Cracks in municipal co-operation disturbing: Jensen

Mayor says those who ‘go it alone’ may increase costs for neighbouring jurisdictions

  • Aug. 24, 2016 8:00 p.m.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen

Tim Collins

News contributor

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen is concerned about cracks appearing in longstanding co-operation between some Greater Victoria municipalities.

“The co-operation for fire safety is a prime example. We had a mutual aid system that worked well for 30 years, and suddenly their new fire chief (Victoria Chief Paul Bruce) comes in and everything is open to renegotiation. And the most frustrating thing is that the system worked for everyone’s benefit, and now it’s all open again,” Jensen said.

Jensen said Bruce recently entered into separate negotiations with the union representing Victoria’s firefighters (International Association of Fire Fighters, Local No. 730). Those negotiations resulted in a deal that Jensen said may have the effect of whipsawing up the wages for all the other municipalities in Greater Victoria.

Part of the problem arises from the fact that, in mid-June of this year, Victoria moved to withdraw from the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Association (GVLRA). That association until recently represented the bulk of the municipalities in Greater Victoria, and presented the various municipal unions with one unified collective bargaining agency, allowing for a stronger bargaining position for those municipalities.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it was Victoria’s feeling that the GVLRA had been a good option for Victoria when it was formed in 1976 but that Victoria’s Human Relations Department had, in recent years, handled many of the services once provided by the GVLRA.

“It was just time for us to go it alone,” Helps said.

It’s a move Jensen maintained will put other municipalities in a difficult situation.

“Of course, when we go to negotiate, the union will hold up the agreement with Victoria as a starting point and we’re left negotiating from a position that we had no part in establishing in the first place,” said Jensen.

Helps vehemently denies the assertion that Victoria’s actions will result in a whipsawing of labour agreements.

“This is not something that we did without careful consideration. We hired a consultant and, based on the report we received, this was the best course of action for everyone concerned,” said Helps.

Jensen is also concerned about the new 911 call centre being considered for Greater Victoria. Although 911 calls are currently integrated for police services, some question exists as to whether calls for fire services will be handled by the one central location. While most municipalities have signed on to the centre, Langford and Victoria have not yet agreed to be a part of the centralized system.

“It’s a CRD responsibility to construct the building to house these services, and because we can’t get these municipalities, particularly Victoria, to commit to the integrated system for fire, they (the CRD) don’t even know how big the building has to be,” said Jensen.

Helps takes issue with the concern.

“We are on board to join in the fire services agreement and the 911 co-ordinated service. As recently as yesterday I was having those discussions and we are definitely going to be on board. We just haven’t formally agreed to it as yet,” Helps said.

Jensen maintained, however, that although these issues may not seem significant in and of themselves, they point to a disturbing trend for some municipalities, particularly Victoria, to want to “go it alone.”

Not a proponent of the amalgamation of Greater Victoria municipalities, Jensen acknowledged that it only makes sense for the municipalities to work together, particularly in the provision of services that cross municipal boundaries.

“I believe in service integration,” said Jensen.

“We’re all stronger if we work together. We can keep down costs and provide a better level of service to all residents of Greater Victoria. But when municipalities start opting out and going their own way, it unravels decades of co-operation.”

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a previously posted story.

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