Local Communities: Keeping the Spirit Alive

Written by Harold McNeill on November 3rd, 2014. Posted in Amalgamation Posts, Editorials


 

 

13 Young PeopleNew Years Eve 2013 (Brentwood Inn):  While young people are always a big part of the spirit of every community, the current demographic is a new breed committed to maintaining and improving small communities and they have the power to greatly influence how life in the Capital Region will unfold by Keeping the Spirit Alive.
By coincidence, there are thirteen young people in this photograph. We have worked, travelled and partied with many of these young people during a good part of their lives.
(March 3, 2018, 535)

November 9, 2014: A new post on McNeill Life Stories Facebook Page:
Thirteen Communities and Ninety-Two largely Volunteer Councillors 

The Real Costs of Amalgamation (Time Colonist November 23, 2014)

Another Post on this Blog: Amalgamation, Searching for the Truth

To our younger family members and friends in the Capital Region,

Do you think it possible that one morning you might wake up and your community, as you know it, was suddenly changed forever?  I am not referring to a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, but to a political change that would affect the fabric of your community and the social glue that holds it together.  Please take a few minutes to digest the attached post and other links provided in the footer.

Young People Today

Over a good portion of the past twenty years, Lynn and I have travelled an exciting path with many of you. From school to sport, art, music, then following your steps towards finding a career. Your community, environmental and social conscience is something to be admired and is an essence of life that needs to be carefully nurtured and preserved.  Your daily activities reveal you to care a great deal about food sources, sustainability and the quality of life in communities sprinkled across the Capital Region.  Some of you have evenPumpkin Patch in Saanich returned to this area after testing life in other parts of our country and the wider world. Why did you come back?  Almost certainly, quality of life!

Photo (Web Source):  This pumpkin patch on the Saanich Peninsula (by the CRD Park at Island View Beach), is typical of the urban, suburban and rural mix that defines the Capital Region. The opportunities and challenges in each of these areas are better understood by local community politicians than by a government controlled in the Central Core that is dominated by the interests of business and power politicians.

The young entrepreneurs among you are building a unique space in a very competitive business world, while others have embarked upon more traditional careers. You make us proud. We know how each of you supports one another and encourage everyone to support small business and local involvement from James Bay to Oak Bay, to Sidney and North Saanich and across the region, yet I doubt many of you have given much thought to the role governance structures and politics plays in your well-being.

While the role politicians play is very important in our democracy, in a city of any size the fact of whether those politicians are close at hand or remote, makes a huge difference.

British Columbia has a unique system of Regional Districts that works very well, in that it allows smaller communities to have a real say in how they develop. But not everyone agrees, particularly those who would like to see more centralized control, that is, a larger city with a single government. Amalgamation, they say, is the answer.  Sidney, Langford, View Royal and all the other outlying areas, in their view, would be more efficient and cost-effective, if governed by a single Mayor and Council. It takes little imagination to figure out where that Mayor and Council would be located.

The Question of Amalgamation

It is with this stated goal in mind, that a question concerning “amalgamation” will appear on the ballot of eight of our thirteen communities. It is a process that has the potential (over time) to greatly alter the community-based system in the Capital Region.

Having done a lot of reading on both sides of this issue and having spent fifteen years of my retired life writing about and working to transform governance structures at the local, provincial and national level as a member of various Boards of Directors, it is my conclusion that, in most, but not all, cases, amalgamation serves the interests of a few and hurts the interests of the majority. Let me give you a couple of examples of how people feel about our present community based system:

A recent Angus Reid Poll (reference charts in footer) indicates 77% of citizens in the Capital Region are Very or Moderately Satisfied with the manner in which their local communities are run (e.g. View Royal, Oak Bay, Sidney, Langford, etc). That is a significant number and is likely higher than almost every other city in Canada.  Clearly, residents think their politicians and the municipal staff is doing an excellent job of looking after the affairs for which they are responsible (e.g. police, fire, engineering, building, parks and rec, roads and parking, community services, etc.).  But, there is more.

