Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The “A” Word – Amalgamation in Langley

Like rain in the winter, talk of amalgamating Langley will never go away. The latest effect to reunited Langley comes from the Langley Reunification Association.

Langley Prairie, 1940s. Langley Centennial Museum
Back in 1955, the City separated from the Township because the farmers in the rural part of Langley didn’t believe the urban core should have street lights. The Langley Reunification Association believes that the original reason for separation is no longer valid and the two Langleys should become one.

In response, last night the City of Langley released a report “Feasibility Study of Amalgamating the Langleys: Is there a Case?” and City Council passed a resolution that the City is not prepared to support or to fund an independent study on the feasibility of reunifying the City of Langley and the Township of Langley as one municipality.

The report argues that there is no cost savings from amalgamation as we already have region agencies that take care of water, sewer, major roads, and transit which is where the power of big comes in handy.
However, if one were to use cost savings from the reduction of bureaucracy and elimination of duplications of services as criteria from measuring success of amalgamation, we would have to conclude that amalgamation has been a failure for the citizens of Toronto. In 1997, the Harris government predicted that amalgamation would produce cost savings of $300 million per year by eliminating personnel and services. However, City budgets have swollen from $4.2 billion in 1998 to $7.8 billion in 2007, with a deficit of about $575 million projected for 2007.
One of the other reasons cited for amalgamation is that too many local governments are bad because it hurts cooperation on regional issues. The reality of course is different. Compared to other regions in Canada, we are in much better shape when it comes to provisioning of regional services and inter-government cooperation. Toronto, which is one municipality, has been arguing about transit expansion for the last decade and recently thew out their whole light rail program and is back to step one.

Toronto is the perfect example of how amalgamation can go wrong. The suburban areas in Toronto felt that they were hard-done-by urban Toronto and voted in a mayor to “punish the downtown elites”. This is not healthy and has resulted in an us-vs-them toxic government.

One of the other things that gets lost with larger government is access and accountability. Right now, I can call the mayor in the City and he will return my call. It’s not because I’m special but because the size of the City allows for that level of access.

I’m unsure of what benefits could come from an amalgamated Langley expect for maybe some efficiency in the parks department. Where I grew up, there was the larger Vernon and smaller Coldstream that merged their parks and recreation departments together. Maybe we should be talking about that instead.

Besides the warm fuzzy feeling of having one Langley, I’m not sure of any good reasons to amalgamate. If Langley City was called Innes Corners, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You don’t hear much about New Westminster and Burnaby amalgamating.

No comments: