Political scientist weighs pros and cons of amalgamation

Amalgamation best, but there would be trade offs

It’s likely the City of Duncan could face some loss of political power and identity to the much larger Municipality of North Cowichan if amalgamation moves forward, according to Alexander Netherton.

Netherton, a political science professor at Vancouver Island University, said that with just under 5,000 people in Duncan and more than 38,000 in North Cowichan, Duncan’s political voice could be lost and its distinct identity could fade if the city is absorbed into its larger neighbour.

But he said Duncan, which is just more than two-kilometres square and the smallest city in Canada, is hemmed in by North Cowichan and parts of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, so it has little opportunity to expand its land base to allow for more development or to expand its tax base.

Netherton said every case is different, but there is a general move towards amalgamation in some other B.C. communities, including the Victoria Capital Region.

“It’s not a new debate in the Cowichan Valley either, where Duncan has been in its own borders since 1912,” he said.

“So why is this coming to a head now? Many people say there wouldn’t be much change with amalgamation, but some of the main issues that are driving it is the increasing costs of services and the need to increase investments in infrastructure in the communities, which can be dealt with easier if the communities were amalgamated.”

Netherton said the “systemic integration” of Duncan and North Cowichan has already been occurring for years, with the two municipalities sharing many services, including recreation and police services.

“My guess would be there would be more voters in Duncan opposed to amalgamation than in North Cowichan, but the question has to be ‘Is amalgamation viable in the long-term?’” he asked.

“There likely would be no huge costs savings to amalgamation or major changes to administration, but having both communities amalgamated and more economically integrated would be better for everyone. There would have to be trade-offs, but I think that it’s the best way to go.”

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