Regional Districts are a unique, made in BC entity and the Sunshine Coast Regional District is unique in the Province. In this and future columns we will explain the ways in which the SCRD extends government services to all parts of the Sunshine Coast.
Regional districts are designed as federations of equal partners – some large, some small, some rural, some more urban – all different, but all equal at the Regional District. In 1967 the main reason for establishing Regional Districts was to provide services at the appropriate economy of scale for different areas. For example, it makes no sense to have a separate Water service for each electoral area or every municipality. Recreation is another service that is usually provided on a regional or sub-regional basis. One unique aspect of Regional Districts when compared to other local governments is that areas only participate in a service voluntarily. With one or two exceptions, such as solid waste disposal or regional planning, no service is imposed on jurisdictions who do not want to participate.
It is important to note that Regional Districts are not another ‘level’ of government presiding over the member areas with the member units subject to the region. Rather it is the reverse: the regional district exists to further the interests of its member municipalities and electoral areas. [Ministry of Community Services, 2006]
Some people imagine that electoral areas are more dependent on Regional Districts than municipal governments are and that becoming a municipal government would ‘set them free’ of the regional government. However, if any of the rural areas incorporated as a municipality – say Pender Harbour or Roberts Creek – they would remain as part of the SCRD and their membership and participation at the Regional District would not change. They would pay the same taxes for their share of regional services and would have the same financial weight and votes per population at the Board table. It may surprise some to learn that even if all residents on the Coast joined together and created a single metro municipality – we would still have, and need, a Regional District.
Most of the pressing issues facing local government do not recognize jurisdictional borders. The environment, the economy, housing markets, culture and kinship networks cross over and around the arbitrary borders of governments. Coasters shop at stores and studios from Langdale to Egmont, we rely on the same watersheds for drinking water and for recreation, we struggle to find appropriate housing and we work where the work is, not based on municipal or electoral areas drawn on a map in Victoria. We need to collaborate on a regional basis if we are going to build the inclusive, resilient and rich – in health, in finances and in culture – community we all share in our dreams.