Metchosin Mayor John Ranns wants to cut the number of Greater Victoria municipalities.
In related news, I want to grow bangs.
Alas, neither will happen without divine intervention — and God is more likely to wade into the amalgamation debate than are most of the 84 mayors and councillors in the 12 little fiefdoms stretching from the West Shore to North Saanich.
Which is why a grassroots movement is emerging to push an amalgamation question onto ballots in the November 2014 civic elections.
A group going by the name Amalgamation Yes is registering as a non-profit society this week, its goal being to let Greater Victoria residents engage in a little direct democracy, decide the issue for themselves.
Included in the nascent Capital Region Amalgamation Society are those — Mat Wright, Susan Jones, John Vickers, James Legh and Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, among others — at the core of a series of public forums about amalgamation last year. Those meetings drew together informal groups that had been gathering independently, some wanting to put up slates of pro-amalgamation council candidates, others arguing for a referendum.
The hope now, Wright says, is that one or more municipalities will ask the provincial government for funding for an amalgamation study, leading to enough public pressure to get a question on ballots in 2014.
Exactly what that question would be, who knows? Ranns this week floated the idea of six capital region municipalities, including an urban one comprising Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, Langford, Colwood, View Royal and the built-up parts of Saanich. Rural Saanich would be lumped with the rest of the Saanich Peninsula. Metchosin and East Sooke would be in one rural community, Highlands and the adjoining leafy bits in another. Sooke and a new municipality stretching west to Port Renfrew would also be on the map.
It’s something to talk about — though that’s all we ever do when the A-word comes up, no one with the requisite political muscle having the will to turn talk into action. Provincial politicians used to have the authority to force municipalities to marry, but absolved themselves of that responsibility in 2003, writing into the Local Government Act a clause that specifically bans shotgun weddings.
That leaves municipal councils alone with the ability to move the issue forward, but they resolutely refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the bedroom.
Instead they talk about integrating services — sharing police, fire, parks and rec and the like — while leaving political boundaries in place. The problem with integration is that we end up with messes like the one that came to light Monday, when we learned that Sidney and North Saanich are pulling out of the Regional Crime Unit, saying they’re not getting enough bang for the buck.
Never mind that the unit does an excellent job chasing down the prolific offenders who range across borders doing so much of the property crime in what is, in reality, a medium-sized city of 350,000 people. Never mind that policing costs are already low in Sidney and North Saanich ($200 a year per resident in the former, $153 in the latter) relative to the average $419 in Victoria and Esquimalt. If Victoria itself can bail on the unit, which it has, then why not the others? Madness all round.
Of course, integration of services could be taken to the point where municipal governments are left with little role to play. “Why then have the councils anymore?” Wright asks.
The reply is that local councils mean local voices don’t get lost. In Esquimalt, which gets its water from the City of Victoria, and with which it (reluctantly) shares a police department, some argue distinct society status is needed if the community is to keep its identity. By that logic, James Bay should break away from Victoria and Gordon Head should divorce from Saanich. Maybe Cordova Bay should secede, too, giving the Peninsula another municipality to go along with Saanich, Central Saanich, North Saanich, Sidney-By-The-Saanich and Saanich-Herzegovina.
Or we could go the other way and actually knock down some borders. The idea has been talked about forever, but an organized campaign — grassroots, driven by social media — could actually force it on the agenda.
People might or might not favour amalgamation, but they should at least get the chance to choose.
© Copyright 2013