Without a voice around a national table our community continues as ‘a little Victoria,’ a collection of 13 jurisdictions that’s not living up to its considerable potential.
The forum for Canada’s 22 biggest cities – balkanized Greater Victoria doesn’t qualify as a big city – is the big city mayors’ caucus (BCMC) at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). It’s a powerful and respected voice offering a forum for policy development on a range of issues affecting our largest centres.
Take a look at a sample of recent BCMC headlines: Canadian mayors champion economy and trade in Washington. Mayors meet in Halifax to build on federal-municipal partnerships. Opiod announcement advances urgently needed action. Communities receive support for clean innovation and infrastructure planning. Municipal collaboration program studied. Communities receive Government of Canada and the FCM support to take action on climate change.Together for gender equality.
These issues are all too familiar to Greater Victoria residents and yet we remain on the sidelines, silenced nationally and even internationally. We don’t partner with many cities to bend the ear of the prime minister, cabinet and the federal government.
During the last couple of years there’s been some support by politicians locally and efforts to gain caucus membership.
Victoria’s mayor tried to get a foot in the door of the national group by making a bid to represent the entire region, rather than just the city. CRD directors agreed to have chairwoman Barb Desjardins ask that Victoria’s mayor be allowed to represent the entire census metropolitan area of Victoria, which includes all 13 municipalities, at the Big City Mayors’ Caucus.
But the devil has always been in the details and the lack of an agreed on mechanism for appointing a representative.
For some directors, appointing the mayor of Victoria suggests support for its left-leaning, ideological politics, at odds with much of the broader community. Appointing a director that’s a mayor of one of the smaller municipalities also may not represent the broader community and the multitude of challenges.
Convincing the BCMC that the capital and second largest metropolitan area in the province – that collectively is larger than several current BCMC members – is another matter.
Most recently, CRD chair Colin Plant to his credit has made overtures and has recently spoken with its CEO Brock Carlton. It’s difficult to gain continuity on the issue though when most chairs are in the position for just a year or two.
The issue is supported by many CRD directors, according to a previous news report in 2017, but hasn’t translated into an organizational priority. In its most recent list of board priorities for 2019-22, directors are content to advance regional, sub regional and local priorities without any link to a national body.
There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for the CRD to send a delegation to Ottawa to ask caucus members and federal ministers face-to-face to share the power and let us sit around the table. Maybe it will also take some lobbying pressure on local MPS and senior members of the B.C. government.
So, the public may have to be content to wait for the study exploring the amalgamation of Victoria and Saanich this year. If eventually our community decides to be a big city of more than 200,000, perhaps this exclusive and critical BCMC membership will follow.
In the meantime, we urge CRD directors to find out what the lack of membership is costing taxpayers (especially in missed infrastructure related funds) compared to the status quo.
As well, we urge a study be done looking at directly electing a chair in the next municipal election. That’s something that even vocal opponents of changes to regional governance such as academic Robert Bish agree deserves consideration.
Wouldn’t it be nice to partner with other large cities and the federal government in nation-building through city-building?
A seat at the table will help access funds and build relationships to the benefit of everyone in the region. It also sends a signal that the region can work together to represent the interests of all of Greater Victoria.
Where is Victoria’s big-city mayor voice? Times Colonist, Mar. 3, 2019.