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EDITORIAL: Greater Victoria amalgamation no magic bullet

Taxpaying citizens need to ask tough questions of both sides in debate
The City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan will jointly hold a referendum in June on their amalgamation, but getting to that point in Greater Victoria requires far deeper research. (File photo)

The decades-long conversation surrounding the amalgamation of Greater Victoria is back on the tips of tongues, after Saanich council announced it would host a citizens’ assembly on the issue.

The idea of full municipal amalgamation feels more like a lofty concept rather than a practical solution; and, to what problem exactly?

Does having more municipalities stand in the way of each getting things done? One could argue with the rapid development in Victoria and on the West Shore that things are moving along quite nicely.

One has to sit and ponder why separate municipalities were created in the first place.

There may be folly in the belief that a smaller bureaucratic system would be cheaper to run; those answers have yet to be definitively found.

Amalgamation could cost millions of dollars (and potentially put hundreds of people out of work) to even get the ball rolling. Not to mention potential confusion processing the hundreds of development projects currently underway across the region and proceeding under guidelines specific to their municipalities.

Duncan and North Cowichan councils, based on recommendations from a citizen’s assembly that studied the options, will put a yes/no amalgamation question to the public in a June 23 referendum. Those communities reaching that stage in the process has given local amalgamation proponents hope that a similar process can work well here.

But the difference between blending two small Cowichan Valley communities and more than a dozen in a Capital Region where urban environments dominate make this an apples and oranges scenario.

Thirteen Greater Victoria municipalities with distinct identities built upon individual needs and values will have a much rougher road ahead of them to achieve the cohesive dream of local advocacy group, Amalgamation Yes.

Fifteen years ago, the province promised the region would find itself with an amalgamated police force, but here we are in 2018 with virtually no move toward such a goal. If this is any indication of how hard it would be to amalgamate other services, we should grab a coffee because this dialogue is just opening.

If there is one silver lining to the discussion, it’s that this time around, when discussing land use throughout this part of the Island, Indigenous leaders have been offered a seat at the table.