It’s election season. As usual, amalgamation is the subject of much interest and speculation. Proponents argue that it will save money, cut service duplication, and give our region a single voice when working with senior governments.
Some of that might happen – though I suspect there would be no real cost savings – but we don’t need to rush to amalgamation to reduce duplication and speak with a common voice.
For most residents of the capital region, the boundaries that separate Saanich from Victoria, Oak Bay, or Esquimalt are immaterial. Commuters travel down our major corridors to get from home to work or school with little regard for the colour of the street signs.
Our elected officials need to start viewing the world in similar terms. We’re a region. Let’s act like one.
There’s a lot more that we can do regionally. Transportation planning can clearly be shared. Let’s plan our transit routes, bus lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks, and trails with the regional commuter in mind.
We should also set regional infrastructure priorities. 13 municipalities have 13 different lists of important projects. We’re all competing for the same pots of federal and provincial money. Let’s consolidate our lists and identify our common priorities. Then we can speak with a single voice and get the attention of senior governments.
Our vision for growth should be regional too. We have common values. Let’s articulate how we live up to those values through our Regional Sustainability Strategy (RSS). It’s the job of the local Council to support the vision and values of the RSS through their decision-making.
Making land use decisions at the regional level doesn’t make sense and isn’t good governance.
I hear from residents all over Saanich that they like that they can pick up the phone and call their Councillor if there’s something going on in their neighbourhood. An amalgamated regional government would sever that community relationship. We’d likely have a ward system with two or three local representatives per neighbourhood on a 20- or even 50-member Board. That’s too big; too far removed from local issues and local residents.
Let’s let local Councils make the local land use decisions. But let’s regionalize the common services and work together on a planning and implementing a regional vision. It’s better governance, better service, and it just makes sense.