Here’s a way to cut the size of regional district boards

Mel Rothenburger is the TNRD Director for Electoral Area P, including Whitecroft and Heffley Creek. He was the mayor of Kamloops from 1999-2005 and a former newspaper editor.

When Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his intention to unilaterally cut the number of Toronto City councillors from 47 to 25 it not only started a battle royal between Ford and City Hall, but renewed the question of how many is too many on municipal councils.

I’ve mused in the past about the potential benefits of reducing the size of City councils in B.C.— less talking, more efficiency and lower cost.

For example, if a council had only six councillors instead of eight, or four instead of six, would it really be any less effective? I think not, and some councils in B.C. have either looked at the possibility, put it to referendum, or done it.

Under B.C.’s Community Charter, the main legislation governing municipal councils, the maximum number of councillors is set according to population, but councils can have fewer than the maximum if they wish.

For example, a city with more than 50,000 normally has a mayor and eight councillors but a council can pass a bylaw to have fewer if it wants, as long as voters agree.

When it comes to regional districts, it’s a little different because regional districts are a form of ward system, but population still comes into play. Under the Local Government Act, the number of directors a municipality can have also depends on population.

On the 26-member board of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, the City of Kamloops has six directors. It’s the only municipality in the TNRD that has more than one director on the board. Electoral areas, as well as Sun Peaks, Cache Creek, Ashcroft, Barriere, Chase, Clearwater, Clinton, Logan Lake, Lytton and Merritt are allowed only one director apiece.

I’m not going to suggest they should be allowed more. Far from it. Under the current formula, it will be an awfully foggy Friday before any of the other municipalities are entitled to an additional director, but as Kamloops grows it will eventually be entitled to a seventh director, meaning seven of its nine council members would sit on the TNRD and influence its decisions.

This situation is theoretically justified by the fact that Kamloops, having by far the largest population in the region, pays the largest part of the budget. But why does it need six directors?

Kamloops directors tend to sit on fewer committees than other board members because there are more of them. So if there were fewer Kamloops directors, the distribution of committee appointments would simply even out.

I sometimes wonder why Kamloops directors even get a vote on some of our rural issues, but maybe that’s a story for another day, as is the whole system of who gets the most say in setting budgets.

The disparity in the number of seats held by Kamloops compared to other communities has, in the past, led to an unfortunate Kamloops-versus-the-rest mentality. While that has seldom surfaced of late, it certainly sets up an urban-rural divide.

In my view, there should be a maximum of two regional directors from each municipality. That would recognize the population issue but would also create a much better balance between metropolitan and rural interests on the board.

It would also cut the current board from 26 to 22, which would streamline it at least somewhat and would result in cost savings as well.

I know this would not be popular with the City of Kamloops, and it would require legislative changes at the provincial level, but it would be one way of cutting some bulk from regional districts.