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North Cowichan will talk to Duncan before pursuing amalgamation question on ballot

City hall is a local landmark clearly within the boundaries of the City of Duncan, but many residents are unclear where the city ends and the Municipality of North Cowichan begins. - Andrew Leong/file
City hall is a local landmark clearly within the boundaries of the City of Duncan, but many residents are unclear where the city ends and the Municipality of North Cowichan begins.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Looking before leaping guided North Cowichan council's pause concerning one councillor's bid to revisit amalgamation with the City of Duncan.

Wishing time to mull that municipal melding, North Cowichan council defeated Jennifer Woike's notice of motion for a non-binding amalgamation question on its Nov. 15 election ballot.

Instead, discussion was set for the two councils' joint huddle today.

Talks could usher more amalgamation debate, perhaps revisiting Woike's motion Wednesday.

Still, the delay disappointed her.

"It's counterproductive. We should have taken some leadership. It's not dead, I won't let it die. I'll keep pushing."

Her drive to reduce staff and service duplication, likely through a referendum creating a bigger North Cowichan, would welcome plenty of public input.

"I'd like to see us hold some town hall meetings to explain what amalgamation could look like."

An amalgamated municipality north of the Cowichan River might also trigger the birth of new south-end municipalities.

"Duncan-North Cowichan (amalgamation) is the first step," she said.

Mayor Jon Lefebure explained he helped nix Woike's motion out of respect for council's fresh protocol agreement with the city concerning issues of mutual interest — such as amalgamation.

"There was general interest in what that (Nov. 15) plebecite might show, but there was a suggestion that since we're going to talk about amalgamation with the city on April 14 we should wait and have that discussion before making the decision on whether to hold the plebiscite."

Lefebure described how local burgs have unique identities — such as Crofton, Chemainus, and Maple Bay — that must be respected under amalgamation.

"North Cowichan accommodates several different identities now, and that has its challenges.

He cited Chemainiacs' protests about funding the new $20-million Aquatic Centre.

Scratching duplication of services and staffing was another ticklish situation to Lefebure.

Costs were cloudy about rewriting bylaws, redrawing maps, and tallying staffing needs, he explained, noting B.C. grants are available to study amalgamation.

"It would be quite an extensive study to determine those costs, but you can look at that down the road if people are interested.

"There are lots of questions to be answered," he said. "It's not a black-and-white call that you'd save money."

But it's worth looking at the optics of Duncan rejoining North Cowichan, after the city separated in 1912, Lefebure signalled.

"I'd like to see the city answer the question about amalgamation.

"Duncan would have its own identity governed by mayor and council of North Cowichan."

2018 would be the earliest amalgamation could happen, once studies and binding votes are done, he noted.

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