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Duncan restructure dive a welcome surprise

I was blown away to hear Duncan council has essentially agreed that a non-binding question on amalgamation with North Cowichan will be put before voters during November’s civic elections.

I’m tempted to call it a miracle but it’s a bit early for that kind of talk. There is still much to be figured out before we have a clear idea where all of this may go.

The fact, however, that Duncan council has moved in this direction with little or no fuss is cause for much celebration.

Those of us who have argued for years that serious discussions need to take place in the Cowichan Valley aimed at rationalizing the region’s local government structures have been expecting deep resistance from a majority of elected officials, both in Duncan and North Cowichan.

There’s been no secret a lot of background discussions have been going among those who favour some kind of restructure of local government about how to push the subject onto the public agenda. One way or another, this group was going to make sure there was a public airing of the subject; even if it took recruiting candidates who would campaign on giving voters a chance to have their say.

North Cowichan council took a very respectful position on the issue; recognizing that, as the bigger municipality, it was up to Duncan to take the lead if anyone was going to talk about amalgamation between the two local government jurisdictions.  It would have died and early death if North Cowichan had been seen as taking the initiative to swallow its smaller neighbour.

Many months ago there had been serious discussions about enabling political discussions about the amalgamation or restructure of local governments in the entire Cowichan Valley.  Those favouring just one local government from the Malahat to Ladysmith, and from Cowichan Bay to Lake Cowichan, were quickly convinced that was simply too ambitious and politically impossible.  There was then consideration of the creation of four Cowichans – Cowichan, Cowichan North, Cowichan South and Cowichan West.  That too was dropped as too involved and too ambitious.

What was settled on was working toward what seemed to be obvious to the many people who think about these things – bringing Duncan and North Cowichan together.  There was an expectation, however, that the forces of the status quo would fight vigorously to keep things the way they are; particularly in Duncan.

Well, that doesn’t seem to be what is happening.  But, of course, the proof will be in the pudding.

How many incumbent Duncan council members will run for re-election, and what position will they take on amalgamation?  What about new candidates and their position on the question?

If the candidates jump into the amalgamation fray and take hard positions for or against, then voters will have their say in two ways — by voting their preference on that ballot question, and electing candidates to council that feel the same way about the issue.

There is a softer, gentler way and that is for candidates to refrain from taking a rigid position on the issue and leaving that question to voters.

Patrick Hrushowy is a Cowichan writer and political consultant. Email him at phrushowy@shaw.ca

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