Evolutionary Alternatives for Metropolitan Areas: The Capital Region of British Columbia

“It is common to examine the organisation of local government in terms of the functions different local governments are responsible for. Equally important, however, is at what level decisions on “who does what” are made and accommodations to change undertaken. On the questions of both functional responsibility and where decisions are made, it is interesting to compare the provincial approaches taken in Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with those of Alberta and British Columbia.

In this paper, the differences in approaches are briefly described; then, details are provided for one major case in British Columbia, the capital region. Because the capital region of British Columbia has the same population as the newly amalgamated Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), but could not be more differently organised, some comparisons between the capital region and HRM are provided to illustrate the differences. Provincial Approaches Provincial policy in Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick implies that the provincial government knows best how to organise local government and assign functions to different local government units as evidenced by provincial imposed reorganisations, including amalgamation, in Miramichi in New Brunswick, Cape Breton and Halifax in Nova Scotia, and in several regions of Ontario (Vojnovic 1997).

The policy implies that one can analyze local government services, decide who should do what, and impose the most efficient structure, even when local officials and citizens disagree. This parallels a classical central planning perspective where one assumes that local knowledge is easy to obtain and some optimal organisation can be identified by central authorities. Provincial policy in Alberta and British Columbia is much different. In both of these provinces, their municipal acts set out procedural rules whereby citizens may incorporate, dissolve or amalgamate local government with the initiative coming from citizens or local governments themselves. Both provide for the creation of regional organisations but do not impose them.

The approach is one where structure itself is left to local people with the expectation that they will pursue their own interest and evolve appropriate structures of local government over time. In addition, local units make their own decisions on “who does what” in dividing responsibility for different services among themselves, including between the municipal and regional governments. This is much more an evolutionary approach where it is assumed that local people know best and that local government organisation and operations will evolve over time to meet citizens’ needs. The provincial government itself provides the basic rules within which these changes can occur much as it provides a basic legal structure for markets. This latter approach contrasts with central planning approaches in that it recognises that local information is costly and that polycentric institutional arrangements may outperform centralised ones in complex environments.

It is useful to examine this latter approach with the British Columbia model, and specifically with some comparisons with Halifax. British Columbia British Columbia has a long history of policies allowing local citizens to take the initiative regarding local government structure similar to the states of Washington, Oregon and California. In 1919, for example, “home-rule,” where a municipality can organise itself and undertake any activity not specifically forbidden by the provincial government, only failed by one vote in the legislature (Bish and Clemens 1999). British Columbia’s philosophy has resulted in municipalities and improvement districts throughout the province, but there was no general form of local government outside of municipal boundaries. In these rural areas the provincial government provided roads and policing, there were school districts across the province and welfare was and continues to be provided provincially province-wide.”

Published in The Canadian Journal of Regional Science | R. Bish | 2000, https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Evolutionary-Alternatives-for-Metropolitan-Areas%3A-Bish/58cec92ad9ead7fbed90ea51be616e644ad3f91f, https://consensus.app/details/approaches-provincial-policy-ontario-nova-scotia-bish/db938c51605d5c2a97298ac279c98648/