Recent polls have focussed attention once again on what Greater Victorians have been saying for years: We need an independent and thorough study of amalgamation in the region and an opportunity to vote on potential change.
In the two biggest municipalities, the polls reported 76 per cent of Victorians and 71 per cent from Saanich endorsed an amalgamation study. This is consistent with the 75 per cent Yes votes in non-binding referenda in the last municipal election.
So it begs the question as to why B.C. Premier Christy Clark has failed to meet her promise of a full amalgamation study. And B.C. Communities Minister Peter Fassbender has similarly been tiptoeing around local politicians, with vague projects whose mandate appears to support the status quo.
A couple of distant academics residing in cities thousands of kilometres from Victoria declare that the governance in this region is an ideal model. Their pronouncements only underline their ignorance of the day-to-day issues that stifle the social, economic and environmental health of Greater Victoria, and produce guffaws and exasperation from those who actually live here.
Whether it’s wasted millions on sewage treatment squabbles, the failure to co-operate and solve daily transportation/gridlock issues, public safety deficiencies from multiple police/fire/dispatch centres, the uglification of this beautiful region from lack of planning, the vicious backbiting and discord at the Capital Region District board with its self-aggrandizing unelected members, or the failure to capture the attention of the federal government for infrastructure funds befitting an urban area (and provincial capital city) of our size.
For example, while other cities are revitalizing rail, the City of Victoria was forced to rip out and forego rail on the new blue bridge when other municipalities refused to help fund this regional transportation facility. Likewise, the E&N rail corridor languishes with no regional government to champion its refurbishment and break the daily traffic gridlock to and from the West Shore. In the leadership vacuum, we get useless highway overpasses and more unsightly strip malls.
Meanwhile, the province stands idly by as their consultants gather information from 91 mayors and councillors in 13 municipalities to demonstrate to all and sundry that our current balkanized local government system is just fine and dandy.
Any political party expecting to elect candidates in the next provincial election must consider how to rescue this region and resolve to fix the current local government mess. Real leadership involves respecting the democratic will of the population. Do we have such candidates? Are there local politicians who will stand on their hind legs and respect their pre-election pledges and promises of an amalgamation study?
Fobbing this off as a municipal, not provincial, issue does not wash with the electorate. Municipalities and their structure are creatures of the province.
Thousands of people in the region are determined that democracy be respected and are steadfast in their resolve for reform. And they are waiting to hear concrete measures from the province and municipalities on steps for the amalgamation study promised by the premier.