On October 20, residents of Victoria and Saanich will vote on the following referendum question:
Are you in favour of spending up to $250,000 for establishing a Citizens’ Assembly to explore the costs, benefits and disadvantages of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria?
Victoria City Council debated this question and broader issues of amalgamation at a joint meeting with Saanich Council on June 26, 2018. You can read my remarks below.
I am not a fan of amalgamating local government here on the south island.
I will offer three reasons tonight:
1. “WE CAN’T AFFORD A MEGA CITY.”
Maybe some members of these municipal councils can. Maybe some residents can. Maybe some businesses can. Maybe some developers can.
But I personally don’t want to pay more taxes on the administration of local government.
I believe that finite tax dollars should be focused on delivering quality front-line services to residents: affordable housing; high quality parks and active transportation services; infrastructure and environmental services.
There is a clear pattern of amalgamations in Canada and elsewhere leading to taxes going up, rather than down.
2. “THIS IS AN AMAZING PLACE! WHY MESS WITH A GOOD THING?”
People have converged on the south island because of the stunning natural environment and diverse communities. They have moved here in pursuit of a better life. Amalgamation seems to be a solution in search of a problem, and risks undermining the quality of life and fabric of our communities.
In Canada there are more than 3500 municipal governments. Should we amalgamate them all into one? Why not?
There is a municipality in BC that is two and half times the land area of Vancouver Island. The Regional Municipality of Northern Rockies encompasses the entire Regional District of the Northern Rockies. It is nearly 1/10th the land area of BC.
Is that an appropriate scale for local government?
One municipality for Vancouver Island? Why not?
I’m sure the Chamber of Commerce would welcome that approach in the interests of “removing red tape” – less government to get in the way of profit-making.
But also less government to provide a mechanism for citizen input on land use questions, housing affordability, social services, environmental protection, and other actions that align with the values of residents.
One speaker called on these councils to act tonight to secure their place in history. Well, a person named Mike Harris secured his place in Ontario history – creating the mega-city of Toronto and slashing social programs. But that is a legacy to condemn, rather than celebrate.
Toronto has a ward system – with ward councilors representing 50,000 residents or more. These ward councillors are elected based on a “first-past-the-post” system, while our current At-Large system on the south island provides for a degree of proportionality in representation, encouraging collaboration in policy-making.
A member of the public pointed out tonight that the Royal Jubilee Hospital straddles the border of Saanich and Victoria. And guess what? A seamless service is provided at the hospital – through an amalgamated delivery model under the aegis of Island Health.
There are many other examples of amalgamated services in this area. We can look to the regional drinking water supply – an amalgamated service delivered under the aegis of the Capital Regional District, which consistently outranks most other municipal water systems on the continent.
Building on these examples, we can fruitfully pursue amalgamation of additional services here in the Capital Region, starting with emergency services, without wiping out the structure of local government.
3. “WE NEED MORE DEMOCRACY, RATHER THAN LESS.”
I strongly support strengthening governance in this region with more opportunities for meaningful citizen participation, rather than less.
I also strongly believe that First Nations should be engaged directly from the outset in any discussion of changing our system of government here on the south island.
Do I support reform of the system of governance? Of course I do:
-to honour Indigenous laws, traditions, lands, and Treaty rights;
-to transfer sovereignty from the Crown to the local community, connected together through layers of federation;
-to provide constitutional protections for ecological systems that sustain human and non-human life;
-to guarantee the right to housing and social supports for people in need.
For these reasons and others, I do not favour the narrow resolution in front of us this evening, relating to the amalgamation of Victoria and Saanich.