Province urged to shake-up 50-year-old undemocratic institution –
Apr. 12, 2016 – There are a number of reasons why the Capital Regional District hasn’t put a shovel in the ground, wasted more than $65-million, shocked the public with its ineptness, and needed a six-month extension to present a plan to the federal government for regional sewage treatment.
In cost – a billion, maybe closer to $2-billion by the time all is said and done – it dwarfs any other regional capital project to be attempted. In expertise – sewage treatment is not something municipal politicians or the public are that knowledgeable about – it requires scientific and technical understanding beyond the grasp of most. In complexity – the project involves a daunting multiplicity of jurisdictions, from municipal, to provincial, to federal – it simply doesn’t get more challenging.
But above all, the sewage treatment project is symptomatic of a broader failure of CRD governance and fated to be an expensive boondoggle from the start, according to Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria. The wrong institution with inadequate powers and expertise, lacking public legitimacy and support, was given the task.
“I’m qualified…I will faithfully perform my duties of my office…I will disclose any direct or indirect pecuniary interest I have in a matter…I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II…”, perhaps the lack of clarity around its role all starts during the oath of office and allegiance.
Before taking one of the 24 seats at the board table, directors are faced with a dilemma – do I vote for the interests of my municipality, district, town, city, or the interests of the region as a whole?
Because of its structure the CRD is an unaccountable level of government and its directors are not regionally accountable for their decisions, good or bad. The dual and often conflicting roles have been at the heart of the failure to reach a consensus on sewage treatment.
At election time every four years Victoria voters recommend three councillors to the board and in Saanich, the top four in the polls get to sit on the board. In both instances the mayor automatically gets a seat. So what are their stances on the issues of the day and do they stand up to scrutiny?
Sidney, North Saanich, Central Saanich, Oak Bay, View Royal, Colwood, Metchosin, Highlands and Sooke councils each appoint their mayor. While Langford council appoints two councillors, Mayor Stu Young chooses not to be a board member of the CRD. In the three electoral districts of Salt Spring Island, Southern Gulf Islands and Juan de Fuca, directors are elected directly and presumably held to higher standards by voters.
The dysfunctional structure of the CRD also makes for a punishing workload for directors.
It tries to keep track of 220 various boards, commissions, agencies, programs, committees over a huge territory – it’s a wonder anyone even wants to sit on the board. The chair is elected for a year, hardly a term that allows for organizational stability and progressive leadership. For four years directors are also burdened with the critical role of the Capital Region Hospital District Board, various other committee roles, all the while trying to help run their own municipality and get elected.
Even more roles are being added for this stressed institution. The province has just signed a new cost-shared regional emergency management partnership to work with CRD municipalities and electoral areas for emergencies or disasters that are multi-jurisdictional or impact the entire region.
If there’s one key takeaway for the taxpayer from this fiasco, it’s that they should be very worried that this initiative and others are being administered by an institution with fundamental governance issues which even its’ board members acknowledge need addressing.
In a recent important board vote only 14 of 24 directors were able to vote on the CRD’s $263-million consolidated operating budget because of conflict of interest issues. As for Oak Bay and Sidney, neither the director or the alternate were able to vote for fear of conflict.
The province needs to amend the founding legislation of regional governments to make them directly electable and accountable. Once the big bills start arriving, the taxpayers must also demand the CRD evolve into a more democratic institution worthy of a citizen’s respect.
In this, the 50th anniversary of the CRD, cake and candles won’t cut it.
Grumpy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria Society is a citizen’s advocacy group dedicated to accountable government, lower taxes, and less waste.