Duncan residents will vote on amalgamation study

Duncan residents will get to have their say on amalgamation this fall.

Following discussion with their North Cowichan counterparts at a joint Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, Duncan city councillors have decided to take the amalgamation question to residents in a non-binding plebiscite alongside the 2014 municipal election.

The actual wording of the question will be determined in coming weeks, but according to Councillor Martin Barker, it will ask if residents support investigating the "options, costs and benefits" surrounding amalgamating or restructuring the two governments.

"It’s a very reasonable question to ask," said Barker, a vocal proponent of amalgamation since his election to council in 2010.

The wording of the question will be determined by city staff and passed by council at an upcoming meeting. The question will need to be finalized by July in order to appear on ballots next November.

"We will essentially ask if there is support for spending the resources and money on studying amalgamation and restructuring options," Mayor Phil Kent explained.

North Cowichan council has also discussed having a similar question on their ballots this fall, and will likely determine the wording at an upcoming meeting. Discussions between the two councils on Monday went well, Kent said.

"We all support that it’s a question that question that should be asked," he related. "We will let the public decide if that’s a reasonable thing to do.

Barker was also pleased with the way things went on Monday.

"I was really impressed with both councils’ openness to encouraging public discourse and going to the public to see where people stand," he said.

Because amalgamation is a complicated process, the question will address studying its viability rather than outright asking if residents are in favour of uniting the communities.

"There’s a lot more to it than throwing one council under the bus and becoming one community," Barker said. "We need to give them a detailed and knowledgeable assessment of what amalgamation really is."

If residents vote in favour of the study, that could end up leading to further discussions and plebiscites in the future.

"The flipside is that if people say ‘no’ resoundingly, then the issue is dead forever," Barker said.

As a proponent of amalgamation, Barker is happy to see both councils having serious discussions, both separately and together.

"This is the closest the community has come since 1912 to actually discussing the issue," he said.

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