The City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan are considering asking the province to appoint a transition manager to assist with amalgamation, if voters decide for it in the upcoming referendum on the issue. (File photo)

Transition manager for Cowichan amalgamation referendum suggested

Duncan and North Cowichan want to hold election on April 7

The province may be asked to be more involved in the amalgamation process between Duncan and North Cowichan after the upcoming referendum, which is planned for April, if the majority of voters decide to move forward with it.

Both municipalities are expected to soon send a letter to B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson asking that a transition manager be appointed if amalgamation is given a green light.

The transition manager would be directly responsible to the minister rather than the municipal councils.

The manager would be expected to organize the inaugural election of a new amalgamated municipality in October’s municipal elections and draft recommendations for the new council on a number of topics, including what might be done with any surplus local government property.

Duncan’s council gave the green light to send the letter at a meeting on Jan. 8, while North Cowichan’s council decided to defer sending the letter until the municipality’s solicitor reviews it.

The letter, which says April 7 is the date suggested for the referendum, is expected to be tabled again at North Cowichan’s next council meeting on Jan. 17.

“This date (April 7) allows for open houses to be held after spring break, while still allowing enough time for the appointment of a transition manager and for letters of patent to be drafted should the need arise,” the letter states.

Both councils had considered holding the referendum in conjunction with the municipal elections in October, but decided that an earlier vote was more advantageous as it would minimize the period of municipal uncertainty and “depoliticize” the referendum from election issues.

The proposed letter to Robinson comes on the heels of a letter she sent to both municipalities before Christmas outlining a number of steps she said they must complete before she can approve the referendum.

They included a better sense of costs and resources that would be available during the transition to a single municipality, more information on how Duncan and North Cowichan would operate in the time between the referendum and the actual amalgamation (if approved), and a framework on how the new inaugural single council would be developed during the transition period.

“When both councils have considered and agreed on such matters and shared them with me, I will be in a better position to consider your request for a vote and to follow up on the timing of such a vote,” Robinson said in her letter.

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Both councils had hoped that these issues had already been clarified enough for the minister to permit the referendum, and supply some funding to assist with the referendum and amalgamation, if approved by the electorate.

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said he hopes the letter to Robinson, if his council agrees to send it, “is acceptable” and will allow for the referendum to be held in early April, as planned.

“But it’s hard to put myself into the mind of the government,” he said.

“Speed is of the essence if we want to move this process forward in the spring as planned. As time goes by with no decision and it gets closer to the municipal elections this fall, it would be tough for both councils not to decide to let the referendum happen in conjunction with the election.”

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent agreed that it’s “hard to say” how the ministry would respond to the letter.

“We’ve been in touch with the ministry and have already sent them a draft of the letter to determine if it deals with the concerns,” he said.

“But I expect it would.”

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