Amalgamation to go to citizens assembly

It could take years before citizens will know whether the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan will amalgamate.

It could take years before citizens will know whether the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan will amalgamate.

A recent joint council meeting resulted in a recommendation to both councils for the two local governments to work together to draft terms of reference for a citizens’ assembly that would guide the politicians on their next moves — particularly the creation of a study looking at the regional issue which could affect the look of the Cowichan Valley going forward.

Just who would make up the citizens assembly is to be determined.

“We didn’t get too much into the details of how the citizens’ assembly would work,” Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said Tuesday.

Kent noted his council wants it to be a public-driven process, “and that [the assembly] would determine the scope and other things with respect to the study and provide recommendations to the councils.”

“It’s a long process and it should be community driven,” Kent added. “This is not a small deal. It’s a big deal. It’s not something that we just administratively decide. It’s people’s communities.”

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said during the last election, the City of Duncan and the municipality both asked referendum questions related to amalgamation, though each question was slightly different.

“That was kind of the start of two divergent paths,” he said, “and from my personal point of view I think we have to have one path to move ahead on to be prepared to spend money on and create a citizens assembly.”

Lefebure admitted there are a lot of details to work out as the visions of the two governments aren’t yet in sync.

“I don’t think we’re all on the same page yet and I think that with [Duncan] staff working with [North Cowichan] staff and having a couple of members from each council involved, my hope is that we’ll all get on the same page because I can’t picture the study going ahead without that common position being in place,” he said.

Both mayors agreed the process will be long and slow and that the public will be involved, but that they are compelled to tackle the issue.

“Both councils are interested in honouring the fact that we asked these questions at the last election. We are committed to trying to honour that referendum and if we can get on the same page then I think we can advance a study probably through the use of a group of the public,” Lefebure said. “We’ve got about three years to get something conclusive before the next election so if we were going to have a referendum, that would be the logical time.”

Kent agreed, saying, “I think realistically to do a fulsome study and for the community to really have a dialogue about the benefits and costs of amalgamation, I think it will take time and people need to be educated on those things and the issues.”