Recently Victoria and Colwood have agreed to place a non-binding referendum question on amalgamation on the next municipal ballot in November. Others will no doubt follow.
Voters in these communities, representing over a quarter of the population of Greater Victoria, will have a chance to state a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ preference for their municipality to explore opportunities to cooperate for integration of service delivery.
A ‘yes’ vote will trigger provincially-funded studies to determine the feasibility, benefits and costs of various models of integration. It will not trigger amalgamation. A ‘no’ vote will maintain the status quo.
Here in Oak Bay, requests for a similar opportunity are brushed aside. Most councillors have responded negatively with a variety of reasons, e.g. being too busy, having no mandate, etc. Effectively, this translates into a belief that they already have a ‘no’ mandate. But do they?
If our elected officials are certain of this position, then what is lost by posing the question? The cost of placing the question on the ballot is minimal.
During the last decade, local government legislation was amended such that the province cannot force amalgamation. Fair enough. Any movement in that direction must come from the municipal governments themselves. Also fair enough. But what if a council refuses to seek a mandate from their electorate on the question? Is that fair?
Normally, our system of government contains checks and balances to curb the excesses of power. But the current legislation has placed municipal councils in a serious conflict of interest, because power, once attained, is not easily relinquished. It’s a basic unsavoury aspect of our human nature, even for well-meaning council members.
Refusing to allow residents the opportunity to deliver such a mandate, has the effect of denying basic democratic rights, and that seems like an abuse of power.
If residents were smart enough to elect this council, are we not smart enough to give them a mandate through a non-binding referendum question?
The need to implement cooperative relationships with neighbouring municipalities will not subside without a clear direction either way. Can we afford more needless deaths due to botched multi-jurisdictional policing and fragmented 911 systems problems? Are we satisfied to watch the squabbles of non-elected CRD members as their delays incur millions of dollars in excess costs? Can we ever hope to pay the cost of the Uplands sewer separation, now topping over $2,300 per Oak Bay household? Do we really need 13 fire chiefs and separate fire departments? Do we not cross the Blue Bridge and attend the McPherson/Royal theatres? Don’t we all write Victoria as our postal address? Are we disappointed by infrastructure planning that does not meet daily travel needs?
Regardless of how residents answer the above questions, shouldn’t they at least be given the opportunity to exercise their electoral franchise and provide clear policy direction to our local government?
Savvy politicians will recognize the gravity of this mess. It’s shaping up to be the key election issue in 2014 that will not go away, and municipal candidates across the region will be required to declare a clear position.
We’d like what Victoria and Colwood are having.
A little democracy.