If there’s one thing residents of the capital are good at, it’s complaining. Hidden away under the shadow of Vancouver at the edge of one of Canada’s backwater provinces, we’ve gotten used to fighting for someone else’s table scraps. Perhaps it’s this tradition that encourages the infighting and passing of blame among the 13 fiefdoms that compose the capital region that seems to arise during those rare days that we’re left without persecution from abroad.
A perennial favourite for local debate is Victoria’s claim that policing the bar crowd, maintaining major thoroughfares, and generally dealing with the influx of people from surrounding municipalities means that the people using the downtown core contribute too little to its maintenance. Long touted by politicians on this side of the border, Victoria’s underdog status received official sanction in the city’s recent call for a review of its revenue and tax policies. In the request, Victoria states that: “Many of the services the city provides are regional in nature … In addition, rising costs are putting pressure on the city’s main funding source, property taxes.”
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin says that while the city does benefit from the region’s highest proportion of business taxes, the price of serving the region’s workforce continues to weigh heavily. “What you have,” says Fortin, “is a population of about 75,000 people carrying the burden for a larger central core.” The solution, says Fortin, is in regional service delivery. “Find those issues that cross municipal borders and work on them together.”
Without dismissing regionalization entirely, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins argues that municipalities should start by looking for solutions within their own borders. The most important thing for Desjardins remains local councils’ ability to respond to the needs of residents. “There has to be a way in which municipalities can provide that close voice and close ear and we can be responsible as a region.”
Most of the capital’s pols have long since grown tired of this debate. Whether we call it amalgamation, regionalization, coordinated service delivery, whatever, the argument is the same — and, while cautious, politicians across the CRD are slowly beginning to accept reality. The invisible walls that divide our region are crumbling. What remains is to muster the political will to embrace the future. M