The timing of the amalgamation referendum between the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan may be in question after a letter was received from B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson.
Robinson said to both municipalities that there are a number of steps they must complete before she can approve the referendum.
They include a better sense of costs and resources that would be available during the transition to a single municipality, more information on how Duncan and North Cowichan would operate in the time between the referendum and the actual amalgamation (if approved), and a framework on how the new inaugural single council would be developed during the transition period.
“When both councils have considered and agreed on such matters and shared them with me, I will be in a better position to consider your request for a vote and to follow up on the timing of such a vote,” Robinson said.
The amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan was recommended by the 36-member Citizen’s Assembly in May after a lengthy review.
As part of the 2014 municipal elections, both Duncan and North Cowichan councils agreed to include on the ballot a non-binding opinion question in regards to exploring the costs and benefits of amalgamating the two municipalities.
In North Cowichan, 68 per cent of those casting ballots voted in favour of conducting an amalgamation study, and in Duncan, 52 per cent of voters were also in favour.
After the study concluded that amalgamation was feasible, both councils decided earlier this year to hold a referendum, pending permission from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and had indicated that holding the vote in the spring of 2018 was preferable.
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said hopes were high that the referendum would be held sometime around the beginning of April, but the letter from Robinson may change that.
“Staff had hoped that we had already answered all those questions for the ministry,” he said.
“We thought we would hear back from the province in terms of what funding the government would provide us to assist with the referendum and the amalgamation process, if amalgamation is approved.”
Lefebure said he thinks the best response to the letter is to send a more formal letter to the ministry with the information that is being requested included.
He said that letter will likely be sent early in the new year.
“We are now in a position of uncertainty in regards to the referendum and its timing,” Lefebure said.