What’s the point of having directors in each of the municipalities and unincorporated areas if they have no actual decision-making powers?
The Capital Regional District has 22 directors, with most appointed by their respective municipal councils and electoral area representatives directly elected by resident voters.
While the system is based on population, any vote can be heavily weighted. Case in point: Victoria has three directors and Saanich five. Each of the other cities, districts, towns and electoral areas only have one.
When regional districts were formed by the province back in the mid-1960s, it was to share the costs of services such as fire protection and hospitals, and to provide borrowing power. The provincial government had stepped away from the governance of unincorporated areas.
Changes since then have given regional districts much broader powers. They have, in essence, become a fourth level of government, created with little public input. Taxpayers had no say in the creation of regional districts – it was foisted on them whether they liked it or not.
While they serve a purpose, they are relatively unanswerable to any other legislative body, or the public, for that matter. Regional districts have fashioned their own voting structures, again without broader public input. They rule the roost, so to speak, and their powers are in many ways limitless. Does a director from Saanich have the right to vote on issues in the Juan de Fuca? Does a director from Sooke care what happens in North Saanich? Should they?
Can the members dictate what happens in municipalities or electoral areas other than their own? Apparently they can. Is this fair? Probably not.
The CRD adopted a Regional Growth Strategy, where a vision was created dictating what areas should be densely populated and which should remain rural. Local politicians didn’t want to see urban sprawl, and rightly so in many cases, but what defines “urban sprawl”?
Is it huge arable acreages covered over with big-box stores? Is it recreational cabins hidden in the forest? Is it a subdivision of affordable single-family homes? The concept of “urban sprawl” is open to interpretation and it is being used as a club by special interest groups to get what they want, even though they are not appointed or elected by anyone except themselves.
The growth strategy is narrow in focus and out of touch with what is actually happening in rural areas. Those who developed it could not have, at the time, predicted the need for economic development and jobs. They did not anticipate the shrinking job base in the resource sector or see that the only foreseeable option was tourism.
The world economy has sent once-prosperous companies to the brink of bankruptcy and people are finding vacation opportunities closer to home.
If tourism is to be the economic saviour in the reaches beyond Greater Victoria, then those communities have to cater to all tourists, not just the ones with backpacks and a hunger to trek, or the ones who go no further than downtown Victoria.
Each community knows its community best and the elected directors were voted in to speak for the people they represent.
The CRD board should not have the right to hamstring a director by taking away his or her power to govern, and they should not make a director a eunuch by giving him no options for economic development.
Pirjo Raits is editor of the Sooke News Mirror.