Cowichan’s councils clash on merger question

North Cowichan councillors are still wrestling with the best way to ask residents if they are in favour of looking at amalgamation with the City of Duncan.

Although they’ve talked about the subject of a question for a plebiscite this fall, they balked a bit Sept. 3 when faced with the wording chosen by their Duncan colleagues.

In April, North Cowichan agreed to ask: "Are you in favour of spending $(amount to be determined) to study the options, costs and benefits for the municipalities of North Cowichan and Duncan?" Now, however, they have discovered that City of Duncan CAO Peter de Verteuil has estimated that a study of amalgamation would cost $100,000. If Duncan’s pet project of boundary realignment is added, the survey would come to $130,000.

North Cowichan’s deputy director of corporate services, Mary Beth MacKenzie, reported that Duncan feels strongly about boundary realignment.

As a result Duncan council has prepared a different question for its non-binding plebiscite.

Duncan will ask: "Are you in favour of spending approximately $130,000 to study both the options, cost and benefits for amalgamation and the alternative options, costs and benefits for the realignment of the boundaries of the City of Duncan and Municipality of North Cowichan?" Councillors around the North Cowichan chamber were not in favour of adding the boundary realignment question.

"This boundary realignment question, I don’t want any part of it," said Coun. Al Siebring. "This muddies the water considerably. We need to define boundary realignment. How do we define it?" "You could spend years on it," agreed Mayor Jon Lefebure. "There are an infinite number of realignments. It’s a black hole. Amalgamation is the only option

to look at for North Cowichan."

Coun. Kate Marsh also weighed in.

"Truthfully, that’s not high on my agenda. Realignment is a red herring. It seems like a lot of time and money for something that won’t go far."

Coun. John Koury echoed several comments that boundary realignment has been on the City of Duncan’s radar for years but "we haven’t even discussed this. Duncan is adding a whole new element to this. Why should we spend a dime on realignment?" Even North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana called talks of realignment of borders "a little premature."

Councillors managed to agree on the idea of including the words "are you interested in spending $50,000" – in other words North Cowichan’s portion of the $100,000 amalgamation survey – on a ballot. But that’s as far as they were willing to go without more discussion, both among themselves and with the City of Duncan.