In this region, there is another level of government, the Capital Regional District (CRD). It has a 24 person board (appointed by the member communities) that oversees a number of services that cross borders (e.g. Regional Parks and Trails, Waste Disposal, Regional Growth strategy, etc.).  The CRD is essentially our ‘big city’ government and while they do a pretty good job, in the same Angus Reid Poll, only 43% of area residents indicated they were Moderately or Very Satisfied with the service. I could give many reasons for this lower support but will set that aside for another discussion.  Now, this brings us to the push for Amalgamation.

Who is pushing amalgamation?

For the most part, those pushing the amalgamation agenda is well-funded business groups, politicians and citizens, centred in Victoria.  Make no mistake, they may sometimes dress this as four or five mini-amalgamations (e.g. North Saanich, Sidney and Central Saanich, with the north part of Saanich proper, etc), but the ultimate goal is the concentration of power in the downtown core. Information will be presented in an upcoming about the inherent dangers posed by the ‘partial-amalgamation’ model.

The Angus Reid Poll makes it clear that those pushing for amalgamation favour decreasing that which citizens find most desirable (e.g. local community control) and increasing that which they find least desirable (remote, centralized control).  Overlooked is the fact that even with its shortcomings, the Capital Regional Board already supplies the coordinated services we need in this area.  It may sometimes be slow, even awkward, but to suggest that creating a centrally controlled Regional Government is going to magically solve the challenges, is wishful thinking.

Much is made of saving money and improving efficiency, but it would be difficult to find a single amalgamated city anywhere in Canada that provided either of those outcomes. With a few exceptions (usually cited as the examples by the pro-am groups) citizens of amalgamated communities, whether they be smaller (less than 500,000) or larger, as in the half dozen or more amalgamations that took place in Ontario in the late 1990s, believe their quality of life was degraded as the power base shifted from local communities to the downtown core. Those who benefited most were well-connected business people and politicians.

Election Day – November 15th

The first time the ‘amalgamation’ issue will be on the ballot is during the upcoming Municipal elections and I encourage you to begin thinking about the issue. Of course, none of this will happen overnight, but if you wait until the die is cast, you may wake up one morning and find your community just disappeared as a self-governing unit. I have written on the “no” side while the information from the “yes” side may be viewed via the links provided in the footer. It seems the “yes” side never prints anything that detracts from their message so I think it important you at least scan their material to understand the full depth of their arguments.  You can then compare that to some facts.

In closing I again use a quote my nephew made during a Facebook discussion on amalgamation:

“Hmmm…I would think that the effects on community spirit and the like depend less on the size of the municipality and more on what people actually do for and with each other. The suggestion that amalgamation is the solution to municipaliti…es money and service problems misses the point that efficiency is a means, not an end. Also, efficiency pushers are addicted to this mission. For them, government can never be efficient enough. After the amalgamation, they will see nothing but waste and continue to push for cuts. Service will deteriorate and that poor performance will be the new justification for further cuts, privatization, etc.” (Lorin Yochim)

Knowing each of you, I believe the thoughts expressed by Lorin represent the ideals held by many of you and hundreds of other young people sprinkled throughout the Capital Region. You have either returned or choose to stay in this region because you feel connected to the community you live or work.  You are already deeply involved, so take a bit more time to consider how the governance of your community affects you.

Please spread the word among your peers.  You help is needed in Keeping the Spirit Alive. (see Track Support note below)

Your friend,

Harold

Tracking Support for our present Community-Based System:  I was thinking of starting an Amalgamation Maybe web site or Facebook Page, but have not yet moved that far.  If you are not a friend on FB and wish to track further posts on the subject, I post regular updates onana open link, McNeill Life Stories Facebook Page.  Perhaps you might consider joining that group for the time being.

(I) Lower Island Soccer, BC Soccer and Canadian Soccer Associations.  A friend, now President of the Canadian Soccer Association and member of the Board of CONCAF, Victor Montagliani once stated:  “If you want first hand training in preparing yourself for Local, Provincial or National political office, start by spending a few years as a Board Member at various levels of amateur sport.”

