by Roger Stonebanks, citizen journalist
Blue skies turned grey in November for amalgamation supporters as the BC government favoured “service and governance integration” within the Capital Region.
Community Minister Peter Fassbender has this written mandate from Premier Clark: “Develop and present options to Cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June, 2016.”
Public attention focussed on “amalgamate” in the mandate but neglected to heed the word “could” and the expressed alternative to amalgamation – “or integrate service delivery.”
Non-binding referendums (expressions of opinion) that accompanied some municipal election ballots last Nov. 15 did not provide a clear over-all result because – except on the Saanich Peninsula – the questions themselves were varied, and some municipalities did not have referendum questions at all.
Nevertheless, the campaign by the lobby group, Capital Region Municipal Amalgamation Society (known in short as Amalgamation Yes), continued, looking to the provincial government to take the lead and do a study on amalgamation.
It wasn’t to happen.
There were plenty of hints from last September that the provincial government favoured the approach of integrating service delivery over municipal amalgamation. And in early November Fassbender spelled it out in a letter to area mayors inviting them to attend a 90-minute meeting with him “… on the topic of service and governance integration in the Capital region.” Significantly, the word “amalgamation” was not mentioned in the letter. Neither was the word “study.”
“While individual interests and perspectives are diverse, there have been shared views on the common thread from the 2014 referenda results – namely, that there may be benefit to the region from local governments exploring further the question of how to better integrate services and governance,” Fassbender wrote.
“I know that informing the public and others about the current governance and services profile of the Capital region will be of continuing interest to many of you, especially the number of services already undertaken in shared or integrated way.”
Just after his letter became public, Fassbender addressed the pro-amalgamation Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. His subject was “CRD Governance – the way forward.” Missing, significantly, was the A-word.
Fassbender reiterated the comments in his letter seeing the government’s role as facilitator. He said there is “lots of good work going on” between municipalities and “I believe we can build on that.” He specifically stood by the section of the Community Charter – unique in Canada – which mandates that municipal amalgamations must be voter-approved – not imposed by the provincial government. There would be no forced amalgamations. (Find the link to his full speech online.)
Saanich Voice Online (SVO) asked Mayor Richard Atwell of Saanich and the three Saanich Peninsula mayors for their reactions. Here are their comments:
Mayor Atwell: “I am encouraged by the Minister’s offer to facilitate a meeting of all mayors in the region to give consideration to this subject. It is long overdue and a positive first step. The Province has said that it won’t force amalgamation but as the legislators behind the Community Charter and Local Government Act, they still must play a policy role that includes analysis of the status quo vs. an alternate model. Whether you called it an amalgamation study or a governance review, it is ultimately about discovering a better system of government through legislative changes, that benefits communities and the greater region as a whole.”
Mayor Ryan Windsor of Central Saanich: “My only comment at this time is I look forward to meeting with my colleagues from around the region in a discussion with the minister on a range of topics related to governance.”
Mayors Alice Finall of North Saanich and Steve Price of Sidney did not reply.
Meanwhile, Saanich will start its own voter-approved governance review with a 13-member residents committee in the new year. It is expected to last at least 18 months.
As SVO went to press, an on-line pro-amalgamation petition was initiated. Addressed to “Liberal Party of BC Hon. Christy Clark” it read: “Many residents in British Columbia municipalities have requested their Mayor and Councillors seek assistance from BC Province for study on amalgamation specific to their municipality with little success.
“I the undersigned request the BC Government put a question on the next Provincial election ballot that includes:
“Conduct a study in my municipality about amalgamation that will include but not limited: financial, social, environmental and options for municipal reconfiguration and governance.”
The next BC election will be in 2017.
After three weeks, the on-line petition by “Citizens for Amalgamation Study” had gathered four signatures.
For more articles on this subject, use SVO‘s search feature