Amalgamation is a vicious and terrifying word in the Capital, whispered only in dark corners of municipal halls — feared, loved and hated in a thousand new ways with each new day. With Esquimalt’s recent Force Divorce following years of budget tensions, debates about regional funding, and regionalization of the CRD’s land use structure, it seems that somebody’s been feeding that elephant in the corner.
Contrary to popular belief, inter-municipal cooperation — far from being an unworkable mess of chattering politicians — has been improving steadily for years. Regional fire, disaster and ambulance services are well established, and municipal governments are even relinquishing some of their power to the CRD in favour of regional transportation plans and growth strategies.
On the flip side, the brief and torrid police force affair between Victoria and Esquimalt was characterized by regular budget conflicts, uncertainty and ultimate failure. There have been repeated (and largely ignored) calls for regional cost-sharing from Victoria, citing the higher costs of running the region’s downtown and rebuilding everyone’s favourite bridge.
In short, complications abound.
According to Victoria councillor Chris Coleman, fewer municipalities can work. “I think you get a much more cohesive plan for economic development,” says Coleman. Along with transportation and development planning, he argues amalgamation would be better for the region’s cultural health. “We tend to send a lot of our cultural and non-profit community around to 13 different councils, where they might get $5,000 here, a few thousand there — how much are these groups spending to do that?”
Saanich councillor Dean Murdock sees regional cooperation as an alternative to amalgamation. “[With more municipalities] you get a council with focus and familiarity with particular neighbourhoods, and a relationship with the neighbourhood associations rather than having representatives from all over the Capital Region voting on an issue specific to a local neighbourhood where they may not have that familiarity. I think that if you concentrate that responsibility you create a distance between the residents and their representatives.”
Personally, I’ve always had trouble ignoring the late great Jane Jacobs — “Respect for difference in neighbourhoods is essential. Megacity bureaucracies cannot respond with this kind of pinpoint accuracy. It defies common sense to inflict on the citizens and businesses a government that is less responsive than what they have now.” Complications indeed. M