Residents of Duncan and North Cowichan will soon be asked to vote in a referendum on amalgamation. To date there has been little real public debate on the topic. This may be due to the fact that whatever question is asked in the referendum it will be the wrong question.
The City of Duncan’s problems can never be solved by amalgamation with the Municipality of North Cowichan. The two were severed a century ago for good reason. To append Duncan to an already unwieldy North Cowichan will only make matters worse.
Duncan is an urban centre, the core of an extended region serving some 80,000 people in the Cowichan Valley and adjacent areas. North Cowichan is fundamentally a rural/small town community currently burdened by an agglomeration of suburban Duncanites who have little in common with the denizens of Genoa Bay, Maple Bay, Crofton or Chemainus or indeed those who enjoy the rural lifestyle offered by the areas between.
Duncan’s problems can only be solved by extending its boundaries east to at least Lakes Road, west to encompass that remnant of North Cowichan and north to Highway 18. To the south, Duncan will always remain in partnership with Cowichan Tribes as it is now.
To contemplate this sensible, possibly inevitable, solution, North Cowichan will be understandably conflicted. Loss of population and tax base would be a difficult pill to swallow. On the other hand, it would rationalize what North Cowichan really is and give it a renewed sense of purpose based on a better appreciation of what the municipality might become. (Some solace might be had through an amalgamation with Saltair which has far more in common with North Cowichan than the latter ever had with Duncan).
Such changes would require real vision and courage on the part of politicians and vigourous and well informed debate by the public. None of this could or should be undertaken in a rush. Let’s take the time to explore all the possibilities, not just the simple “amalgamation or not” that seems to be indicated. Let’s do it right for the next hundred years.