Editorial: Let the people have their say

A referendum on amalgamation for Greater Victoria would not settle the issue, but would shape future discussion. That’s why it should be on municipal ballots in the next election.

Victoria city councillors are considering putting the question of amalgamation to voters in the next municipal election. They would also encourage other municipalities to follow suit.

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The nonbinding question suggested by Coun. Marianne Alto is a moderate approach: “Are you in favour of reducing the number of municipalities in Greater Victoria through amalgamation?”

Studies and polls can get an idea of the public’s feeling on the issue, but the results would be coloured by the entities that commission the polls and studies, regardless of how professionally they are done. A ballot question would provide the most authoritative answer — the only views not represented on the issue would be those who didn’t bother to vote.

Regardless of election results, the issue will never go away — it has been around for decades, and it will exist as long as there is a multiplicity of municipalities in the region. But a negative vote would push the issue far into the background, clearing the decks for more pressing concerns.

A vote in favour of the principle of amalgamation would not, in itself, result in amalgamation. It would be one small step in a long and complicated process.

Results would undoubtedly vary from one municipality to the other. Knowing the level of support for consolidation in each area would be useful information that would steer future discussion, perhaps along the lines of a suggestion from Metchosin Mayor John Ranns, who has proposed consolidation into six municipalities, some rural, some urban.

No one has anything to fear from a vote on the concept of amalgamation.

In fact, it could put some fears to rest. A municipality that voted overwhelmingly against the question would not likely be drawn into amalgamation unwillingly. The province has stated it is not in favour of any shotgun marriages.

Some municipal politicians say their communities aren’t interested in amalgamation. That’s fine, but they should summon the political courage to put it to a vote. Without prejudicing the outcome, let’s have the discussion. If only Victoria votes on the issue, the exercise will be pointless.

This isn’t about the merits of amalgamation, but about letting people have their say.

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