Oak Bay council will soon be debating a motion to join most other Greater Victoria municipalities in a provincially led and funded governance review of the region. And while it’s true that only four out of 10 Oak Bay voters endorsed the non-binding question on the November municipal ballot, it was also true it was a question that drew scorn as “an ill-disguised attempt at sabotaging the result”, “the most negatively phrased question” and “guaranteed to elicit a negative response”. Despite the flawed question, a significant number voted Yes. What results might have been achieved had the question been phrased to ask residents if they favoured a governance review?
Unlike the independent audits undertaken by the provincial and federal Auditors-General, B.C. municipalities currently have no effective functional oversight body that reports to citizens on an annual basis. Sure, municipalities have their financial reports audited, but that amounts to little more than making sure the numbers add up, a year after the fact.
Participating in the governance study would provide relevant, unbiased information about service and program delivery. Why wouldn’t council want information made available to the public that might point to potential improvements and efficiencies? Is this the best that can be done for our community? (And by the way, here’s your 5.1 per cent property tax increase, and have a nice day.)
It’s said that information gaps are filled with speculation, and it’s a slippery slope to an opaque government when residents are prevented from having oversight information.
Regardless, a regional governance review is imminent, and Oak Bay runs the risk of being excluded if council doesn’t endorse participation. We are geographically, socially and economically linked to the region, not an island unto ourselves, and there are negative implications if council chooses a path of isolation from our municipal neighbours. We implore our community leaders not to shut their eyes and ears to this opportunity.
It’s critical to understand that this is the most important regional study every undertaken in Greater Victoria. It will form the basis for how our region might be shaped in the years ahead, and those residents will be active participants. They will then have the chance to demonstrate their democratic choice for status quo or change, in a future binding referendum. We’d like to have that chance too.