EDITORIAL: Amalgamation in Victoria could work, but at what cost?

Some examples show how amalgamation can work in Greater Victoria, others illustrate the difficulties

A pane of glass is easier to shatter than to piece back together.

For years citizens and politicians of Greater Victoria have called for some kind of amalgamation of the many political fiefdoms of the region, and little has been done about it.

The News is examining the issue of amalgamation in a five-part series – the financial and bureaucratic pros and cons; how Halifax, a city similar in size to Victoria, achieved amalgamation and why it went down that road; and defacto amalgamation through regional services.

The political unification of Greater Victoria, into one city, or a group of two, three or more larger districts, seems to outsiders looking in as a no-brainer, but even the smallest steps have proven to be extraordinarily difficult.

Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay and Esquimalt have been distinct municipalities for well over 100 years, and, until recently, have had no serious grassroots or political push for a merger.

In 2008, Colwood council rejected a proposal for a civic referendum just to gauge community interest in joining with Langford. In the mid-2000s, the province funded investigations for the merger of Metchosin and unincorporated East Sooke, but even those sparsely populated, ideologically aligned areas haven’t made it work yet.

Concerns arose if Metchosin had the capacity and tax base to take on the burden of roads and bridges in East Sooke.

That example highlights that in any political merger, there can be winners and losers – some citizens might get lower taxes and better services, while others might see a loss. When it comes to property taxes and crumbling infrastructure, under political amalgamation your neighbour’s problems can become your own.

Amalgamation is a complicated and contentious question. Greater Victoria residents need to ask if erasing political boundaries is the solution, or if pushing for the elimination of duplication of municipal services is really the true goal.

Or should the status quo remain – don’t fix what isn’t broken?