Amalgamation answer matters

A non-binding question does not force council to go forward at all, it merely arms them with the voters’ opinion.

Just a few months ago, the push to convince the region’s 13 councils that a non-binding question on amalgamation was a good idea during this fall’s elections seemed all but defeated.

AmalgamationYes, a resident group set up to lead that drive, still appears to have limited reach (its online petition includes less than 1,000 names). But the group’s lobbying efforts are bearing fruit, as Sidney, Esquimalt, Victoria, Central Saanich and Langford have all agreed to put the amalgamation question to voters this fall.

Oak Bay, too, took a step towards that decision last week with Coun. Kevin Murdoch’s notice that he will ask council to make a formal decision on a question before the end of this month.

Allowing the province to both pay for and staff a team that would examine multiple models of amalgamation and integration in the Capital Region is a good deal for voters and for local politicians. They’ll have to get their hands dirty and do heavy lifting when providing data to the province, but the temporary effort is worth the payoff.

If the study provides a better way to share policing, fire and other large pieces of the municipal budgetary pie while retaining autonomous borders, then the temporary effort is worth the payoff.

If the study leads to amalgamation of some natural neighbours in the region and to better cohesion among regional players, the effort is worth the payoff.

Including the amalgamation question on the ballot will not necessarily lead directly to amalgamation. And a non-binding question does not force council to go forward at all, it merely arms them with the voters’ opinion.

Murdoch aims to frame the question so voters know what amalgamation means and why council wants to know. While this will be more tricky than a simple yes or no question, the answer may surprise us all.