Vancouver Island amalgamation debates set to restart in 2018

There are only three certainties on Vancouver Island: death, taxes and discussions about amalgamation.

Duncan and North Cowichan hope to hold referendum this spring, Victoria proponents plan next steps

Eleven of the 13 municipalities in Victoria's Capital Regional District (Sidney and North Saanich not pictured) (Capital Regional District)

There are only three certainties in Greater Victoria: death, taxes and discussions about amalgamation. 

Whether B.C.'s capital region should have fewer municipalities than its current 13 will be back on the radar this weekend, as the "Amalgamation Yes" group meets to discuss strategy for the 2018 municipal elections. 

"We remain true to our mission, which is requiring the region has more accountable, responsible effective governance," said Shellie Gudgeon, co-chair of the group.

How the group goes about moving Greater Victoria toward fewer cities and towns through this election cycle is yet to be determined.

In the 2014 elections, the group campaigned in support of non-binding referendum questions in eight municipalities. Voters in seven of those areas — including Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich and Central Saanich — voted in favour of either amalgamation in the region, or to direct their municipalities to look at greater efficiencies.

But the provincial government rejected studying amalgamation directly. Instead, it issued a report that looked at the costs and benefits of further sharing services. 

"It would be pointless to put the same question, because nothing was acted upon the last time," said Gudgeon.  

She hopes the new provincial government will be open to a study that explicitly looks at political integration between various municipalities. 

"We don't have a plan for whether it's one, three, five or seven municipalities," said Gudgeon.  

"We want the data from a government review that has been supported by the voters." 

North Cowichan and Duncan hope for vote

Fifty kilometres to the north of Victoria, two other municipalities are experiencing a delay in their own amalgamation vote. 

The City of Duncan (population 5,000, two square kilometres in size) and the District of North Cowichan (30,000 people, 195 square kilometres in size) were hoping to have a referendum this spring to ask residents if they want the two municipalities to merge.

But that initiative was put in some jeopardy after the provincial government sent a letter to the municipalities. It's asking for more data on costs, and more information on how a new council would work before it will give the go ahead for a referendum.

"Definitely our amalgamation committee thought they had provided that information, but we can understand the province would like to see it in writing," said North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure. 

He's staying neutral in the process, and hopes a referendum can still take place in the first half of 2018. 

"In local government, we learn that things do not happen necessarily as quickly as we would like, and all the T's have to be crossed, and that's where we're really at with this process.

"Being disappointed isn't going to help anything."

North Cowichan and Duncan are just two municipalities proposing a strict amalgamation after years of negotiations and citizen assemblies, whereas people have floated various theories for how Greater Victoria could be reconfigured.

It's one of the reasons why Lefebure won't predict if Greater Victoria will join its neighbours to the north on a referendum path anytime soon.

"There's a long history of us working together with the City of Duncan so I see it as a complete order of magnitude to what the [capital region] is going to talk about," said Lefebure.

"The complexity of what their 13 jurisdictions have to do is far, far greater."
 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.