The mayor of Duncan has come out against the amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan.
In a letter, Phil Kent said he has grave concerns that the amalgamation proposal’s promise of “better” is vague at best, and that any transition will be challenging and disruptive if the initiative is approved in the referendum that will be held on June 23.
Jon Lefebure, the mayor of North Cowichan, has yet to say publicly if he supports amalgamation or not.
Kent said he has allowed enough time for people to read and study the reports that were written about amalgamating the two communities, which can be accessed at www.youdecide.ca, before coming forward with his views.
“There’s a public debate over this issue going on now and people have been asking me where I stand, so I thought the time was appropriate,” he said.
Kent said that as communities, Duncan and North Cowichan have grown and thrived by being welcoming to new and diverse residents and businesses.
“We have been able to do so despite our defined political boundaries established over a century ago,” he said.
“Community is not defined by our political boundaries, but by the values, vision and places we identify with.”
Kent said he applauds the work of the Citizen’s Assembly, a group of 36 citizens from both municipalities that were randomly chosen to study amalgamation.
He said he has always believed that a community should be developed and driven by its stakeholders.
“But what has been missed in this process, unfortunately, is the ability of the Citizens Assembly to fully explore the opportunities to reflect on the community as it exists today; to consider the realities of an increasingly complex society, and the ability to respond to the needs and services required to become resilient in a fast paced and ever-changing environment,” Kent said.
“I believe that a much deeper conversation was needed to follow the Assembly’s work to determine what we hope to collectively accomplish and to identify both our goals and aspirations.”
Kent said the Assembly had been constrained by its terms of reference in that no other data was studied or explored as possible alternatives to a simple merger.
He said in 2014, the City of Duncan had asked its residents two questions regarding governance yet, unfortunately, the Municipality of North Cowichan did not offer that opportunity for its citizens to weigh out alternatives to a simple merger.
“Defining a vision regarding issues like transportation, development growth, our regional economy, and the environment are key to the region’s future,” Kent said.
“These issues are not mutually exclusive to the City of Duncan or to North Cowichan. There will always be another jurisdiction and community of interest that we need to consult and work with collaboratively in order to reach our goals. We already have the tools required to succeed; picking the right ones depends on what we want to build.”
Kent said that amalgamation is unlikely to be successful if there isn’t at least some agreement and goodwill toward where the communities are going on all of these critical issues.
“If we continually work toward creating solutions for these challenges, the right structures will become obvious,” he said.
“There are many citizens in the greater Duncan area with an interest who have been left on the sideline of this conversation. Without shared goals and vision we will flounder endlessly in political squabble while opportunity passes us by.”
Kent said he is confident that whatever the outcome of the referendum, the citizens will be right, and that he will continue to contribute to, and promote their needs.
“The city has a vibrant and strong pride for its history, and contribution to the entire region,” he said.
“I have reviewed very thoughtfully the reports of the Citizens Assembly. Without a deeper more inclusive dialogue on the objectives, I cannot support the amalgamation.”
To read Kent’s full letter, see page 8.