuing cries for some kind of municipal amalgamation, how our many local municipalities are led, is more under scrutiny and discussion than ever before. Even though they are truly creatures of the province, the increasing download of responsibilities and costs from the province mean our towns are under more and more financial and performance delivery pressure. Costs rise with inflation, pensions and staff salaries and revenues shrink with citizen exhaustion and resentment about rising taxes. Many of our local municipalities are in serious financial difficulty and suffer significant voter indifference or disillusionment but others are doing very well indeed – why the large discrepancies? It comes down to the strength of leadership and management. For some local mayors and councillors these jobs are the best they ever had or may have. For others they bring talent and skills their cities urgently need. Frankly, being a publically elected official is a thankless task so the fact that some choose that path when they could and do much better elsewhere is a measure of their commitment to the public interest. In other words really talented municipal leaders are not that common and when they appear it’s important that we recognize them and hold them up as models for others to emulate. Mayor Stew Young is one such leader. Langford leads the way in many different categories both statistically and otherwise. According to 2011 Stats Canada data, Langford is the fastest growing municipality in B.C. and one of the fastest in Canada. Residential taxes are the lowest in the region. Perhaps even more importantly, Young leads a unified council that shares a common vision. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for some other local councils that sometimes veer back and forth due to the competition between individual councillors’ hobby horses or ideological differences – they suffer a lack of strong coherent leadership and teamwork. Mayor Young has his critics, but you don’t have to like him to admire his results. Not every community wants what Langford wants. Metchosin and Highlands for example are happy to be rural in nature. Other areas have other priorities and interests. When you ask the mayor why he puts in place such strong recreation and trails and sports facilities and why he is so business friendly, he says it’s because that is what the citizens in his community want. This includes for example, the fact that he insists developers work closely in collaboration with the city including paying substantial amenity fees. Langford is financially healthier and developing in more sustainable ways than most of our towns around Southern Vancouver Island and it’s not accidental. This innovation and creativity is frankly not that common in the municipal realm and the mayor of Langford and his council get full marks for this kind of leadership. Our other mayors and councillors in the CRD, all of whom work very hard, would do well to imitate this kind of leadership – not to do what Langford does but rather to pursue their own unique destinies. Time to get over envy or resentment of Langford‘s results and be strong and smart enough to learn from what others do well – it’s called best practices. Failure to do so will mean ever increasingly worse financial situations and challenges and more and more disaffected and alienated voters. Rightly or wrongly, the cry for local and regional amalgamation is actually a cry for stronger, smarter leadership and our local governments may play right into those hands if they don’t get their act together. We live in an incredible region, blessed with many privileges and great advantages and we should match the beauty and grace of our environment with equivalent strong, even visionary, leadership.
– Dan Spinner is CEO of the WestShore Chamber of Commerce email@example.com