Even though local elections are now over, one question was brought up at the Nov. 9 municipal all candidates meeting that deserves to be explored.
The question of expanding Terrace to include Thornhill. This subject arises in every municipality with a substantial unorganized community at its doorstep. But such communities are not unorganized; they have a local government, albeit organized in a different form.
Thornhill is Area ‘E’ in the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine. There is little in the way of services the municipal government can provide in Terrace that the regional government cannot provide in Thornhill.
The regional district could provide a pool, an arena, a civic centre, curb-side garbage pickup and recycling, traffic lights, bicycle lanes – in short, anything Thornhill wants and is willing to pay for.
Terrace has one thing which the regional district cannot provide for Thornhill: internal democracy. Thornhill elects an area director to represent all of the community’s interests, concerns, and ambitions. Thornhill has a “mayor” but no council.
Imagine the City of Terrace governed by the mayor alone. We could present our wishes and concerns, our beefs and bouquets, to the one person we elected, and these decisions would be made by that one person alone.
No debates, no votes. Even a sage lacks the capacity to consider the multitude of a community’s views, opinions, fears and desires, and to reflect their merits in decisions having the democratic legitimacy of decisions rendered by a council of equals.
Terrace council decisions are subjected to internal democratic constraints which are absent in Thornhill.
Internal democracy is a governance quality the regional district cannot offer to Thornhill residents.
A desire for internal democracy is the only rational justification for a change in Thornhill’s local government. Thornhill residents have two options should they wish to change their local government format.
The community could ask Terrace to expand its boundaries, or it could incorporate to become the Town of Thornhill.
Thornhill residents, as a subdivision of the City of Terrace, would have less control over local government decisions affecting their community than they now have under the regional district.
Thornhill would be just one of several subdivisions in the City of Terrace. All policies and bylaws affecting the Thornhill subdivision, from taxation to zoning, would be identical to those applicable to all subdivisions in the City of Terrace. Becoming part of Terrace would miss the objective of a local government being democratically responsive and accountable exclusively to the residents of Thornhill.
There is a consistent but mistaken belief that municipal mergers improve local government efficiency and effectiveness.
Western University’s Andrew Sancton, in Merger Mania, documents merger experiences in Canada and abroad demonstrating that amalgamations do not improve local government efficiency and effectiveness.
Terrace and Thornhill now benefit from a range of shared services, such as library and transit. Incorporation would not diminish Thornhill’s opportunities for joint ventures with Terrace or with the regional district.
As an independent municipality Thornhill could negotiate regional or inter-municipal services where a mutual benefit is to be gained from such agreements while taking care of its own affairs in all other matters.
This independence is most critical in financial planning, particularly in the area of revenue policies, such as residential to non-residential tax rate ratios and user fees, and in policies concerning reserves and borrowing.
Amalgamation with Terrace would subject all municipal policies affecting Thornhill to the approval of the majority living on the other side of the Skeena.
Incorporation may benefit Thornhill. The decision is theirs alone. Amalgamation offers nothing to Thornhill or to Terrace.
Fences make good neighbours, and the two communities have been good neighbours for a long time.
Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator who is now living in Terrace, BC.