DAN SPINNER: True collaboration helps build better communities

Greater Victoria municipalities need to pull together for meaningful efficiency changes

With our 13 municipalities and several other regional bodies, including the Capital Regional District, we have many public leaders and many more civil servants at the staff level.

Many people argue that we are over-governed and poorly co-ordinated. The original mandate of the CRD was to foster co-ordination and collaboration amongst the various municipalities and in some cases this has gone very well.

As volunteer vice-chair on the CRD’s water advisory committee, I’ve become impressed with the regional water system. Among the good decisions made are the acquisition of substantial watersheds that should guarantee high quality and high volumes of water for our communities for many years to come.

While the water commission, with the help of the water advisory committee, has much to do, there is no doubt that collaboration around water services in the CRD has been a huge success.

We need more such successes in Greater Victoria, particularly in the areas of sewage and transportation. Successful collaborations such as the CRD’s water program should inspire and encourage far better co-operation than currently exists. These and other matters are vital infrastructure issues that, if handled poorly, could cost millions of taxpayer dollars.

I recently attended a CRD-led consultation on regional transportation with other Greater Victoria leaders. I was struck by the paradox that many municipal staff were more than willing to collaborate with others on issues such as transportation, but felt they had little encouragement from their political leaders to do so.

That’s just not good enough from our political leaders, who could be accused of saying one thing publicly – no one will disagree with collaboration – and something else behind the scenes.

As vice-president of the Community Social Planning Council, I also recently moderated a session on affordable housing in the region. Happily, several mayors and councillors attended to discuss the No. 1 issue in the region, according to the Victoria Foundation’s latest Vital Signs report.

There is strong interest in this issue as well, but clearly there has been very little co-ordination and collaboration across municipal boundaries on affordable housing to date. In fact, many staff and politicians in the room were unaware of what best practices and successes exist across the region or even how their bylaws compared. To be fair, they were there to learn about them.

There seems to be a collaborative instinct and willingness at the staff level with a stated commitment at the political level, but there appears to be not nearly as much actual day-to-day co-ordination on many issues.

This is true for the West Shore as well as the entire region. We live in an extraordinary community and our citizens deserve the very best in forward thinking and innovation on all of these cross-boundary infrastructure issues. To believe that a behind the scenes, unstated Balkanized approach will produce the best solutions is naïve.

To ensure that our communities can be healthier, both in terms of economy and quality of life, we need to reach beyond our local concerns to achieve a shared, broader vision of how we want to live together in the Greater Victoria Region. We did it on water, so let’s do it in all the other critical infrastructure areas as well.

With the provincial election producing no south Vancouver Island representation in the governing party, it’s more important than ever that we get our collective regional act together.

Dan Spinner is CEO of the WestShore Chamber of Commerce.