By Cindy Filipenko
As we enter a New Year, it seems an appropriate time to look to the future. The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) will play a large role in shaping the future for citizens in the Sea to Sky corridor. But who really knows what the SLRD does, how it came to be and where it’s going?
This uniquely British Columbian form of regional government has alternately been loved and loathed. The regional district system was introduced to the province in the booming mid-60s as a way of providing governance for communities not represented within the municipal system. This period of rapid development came about largely due to resource extraction. Logging was king. Mining was good. And the seas looked like they’d be overflowing with fish forever. With the province undergoing unprecedented growth a mechanism was needed to deal with development of Crown land and regulation of private lands not covered by municipalities.
And with the growth in rural areas came the need for increased services. To reclaim the costs of such services as fire protection, water and waste management, there needed to be a more localized form of governance. The predominant feeling at the time was the rural areas were being subsidized by urbanized areas and were essential freeloaders. For example, residents of rural areas could use nearby municipal services without paying a share of the costs associated with operating such things as recreation facilities. By establishing regional districts, the provincial government hoped to change both the perception and reality, while giving rural areas more autonomy to manage their destiny.
The province decided that regional districts would have three basic functions. First, they would provide regional governance for the whole area. Secondly, they would provide a political forum for representation. Lastly, they would act as a vehicle for advancing the interests of the region as a whole. The system was developed with a noble set of core values. Political scientist Robert Bish considers the system to be among the best in North America. In his report for the University of Victoria’s Local Government Institute, “Regional District Review 1999 – Issues and Interjurisdictional Comparisons,” he concluded:
“The municipal-regional district system of local governments in British Columbia compares very favourably with local government systems elsewhere in North America. Regional districts do provide for inexpensive basic rural government, a political forum and administration for inter-municipal cooperation and regional governance. The opportunity to enter into inter-municipal cooperation easily and participate in regional governance also permits small municipalities with their very high levels of voter turnout and citizen participation to function efficiently. The regional district model has also been adaptable to very different areas of the province. Finally, regional districts have been especially successful compared to the provincial imposition of two-tier systems in Ontario, and all evidence indicates that the British Columbia system will outperform large amalgamated systems such as the Halifax Regional Municipality.”