Metchosin Mayor John Ranns’s proposal for restructuring the Capital Regional District into six municipalities might not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s a worthwhile topic of conversation.
Instead of 13 municipalities, Ranns envisions one large municipality at the core of the region, a smaller municipality on the Saanich Peninsula and four small rural municipalities.
He rejects complete amalgamation, saying that would result in a massive municipality too big to respond to residents’ needs. The long-touted three-municipality model is the worst option, he says, because it would perpetuate the competition for growth between the downtown core and the West Shore.
Ranns could be accused of putting forth a self-serving plan — Metchosin absorbs East Sooke but is otherwise left intact — but the boundaries are not drawn arbitrarily. They appear to take into consideration such things as transportation corridors and the varying lifestyles in the communities involved. He deserves credit for bringing up the subject and for taking a thoughtful approach.
However, there is perhaps a bit of parochialism showing. Ranns obviously sees reasons for keeping Sooke and Metchosin as separate entities, but lumps all the Saanich Peninsula communities into one municipality. The people there might have a different view. Sidney works hard to emphasize its friendly, seaside personality, and its needs and aims are not the same as those of the regions that consist largely of farms.
And there lies the challenge of amalgamation of any degree: Each of us sees our community as an individual entity with its own characteristics and its own priorities. For amalgamation or consolidation to succeed, it must address the concern that uniqueness will be erased and smaller priorities overlooked in the larger picture. Existing neighbourhoods already maintain their character within municipalities; Brentwood Bay could survive within a Peninsula municipality just as easily as it survives inside Central Saanich.
Some opponents of amalgamation worry about the awkwardness of a super-municipality, but under the current arrangement, nearly 100 municipal politicians represent a population of about 350,000. That is a manageable size for a city by most standards, one that could be competently governed by one mayor and council. Awkwardness comes from a multiplicity of boundaries, from confusion over jurisdictions, from duplicated services, from several separate police and emergency services.
Residents of one community might wonder why they should pay to fight crime in another, but crime doesn’t recognize boundaries. The problems in Victoria’s downtown are not Victoria’s alone. People from Saanich drive on the roads of other municipalities to go shopping in Langford and vice versa. The majority of cars cruising Beach Drive on a fine spring morning are not from Oak Bay, and Oak Bay residents must drive on someone else’s streets to gas up their cars.
We’re all in this together. Let’s work together.
Amalgamation does not imply that the region would become one homogenous community. That would be impossible. Neighbourhoods will always be unique. They are not created by boundaries drawn on maps, but shaped by the people who live in them. Diversity is not only possible within amalgamation, it’s essential to the region’s strength and richness.
As there is strength in diversity, so is there is strength in unity — the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Ranns has proposed a rational solution, but it trades one patchwork for another patchwork with bigger pieces. Working as one entity, the region can be stronger and more effective than being pulled in 13 different directions.
© Copyright 2013