Amalgamation, yes?

By Aaren Madden, May 2013

An amalgamation of groups favouring amalgamation in Greater Victoria

“With an amalgamated community, there would be no CRD,” Earl Anthony told those attending the April 10 launch of the Amalgamation Yes office on Pembroke Street. Once the thunderous applause and cheering died down, he continued, “You would at least have a district representative at the table, which doesn’t happen in our current structure. Chances of something coming out of the woodwork like Viewfield Road [site of the proposed biosolids plant] would be less likely.”

His comments were in answer to a question from the audience regarding the main concern held by the 90-odd people present: accountability. 

Amalgamation Yes, as the Capital Region Municipal Amalgamation Society is known informally, is a recently-formed nonprofit, joining various groups already pursuing the issue—“an amalgamation of amalgamators,” as cofounder John Vickers quips, declaring the centre marks the beginning of “a new, unified, shared vision with the goal to finally extend to citizens the opportunity to express their voice.” 

The group seeks to fulfill that by making amalgamation a referendum question during the next municipal elections in November 2014. That would give the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development the mandate for an in-depth study of the viability of amalgamation in the region and the form it would take. After public hearings, a binding referendum would then be held.

Anthony noted, “Each step is critical…if this goes together incorrectly, all we have done is substitute one cumbersome, ineffective system for another cumbersome, ineffective system.” 

That risk is somewhat mitigated since amalgamation would not be imposed by the provincial government here, as was the case in Toronto, Halifax and other cities (it’s against our Community Charter). The impetus must come from the municipalities. But our many mayors aren’t exactly falling over themselves to become redundant—which means citizens have to force the issue if they want it to happen. And some citizens are naturally sceptical about pressing for amalgamation, because they fear a larger municipality will endanger what they hold most sacred: community identity and voice. It’s a bit of a catch-22.

As a Society cofounder, Victoria Councillor Shellie Gudgeon is confident amalgamation will actually strengthen neighbourhoods by allowing them to focus on enhancement instead of having to fight against, say, sewage treatment plants. She believes “the future is working together in a more cohesive structure than we currently have,” and urges, “Let’s learn from best practices [elsewhere].” By focusing on a grassroots-based amalgamation process, our region could even establish some best practices as well. If we can have 13 municipalities in the tiny tip of one island, anything is possible. 

 —Aaren Madden