A lot to consider in the North Cowichan-Duncan amalgamation issue

Technical aspects seem daunting

There will be nothing simple about the amalgamation of North Cowichan and Duncan, if voters from both communities decide on that course of action during the referendum in the spring of 2018.

The technical aspects of amalgamation are daunting and many questions will have to answered as to how the two municipalities will combine their administrations, taxation policies, services like police protection and garbage collection and their many other programs and responsibilities before the referendum is held.

A recently released report that was prepared by Vancouver’s Urban Systems and called “Amalgamation Study Technical Analysis Report” explains in great detail what Duncan and North Cowichan can expect to deal with if the referendum is successful.

The report points out that even the most fundamental issue of what the new, united municipality would call itself will have to be resolved.

I expect most residents of North Cowichan who have been living there a long time would have a problem with calling themselves citizens of Duncan if amalgamation goes forward, and vice-versa for the people who live in Duncan.

The report states that a similar situation took place in Matsqui and Abbotsford in 1995 when both districts decided to amalgamate.

Like Duncan, Abbotsford was the smaller community so it came as a surprise to many when most residents of both communities chose Abbotsford as the name of the new amalgamated municipality.

It appears that because Abbotsford had been the downtown for the entire area, as Duncan is in the Cowichan Valley, residents in Matsqui had also come to identify with the name.

Whether that would be acceptable here in the Valley has yet to be determined, but there’s always the possibility of many wanting a whole new name.

Perhaps residents would prefer the name North Cowichan/Duncan as the local RCMP detachment that protects both communities calls itself, but that’s quite a mouthful.

Personally, I like the name Warmland, which comes from the First Nations Coast Salish, who named the area Quw’utsun’ or Cowichan, and means “land warmed by the sun’’, but I’m sure many more creative names will be considered if that’s the route we end up going.

There’s also the question of how the new municipality would be represented at the council table.

Currently, the Community Charter states that for a city or district with a population less than 50,000, the council size is set at one mayor and six councillors.

However, the number of councillors can vary and if council size is deemed to be an issue, a question on it could potentially be included as part of the referendum.

Both North Cowichan and Duncan’s councils are currently voted in by the use of an “at-large” system in which councillors represent all of the municipality that it serves.

But in a larger municipality like Warmland (let’s see how it looks in a sentence) would be, there’s always the risk that many or all of the councillors would come from the more populated areas, leaving smaller and less populated regions under-represented at the table.

To solve that, we could implement a ward system in Warmland (let’s try it again) in which the municipality is broken up into districts in which each councillor is elected.

The idea is to ensure that each distinct neighbourhood has a councillor to protect its interests.

However, the ward system has seen challenges in a number of other jurisdictions that have it, including the fact that councillors are generally well-known in their neighbourhoods and are frequently elected by acclamation, so participation by competing candidates can be low.

These types of issues are just the tip of the iceberg of what will have to be hashed out before the residents of Duncan and North Cowichan go to the polls next spring.

A lot of work has to be done in a very short time.

Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com.

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