The Capital Regional District is caught up in another dispute among member municipalities that makes the sewage row look tame. The issue this time is an updated growth strategy for the region — the first since 2003.
The plan deals with every aspect of future development — land use, ecosystem preservation, transportation, economic potential, food security and measures to contain urban sprawl.
But although the new strategy was five years in the making, when it was delivered to the region’s 13 municipalities for review, only six were in favour. The remaining seven rejected the plan.
Some mayors groused they were given inadequate time to weigh such complex issues. The strategy was mailed out in December, and they were allowed only 60 days to respond.
Due to the Christmas break, and subsequent bad weather, some councils were unable to hold public-consultation sessions. That seems a definite weakness in the formal response process.
Yet the 60-day period is set in provincial legislation. The CRD had no choice in the matter.
However, along with complaints about short time lines, there are significant disagreements on issues of substance. One of the most heated has to do with water-service policy.
The provision of water is one of the major drivers of urban sprawl. Basically, build a pipeline and new homes will spring up all along the route. The CRD plan limits pipeline construction to residential areas designated for future development (occasional exceptions are permitted).
But some councils believe this unfairly punishes farms and homeowners in rural districts. They would prefer to see other methods, such as zoning schemes, used to control sprawl.
There are also concerns that the CRD’s transit strategy fails to meet the needs of outlying districts.
The question is, what should be done. Regional growth strategies can only be adopted with unanimous consent of the member municipalities.
That consent has not been given, nor, it would appear, will it be given. Most, if not all, of the opposing councils are dug in. Those in favour seem equally determined.
If the deadlock persists when the CRD board meets on Wednesday, there are only two options. The board could take a step back and try to work out a compromise.
But that would require a willingness to negotiate among local councils. If a satisfactory arrangement couldn’t be brokered during five years of discussions, what hope is there now?
The second option is to refer the matter to the provincial minister responsible, Peter Fassbender, and let him sort it out. And that could be messy.
Fassbender has only two choices. He can refer the dispute to a mediator who would seek a middle ground. But there is no middle ground here.
Or he can appoint an arbitrator who will come down on one side or the other — a winner-take-all solution. If that happens, there will be some very unhappy councils, whichever way the decision goes. Nevertheless, this is the CRD staff’s preferred route.
The problem here is not a matter of conflicting personalities or warring local governments. The problem is that a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist. There are fundamental disparities between the region’s municipalities.
Those with a rural character have different interests to protect than those that make up the urban core. Asking either group to accede to the other’s point of view is asking elected officials to break trust with their voters.
We’ll see what the CRD board makes of this conflict on Wednesday. But there is no magic wand here.
With hindsight, it was probably a mistake to develop a single, overarching strategy. We do need a regional growth plan, but one that allows individual communities more room to chart their own path.