During my time on various boards, I wrote several sets of Constitution and Bylaws, governance manuals and attended dozens of workshops on governance.  Five years was spent criss-crossing the country with a former Chair of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce when we became deeply involved in organizing International games for the Canadian Soccer Association.

Link to Amalgamation: A Search for the Truth

Link to Photo Album of our Region

Below is two links to material supporting the Pro-Amalgamation side:
Link to: Vision Victoria Web Site  (Pro Amalgamation material)
Link to: Amalgamation YES Web Site  (Pro Amalgamation material)

Angus Reid Poll: Citizen Satisfaction with Local Government

Citizen Satisfaction with Own Government

Angus Reid Poll:  Citizen Satisfaction with the Capital Regional District

Citizen Satisfaction with CRD

Election Advertisement (Pro Amalgamation Group).  This is a classic example of the misleading advertising that, on the surface, seems to make some sense. By doing a little research, it becomes clear that the cost of 13 Mayor’s and the 80 or so Councillors sprinkled across the Region is about the same as having one Mayor and a council of 10-14.  This is fully explained in the previous post on the subject of amalgamation: Link to Amalgamation: A Search for the Truth

This billboard was posted in a prominent location by AmalgamationYES. The suggestion is clear that considerable savings will accrue by having only one mayor and council.  Check the information below the sign for the current costs.

Election Advertising

The Mayor and Councilors you elect next week will donate tens of thousands hours over the next four years in the service to our communities (1). These men and women represent ninety-two more reasons why the Capital Region in British Columbia makes it such a great place to visit, work, play and raise a family. It is a city in which we have thirteen different lifestyles to choose from and where we can easily get to know the people who govern our particular community.

One Mayor, Graham Hill, dedicated twelve years of his ‘retired’ life in volunteering for the people of View Royal. Before stepping away from the Mayors Chair this month, he and his council worked tirelessly in continuing the job of transforming View Royal into the vibrant, modern community it is today. Another man, Frank Leonard of Saanich, is completing thirty years on council, twenty as Mayor, and is running for another four.

Don’t believe for one minute you could replace Graham or Frank or any of the other 11 Mayors and their councils with one Mayor and one Council to serve the entire Capital Region and still receive the same level of local service.   Don’t be led to believe that changing the system would lead to saving one thin dime.

The cost of the 74 Council members in the 11 smaller communities averages $15,900 each in honoraria and expenses. That is just 0.20% of the entire regional government costs (2013 figures). Council costs in Victoria (80,000) average $49,000 for each of the 9 members and, in Saanich (115,000),  an average of $46,000 for each of the nine. The total cost for all 92 is just 0.35% of the entire regional budget. With that small amount of money, where else could you hire 92 dedicated people to take a lead role in shaping the future of the communities across the CRD?

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Comments

  • McNeill Life Stories How to Game an Election - McNeill Life Stories

    September 18, 2019 |

    […] The Federal Conservatives and Seymour Riding Association complied but one day later those memes will be shared by every third party social media site and by thousands of supporters where the message will be taken as a statements of the fact.  Five years from now those memes will still be circulating. (Link here to background on the SNC Lavalin matter) […]

  • Harold McNeill

    August 21, 2019 |

    For those who followed the earlier post about the cost of ICBC Auto insurance coverage in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (linked in comments) here is another follow-up article.

    This article again confirms earlier assertions that public-private insurers such as that which ICBC provides, is among the best in Canada in terms of rates and coverage. A link is provided in the original story.

  • Harold McNeill

    August 16, 2019 |

    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

    August 15, 2019 |

    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

  • Harold McNeill

    August 13, 2019 |

    August 13, 2019. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a private enterprise group not unlike the Fraser Institute, is again on the campaign trail. They state ICBC rates are the highest in Canada, but, thankfully, Global BC inserted a section indicating the Insurance Bureau cherry-picked the highest number in BC and the lowest numbers in AB, ON and other Eastern Provinces. If you take a few minutes to check reliable sources you will find BC rates, are the lowest in Canada.

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold