Article Republished from Times Colonist opinion piece published on August 4th
A discussion on municipal governance is critical to the
future of our community, instead of opinion pieces that suffer from the malady
of: “Don’t bother me with facts. My mind is already made up of things I heard
An independent and systematic review of all economic and
social factors is a prerequisite rather than dogmatic retreat to defend
boundaries and municipal institutions established half a century ago.
We must get beyond the simplistic question: “Will it save
money?” and badly dated micro-economic approaches that lack perspective over a
reasonable time horizon.
Noted economist Peter Drucker identified two measures for
assessing costs and benefits of how organizations perform: efficiency and
effectiveness. The emphasis tends to be on the former.
Studies of mergers with large municipal workforces, parks,
works, police and fire services with standardized union pay scales and benefits
do confirm limited opportunity to provide immediate savings. However, if we
evaluate effectiveness, it is clear there are benefits to integrated police
forces or cost sharing of social and recreation services where user patterns
This is reinforced if you also consider “fairness” and that
Victoria or Saanich residents absorb the cost burden of the majority of
charitable, social and artistic services and the impact of more than 100,000
non-resident vehicle trips to the airport, the ferries, the University of
Victoria and downtown using their roads and bridges.
Columnist Lawrie McFarlane parrots the results of studies by
Robert Bish, who unfortunately persists in using discredited public-choice
methodology developed by Charles Tiebot in the mid-1950s. More recent results
have shown that mergers can, in fact, save money.
After 15 years, the merged city of Halifax has significantly
improved its municipal financial situation. A study by Timothy Cobban (2017) of
more than 150 municipal/regional mergers in Ontario suggests they have been
extremely successful from 1995 to 2010, making significant gains in reducing
the cost of the “administrative” portion of municipal budgets.
In B.C., critics continually ignore the success of
Chilliwack, Kamloops, Abbotsford and Kelowna.
Offering up Toronto is misleading because of the failure of
Ontario’s legislation to facilitate inter-regional transportation, housing,
regional growth planning and environmental protection as common interests of
two million city folks with more than three million Metro residents in adjacent
York, Brampton and Markham. The whimsy of their voters to elect “offbeat local
politicians” is a reflection of leadership, not municipal structure. Similarly,
West Shore politicians choose to go their own way.
Critics focus solely on cost savings for individual
municipalities. In contrast, two decades of international studies led by the
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have studied the
economic and social implications of urbanization. Separate studies by
urban-studies scholars Luca Bartolini, Rudiger Ahrend and Mats Anderson confirm
how municipal fragmentation is a significant impediment to per-capita GDP
While seemingly abstract and irrelevant to readers, it is
these macro growth measures that serve to provide the new revenue sources
necessary to pay for the services we expect local government to provide.
OECD research reflects the reality of how urban regions
actually function when we realize that where residents sleep and pay their
taxes bears no relationship to the daily regional travel routines of where they
play, work, shop or learn. Consider the mosaic of customer, employee and
delivery transport to and from the commercial/retail corridor along Blanshard
Street and Burnside Road.
We ignore the municipal location of hundreds of commercial,
light-industrial and retail enterprises that surround Uptown and Mayfair
shopping centres with nearly 20,000 employees and are a major business property
tax base. When you include a similar cluster of business enterprises across in
Vic West overlapping with Esquimalt, municipal boundaries make no sense.
Studies that identify the benefits of investment and job
creation do so on a regional basis, ignore municipal structures and instead
recognize how land-use planning, development-approval processes, tax policies
and service amenities are the critical factors.
International authorities have generally repudiated the
myopic scope of the Bish approach to measuring the performance of local
Evidence of a boom in population, investment and employment
confirm that the international community has discovered Victoria, and we are no
longer an economy and lifestyle determined by dependency on government and
Many residents suggest a merger of all 13 municipalities
into one is not a good fit, but recognize we do have at least three “natural
clusters,” the city, West Shore and the Peninsula.
While municipal territoriality has historically stifled
discussion of municipal reform, Victoria and Saanich councils are now willing
to ask their residents to support a “citizens’ assembly” to lead a study of
their common interests. This will provide a fair and independent consideration
of all the facts and opportunities shared by two-thirds of our regional
population. (Over time, Oak Bay and Esquimalt should be included in the
It is important that we ask the right questions and use the
right information before we make assertions and choose sides for or against
James D. Anderson is a member of Amalgamation Yes. He lives