Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Conversation Last Night about Amalgamation

Last night at SJ Willis there were about 150 people that showed up to take part in a conversation about amalgamation in this region.    The TC article said 200 people, but I counted and only come to 150.   There were 16 tables set up for 8 people each but then had to be able to accommodate 9-10 people because of the crowd there.

Matt Wright will have full details of all the notes taken up at VictoriaWave.ca.

Janice La Couvee has pulled together all the tweets from the evening.

Here now is my take on the evening.

What thrilled me is not only how many people came out, but how much media attention the event got.   This was the sort of kick off to the discussion of how we should govern ourselves that this region has needed for a very, very long time.  I have been hearing people talking about this issue since I first moved to Victoria in 1983 to go to UVic as a 17 year old.  

The evening started with a bit of in introduction of the ad hoc group that pulled the meeting together.   After this Murray Langdon read out a precis of my posting from last week about how we got to 13 municipalities.  Mat Wright gave a quick run down of the current legal situation in BC vis a vis local governance.   It is after this that we got into the meat of the evening.

The process used last night was a "Conversation Cafe" - each table spend time talking about several questions set by the organizers.    I was very impressed at how well it worked at table 9 where I was.   I also like how this process engaged everyone as part of the evening in an active and thoughtful manner.   This was not a room of 150 people listening to a few talking heads at the front for two hours.   Most of the evening was taken up with local residents talking with each other.  

My table was like most, when we were given the chance for a break, we did not take it, we just continued going.  We were engaged and interested.   Almost every table was just as engaged.

I was dubious about the process, but when I saw how well it worked for the evening, I think this was just about the perfect way to get the ball rolling and to get the people taking ownership of the evening.

I have to admit the room was full of people I know.   I think 30% of the people there were people I know on a personal basis.   This was also a room full of people that vote locally.   I raise these two things about the crowd to point out that this is a very narrow self selecting group - a smart and engaged crowd but at the same time a very predictable set of people overall.    It is important as this process goes forward to remember there are 350,000 people in the region and 150 people is less than a drop in the bucket.

In the end what I take away from the evening is that most people think there is something not right about how we govern ourselves locally.   This is best summed if you ask anyone in this region and ask them if they started with a blank map of this region would they come up with these 13 municipalities, or even 13 municipalities at all.  People see the boundaries, they see the duplication of services, the compartmentalization of the region and instinctively say this does not make sense for our region.

The second theme I take away is that people have interests in governance that extend to the whole region and all aspects of their lives.   As it stands, we only get a voice where we sleep at night.  Most people get no voice in governance where they work, shop or play.   I shop in Saanich, Esquimalt and Langford but have no vote in choosing the councils that decide what happens in those municipalities.

There is an energy started with this event, now the question will be how to harness this energy and move forward with it.    I think more events like last night are important, but there is other work that needs to done.

There are many questions that need to be answered so people can understand our situation.  I am talking with a couple of people about how we can get the research done to answer some of the questions.   It is with good information that we will have the public knowledge needed to decide how we think we should govern ourselves.

I will pull out some of the sort questions that need answering in a later post.   I will also address some of the myths that have arisen about amalgamation that are used as arguments by people opposed to amalgamation in a later post.
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