Metchosin Mayor John Ranns is floating an amalgamation model that calls for six municipalities to be carved out of the capital region’s existing 13.
Ranns’s proposal envisions one large municipality in the region’s core, a smaller municipality on the Saanich Peninsula and four very small rural municipalities. These include:
• An urban municipality taking in part of Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria, Esquimalt, View Royal, Langford and Colwood, with a total population of about 264,000.
• A Saanich Peninsula municipality that includes the rural portion of Saanich, along with Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney (pop. 53,000).
• A rural Highlands municipality that swallows up Willis Point and some of the Malahat (pop. 2,300).
• Sooke (pop. 11,000).
• A rural municipality including Metchosin and East Sooke (pop. 7,000).
• A rural municipality combining Otter Point, Shirley and Point Renfrew (pop. 2,300).
“What I’m trying to do is to have people look at the municipality model and try to make sense of it and to think outside of the box,” Ranns said.
The boundaries are more than just lines on a map, he said. They both protect rural areas and allow already urbanized areas to work in a more co-ordinated fashion on issues such as transportation and settlement patterns.
“I’m trying to protect Victoria from being marginalized, and I’m trying to protect rural areas,” Ranns said.
Re-drawing boundaries as he proposes has the potential to significantly diminish the role of the CRD, he said.
To date, proponents of amalgamation have suggested creating a single municipality encompassing the entire CRD or a three-municipality model, made up of the Saanich Peninsula, the core and the West Shore.
In Ranns’s view, the single municipality model is too big to meet residents’ needs and essentially just becomes “a super CRD.”
The three-municipality model, is probably the worst of all the options, he said, because it perpetuates competition between downtown and the West Shore for commercial, institutional and residential growth — a battle he thinks could eventually kill the core.
“The idea is to do two things: It’s to make people think of why they really want amalgamation, because what we’ve got works pretty well. The fiefdoms aren’t that bad,” Ranns said.
“So if we do think we can do better than the fiefdoms with amalgamation, then we should look at a model that works — a model that solves problems.”
Greater Victoria — home to more than 350,000 people — has seven municipal police forces and RCMP detachments.
A 2003 poll conducted for the Times Colonist and CHEK News found 53 per cent support for amalgamation of municipalities and 70 per cent support for establishing a regional police force.
When asked about Ranns’s suggestions, lawyer Jim Legh, a proponent of amalgamation, said anything would be better that the current balkanized system of 13 municipalities.
“You absolutely want to get rid of the CRD. That’s one of the motivations in all of this,” Legh said.
He said he understands the attraction of wanting to split urban and rural areas, but wonders whether it is necessary.
“It strikes me that the rural areas, certainly the undeveloped areas, would benefit from being part of a larger community,” he said.
“I’m in Victoria. I want there to be green space close by, so I can go enjoy it. So, think of the urban people. We want to protect the green space. We don’t want it to go away. That’s why it would stand a better chance of being protected [in a larger municipality].”
Under Section 279 of the Community Charter, forced amalgamation of municipalities by the province is prohibited. However, amalgamation would be considered if residents asked for it.
John Vickers is working with a group hoping to have a referendum question about amalgamation on the ballot of every Greater Victoria municipality in the 2014 civic elections.
When Halifax amalgamated, the rural areas were given the option of opting out after five years — but all ended up staying, he said.
“So I think we would probably envision a … single regional municipality. I like the VRM — Victoria Regional Municipality, with district councillors,” Vickers said.
Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, a supporter of amalgamation, is thrilled Ranns has at least initiated the discussion.
“The critical aspect that John seems to be saying is we can do it better than we do,” Gudgeon said. “If we were to look at our region, is 13 municipalities the answer? It seems to me that he’s saying no. So what I’d like to see happen is for the dialogue to begin.”
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