WATCH: After the 2014 municipal election, voters in seven of the region’s 13 municipalities opted to look further into amalgamation. And on Wednesday, the province released its report. Mary Griffin reports.
The B.C. government said it will not impose any actions on municipalities as a result of a report on integrated services and governance in the Capital region that was released Wednesday.
The Capital Integrated Services and Governance Initiative report, released by the Ministry of Municipal of Affairs and Housing, was commissioned by the previous Liberal government in 2016. It looked at the 16 services delivered by 13 local governments and the Capital Regional District (CRD), such as police, fire, water, recreation and housing.
“The initiative is not about amalgamation – but regardless of whether you view the issue as one of amalgamation or integration, services and how they are delivered are core to both,” the report said.
The report was finished earlier this year in order to inform potential discussions among local governments in the area. Following the 2014 municipal elections, residents in some communities were asked about their interest in amalgamated services or governance.
There are no specific, detailed recommendations in the report for the region to make decisions on amalgamation or greater service integration.
Education Minister Rob Fleming, speaking on behalf of Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson, said the report does not directly address amalgamation, and that’s not likely to change.
“It’s pretty clear that the previous government steered it away from the question around political amalgamation. And had it very much focused on services. When it comes to the capital region, our priorities are very clear,” Fleming said. “We want to build more affordable housing. Make life more affordable overall for people who live here, and work here.”
However, there are three recommendations for local governments to consider.
The first recommendation is to keep moving forward with efforts to streamline service delivery. The report said the region is integrating and improving delivery of protective services, such as 911 dispatch, as well as solid waste, housing, regional transportation planning and economic development.
The second recommendation is to create a regional framework for discussing service integration and governance. This would include creating a consistent municipal reporting system to allow for an accurate comparison
Evaluating new opportunities for improving service integration and governance is the third recommendation. The report said local governments can use the information in the report to assess where opportunities for enhancing service integration and governance exist.
Barriers to integrating capital region services were also outlined in the report. One of the barriers the report lists is that the geography of the region “emphasizes community uniqueness over community cohesion.”
“The geography of the Capital region results in a dispersed settlement pattern, which has forced development to expand in non-concentric directions. This has resulted in the Capital region having an unusual footprint with the urban core at the southern tip of Vancouver Island and suburban growth extending both north and west from the core,” the report said.
According to the report, the overall result of the region’s geography is a physically dispersed development pattern that it makes it difficult to create efficient transportation networks and leads to a stronger sense of separation between communities.
“This lack of physical cohesion contributes to the sentiment that the region, and in a sense the CRD, is controlled by the core municipalities, generating skepticism amongst non-core municipalities in regards to arrangements focused on the region and/ or CRD,” the report said.
Shellie Gudgeon with Amalgamation Yes, a local group that questions the value of having 13 municipalities in the region, said the issue is complicated.
“It shows the complexities of our region. And how difficult it is to manage that,” Gudgeon said. “It definitely screams that we need to take this further. We need the provincial government to show leadership.”
Other barriers were differing service models among the municipalities, including fire protection and police and the transaction costs and capacity of municipal staff resources that could potentially be prohibitive.
Services delivered through multi-party agreements or by third parties have fewer accountability mechanisms, the report said. It was also listed as a barrier.
Opportunities for integration were listed in the report. The service areas that were examined include water, sewer, solid waste, police, transportation, fire, recreation, parks, libraries and planning and economic development.
Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen says residents of his community voted against amalgamation in the 2014 municipal election because the current system works.
“I’m very happy with the current system. You know, every system can always improve one way or another. There’s no question about that,” Jensen said. “But I think we have a very good, well-functioning system.”
Following this report, the province said it will work with 13 municipal councils and the CRD to make services more affordable and available.