I have been very interested in amalgamation of some sort for many years for a host of regions. Since I moved back to this area in the spring of 2004 I have been looking for people to support in moving this issue forward, but no one was stepping forward to be the leader and start something. I finally decided over this summer that needed to take the bull by the horns and get things rolling by hosting a meeting.
I set a date and had no idea who would come, or if any would come. I did get some decent responses from people saying they would come, but one is never certain.
Last night 20 people met in my home to talk about the idea of amalgamation of our local governments. We had an interesting representation from around the region and the political spectrum. Almost all of the people attending are currently active or very active in local municipal political issues.
I most impressed me with the meeting was the high degree or energy in the room. This was a group that wanted to take action, that felt a passion for achieving better local governance in Greater Victoria. The room was full all evening with people talking why we need some degree of amalgamation, the unenlightened self interests opposing it, and how we might move forward from here.
After the introductions went talked for about half an hour about why we want amalgamation. This is a partial list of the reasons
A more livable city
Rational land use decisions
Increased clout with senior levels of government
Increase the feeling of cohesion as a city
Consolidate the tax base
Make a reality of the regional identity of Victorians
Land use planning based on real neighbourhoods and not artificial boundaries
True sharing of costs and benefits of services and facilities for everyone in the city.
Sharing costs of services and capital projects
More effective governance
An end to neighbourhoods that are divided by artificial lines
Better policing at a lower cost
This is only part of the list, but a reasonable start to why we want to see this happen.
We then moved onto what the barriers have been to the issue moving ahead. Much of what we saw as being the problem is that there are entrenched interests that benefit from the status quo and have control of most of the agenda. We also saw that the very balkanization of our region leads to very limited media coverage of local issues and ownership of media coverage is in the hands of the people opposed to change. There is no space for any real debate of the issues of our city in the media as long as there are 13 local governments.
The existence of 13 local governments also leads to information overload on the one hand and difficulty getting information on the other. There are simply too many councils out there for people to keep track of what they are all doing. At the same time almost none of them are very good at sharing the information they hold.
We also talked about the negative stories that are floating out there about amalgamation in the rest of Canada and these stories influence people here.
There is also fear in neighbourhoods that they will be lost in a bigger city.
Finally, people end to be conservative and resist change because new things are different and unknown.
For there we started the discussion of how do we go forward.
We felt that what we need to do first and foremost was build a movement from the ground up. In the past the issue had been pushed by elites and not made a real issue for everyone. We felt that making use of social media to find like minded people and to start getting the message of why we need amalgamation would be a good starting point.
The goal will be to make amalgamation the issue of debate in this region. We want to make everyone out there opposed to amalgamation to explain why the status quo is good and how they think Saanich and Victoria should be carved up into municipalities of 15,000 to 20,000 people because that is what they think is best for the region by supporting View Royal, Esquimalt, Oak Bay and others continuing to exist.
Our first steps will be to have all the people at the meeting gather together any and all information that supports amalgamation, to have them work out how we present the human face for the need for amalgamation, to develop an early web presence and to meet again in about four weeks.
I am sorry this does not read well, I am writing under the influence of illness, all of us seem to be down with something, I think it might be strep throat.