Amalgamation its been opined, will make the valley one.
The Cowichan Valley is already one, with representatives from its many communities working regionally at the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). And yet, we are seperate as well, with our particular unique locations and flavour. A community of communities (credit to Councillor George Seymour - Freedom of the Municipality)
I think of local politicians as neighbours, taking a turn to help to make our lives healthier and more sustainable, right here at home where we live.
To me, that takes many voices. Higher levels of government are based on the party system. Local government should be based on the values of the local people. Of course, people with right/left and any other kind of viewpoint can and are put into local office. That makes it interesting, diverse and unique from place to place. And it means that most people have a better chance of having at least one elected person advocating for their viewpoints. To make progress at the regional level, people learn to compromise and work together.
Local elected are more accessible than senior elected. Where else can you play ball with, run into in at church or the grocery store, belong to the same service clubs with potentially a couple of dozen 'politicians', and have their ear?
This week in the Cowichan Valley two members of the CVRD's citizens will decide whether they want to amalgamate. Determining whether that will happen after the final count is up to the Province.
No matter the outcome, Duncan and North Cowichan will continue to seek efficiencies and make this region as healthy and sustainable as is possible.
Councillors at both tables urged it was important to keep our personal opinions to ourselves, and we all agreed. It was feared by those advocates that this would become an election issue if Councillors 'weighed in'.
However, over the last while, its become apparent, it is an election issue. Yet, interestingly, the changes in elections donations coming in the Oct 20th election, the date the Citizens Assembly recommended for the referendum, are not in place now. There is no limit to corporate or union donations for this campaign.
The Pro side has put some significant coin into the campaign. They have had an NRG poll, some door knocking, and a full page ad in local paper. Their facebook page is being boosted (costs money) to reach more people. (honestly this makes me wonder why they are so invested in one answer- Yes)
Sadly the Pro Side lists 'benefits' that are misleading and unknown. The tax and service levels will be set by the council/s elected on October 20th. They also direct people to their website, which you could argue is their campaign. Citizens of Duncan and North Cowichan have paid for a consultant to give unbiased facts at www.youdecide.ca Seems that would be the appropriate place to send folks for info.
The pro side speaks of "one voice approaching the province for assistance for a new high school, police station, highway improvements, new hospital (etc)" would make these "needed projects have a greater opportunity for success." The Province has been approached for assistance on all these issues and continues to be lobbied by the CVRD and other valley local governments.
Its the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District board, (CVRHD) whose membership includes Duncan, North Cowichan and the unincorporated areas, that is the table that provides the capital funding for the Cowichan District Hospital, Cairnsmore Place, Ladysmith Community Health and Chemainus Health Care Centre. This is cost shared 60 40, our share is 40%. The CVRHD 2018 budget is $ 16 Million, ($51.89 per $100K assessed property value)
Our new regional hospital is the # 1 replacement priority on Vancouver Island. The land has been purchased (2016 in NC) and the Concept ¨Plan is done and awaiting provincial approval. Next step is the business plan. Once that is approved by the Ministry of Health it is expected the new hospital would be operational in five years.
The new high school location is beside VIU and that site is agreed to by SD 79 and the City and North Cowichan. In terms of good planning, this location and other good planning practices are spelled out in jointly worked on and adopted University Village Local Area Plan.www.northcowichan.ca/assets/Departments/Planning~and~Land~Use/docs/Bylaw3582UVLAP.pdf
When the province gives their funds, these will go forward. One could argue that the up to $11 million that would come to the newly amalgamated Municipality might be put to better use going towards some of our social issues which are at a crisis point. Mental health and addictions, affordability, the opioid crisis. Or towards the hospital, the high school, the highway congestion or the long overdue RCMP station. North Cowichan has purchased land and is awaiting the RCMP. The troubles of too much highway access along the business stretch of Duncan from the bridge to North Cowichan before Beverly Street, has an agreement of a plan by Duncan, North Cowichan and MOTI. It will take MOTI putting in their $25 million to get that one going.
Interestingly a few of the most vociferous Councillors that favored staying mumb where the first to come out with their views. Two parties, The Pro and the No Amalgamation have registered with Elections BC and are running 'campaigns' on amalgamation. The Pro side has photos of elected Councillors who are saying --yes. And the No side has had comments by other Councillors. I have commented on both.
Amalgamation is not something I am voting for, and that has been consistent for me. For me there are so many important issues for the valley to deal with, as a whole -- water quality and supply, affordable housing, economic development, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, the opioid crisis. The stress on our environment from climate change, the challenges facing our 1st Nations neighbours on whose unceded territories we make our home.
I understand it took a substantial amount of staff and council time to amalgamate Abbotsford Masquie -- harmonizing by laws, union contracts, signage, logos, job descriptions. services are some of the things that have to be worked on. The process put much on the back burner for the first two years, and it took twenty years to complete.
There are pressing issues that staff currently struggle to get done. What work plans will be shifted to the side to take care of these and other issues we may not even have thought of concerns me.
(for instance the affordability issue -- to me this could be the most likely reason the region might have to move away from volunteer fire departments -- its generally younger people with the energy to serve -- and younger people are finding it increasingly difficult to find housing, rental or purchase, that is affordable)
Working as a region, we could do a lot to attract some of the billions of dollars senior government is earmarking for affordable housing, some of which is our money, back to the region. It takes plans and concerted effort. The CVRD is considering a referendum on the Oct 20th ballot that would create a function to leverage and get some of those dollars here in the wider valley. I hope that passes. It seems far more important to me than whether or not Duncan and North Cowichan become one.
Duncan is a small city. A jewel in the centre of the Valley -- the Cowichan Valley -- a region that has a lot going for it, but as already stated, also has a lot of challenges. Its those challenges I want our local elected to guide their staff to work on, during the next term, and the next, until it gets done. Until the Cowichan Valley is a livable, safe, sustainable community for all of our citizens.
In my heart I feel unity can be accomplished just as well, and maybe better, by keeping our distinct elected Councils. Many hands, many voices, make light the work. And many minds make wiser decisions.
I urge you all to read the facts at www.youdecide.ca before you vote. And may we all remember, that whatever happens, we are one valley, with many distinct communities and a lot going for us.