What to do about Thornhill. The question is the region’s Coronation Street – a saga with no end. For a “what to do” debate to make any sense at all, we should attempt to resolve the “why do anything” question. Why do we – whoever “we” is – need to change anything with regard to Thornhill’s local governance?
Should population be a consideration? Kitimat-Stikine Regional District’s area “E” is a classic electoral area. Twenty-five regional district electoral areas have a greater population than does Kitimat-Stikine’s area “E.” On the other hand, 62 British Columbia municipalities have fewer inhabitants than does Thornhill. Population statistics are irrelevant; case in point being the population of the Greater Vancouver Regional District’s electoral area “A” which exceeds the population of City of Terrace.
If not population, then what distinguishes regional district governance from municipal governance? In the area of responsibilities for community services there is no difference. Whatever services and programs a municipal government may provide for its residents can equally be provided by a regional district. Water, sewer, fire protection, recreation, culture, land use planning, economic development, there is no difference between the two forms of local government in terms of the services and programs they are empowered to provide.
There is no difference in their respective authority to cooperate with other governing institutions, be they local, regional, provincial or national. It is not unusual for municipalities and regional districts to join forces to deliver services and offer programs for the benefit of users and contributors. There are innumerable examples around the province of inter-municipal agreements. There are also municipal-regional, and local government-provincial agreements on a wide range of local government services.
There are financial differences between the municipal and regional form of local government, but there are as many financial differences among individual municipalities, e.g., policing costs and provincial grants, as there are between municipalities and regional districts. How property taxes in a Town of Thornhill or of a Thornhill subdivision in Terrace would differ from taxes now charged property owners could be studied. We have to realize, however, that projecting what property taxes might be over the long-term is speculation.
Therefore, what to do about Thornhill is a political question; it is not economic or administrative. Thornhill is not a monolith, it is a community. As a healthy community Thornhill embodies both conflicts and the capacity for compromise stimulated by discussion and debate. Today the residents of Thornhill are represented by one person on the regional district board where the community’s local governance decisions are made. How can one person represent, defend, and argue a multitude of views and opinions so as to reach a reasoned compromise? If Thornhill were to incorporate as a municipality, a council charged with the responsibilities to govern the community would consist of five people, a mayor and four council members. A municipal council’s preeminent responsibility is to construct compromise from conflict.
Amalgamation calls for Thornhill to be incorporated into the established municipal infrastructure of the City of Terrace. This would not be a merger of two equal local governments. The amalgamation proposal amounts to a boundary expansion proposal for the City of Terrace. If this were to be done, Thornhill would be a subdivision within the City of Terrace, and what is today an independent community would be without assured representation on the municipal council. Residents of Thornhill have two choices if they cherish the independence of their community: local government by a single elected representative or by a council of five elected representatives. The kind of mutually beneficial agreements a Village of Thornhill and the City of Terrace may negotiate and re-negotiate are limited only by imagination. Incorporating Thornhill into the City of Terrace, on the other hand, would be forever.
Retired public sector administrator Andre Carrel lives in Terrace, B.C.