Monday, January 12, 2015

One Local Government Reform Needed in BC

There are many different local government reforms that are needed but this morning I thought I would just raise this one - we need more direct local control and responsibility in unorganized areas.

Local government in BC is responsible for the needs of private property within their own boundaries.  In general Crown Lands do not come under the jurisdiction of local government.  In an urban setting like Victoria, Vancouver or Kelowna, private property makes up the bulk of the land and so it seems as if the local government is responsible for the whole land base.   In many rural areas the majority o the land base within a municipality is Crown Land and not subject to many bylaws.  This makes for a fairly nice division in powers in the province.   The division becomes much less clear when we look at private lands within unorganized areas in BC.  

Unorganized areas in BC are governed by a regional district but many of the functions of local government are looked after by the province.   The regional district governance structure means that in many cases local government decisions for unorganized areas are made by representatives of municipalities within the regional district and not by the person elected from the area the decision impacts.   As an example, the Capital Regional District board has a lot of control over the future of the southern Gulf Islands and the Port Renfrew area but almost all of the directors come from the urban areas of Victoria.

A solution to this would be for unorganized areas to become municipalities but in BC there is a serious financial disincentive to taking this action or even to or to joining existing municipalities.    At the moment the cost of provision of policing and roads falls 100% on the provincial government and not on the local population.

Places like Saltspring Island and Gabriola Island should be municipalities already but are not.   Saltspring has a large enough population that if it were a municipality it would have to pay for all the policing costs.   Gabriola's population is low enough that they would only be responsible for a portion of the cost of policing.   In neither case do local people have to pay for their roads to be maintained.    Why would anyone agree to incorporate when it means taking on these new costs?  

Meanwhile unorganized areas only get to elect a director to their regional district.   The areas are then governed by the whole board which means in a number of cases around BC that the interests of a community in an unorganized area are completely overshadowed by the interests of much larger neighbouring organized communities.  This comes about because the role of regional districts is to sort of be the local government for unorganized areas.   It leads to a democratic imbalance.   People in organized areas get a lot more influence over unorganized areas than the other way around.

What change would I propose?    I would first of all remove the financial disincentive to incorporating by levying taxes for roads and police on properties in unorganized areas comparable to the provincial average based on assessed value.   Second I would create a new model for large rural municipal governments that allows them to operate in a way that makes the most sense for them.   Third, I would offer significant financial incentives for unorganized areas to join existing municipalities.   Finally I would have a provincial fund available to offer even more assistance to a community wanting to incorporate than is currently available

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