Are regional districts still relevant?

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.

As Canada celebrates 150 years since its birth, another important anniversary — one with much less profile — is also being marked this year.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) was incorporated 50 years ago. The first official board meeting was held Nov. 24, 1967 in Kamloops City Hall, with lawyer Dave Rogers, an electoral area director, elected as chair.

At that first meeting, according to the minutes, “Rogers suggested that the Directors try to explain the functions of the Regional District to the inhabitants of the areas they represented and suggested that the District should go to some expense to this end.”

The regional district has been trying to do that ever since, with mixed success.

Regional districts were intended to bring local government to rural areas that had previously been the direct responsibility of the provincial government. In that regard, they’ve succeeded.

The TNRD was created almost three years before I came to the area but I remember covering its meetings for The Kamloops News. After the TNRD moved from rented offices in the Valleyview Shopping Centre into its own building on Falcon Road, I was even asked to give a keynote speech at one of the board’s inaugural meetings.

Being a brash young journalist, I decided to use the occasion to lecture the board on the essence of democracy and to point out a few things it was doing wrong. Needless to say, it didn’t go over all that well.

I’ve certainly changed my views on the TNRD over time, having come to appreciate the essential role it plays. The question is worth asking, though— are regional districts still relevant?

My answer would be that while they face a lot of challenges, they do many things well and are more relevant than ever. One of the TNRD’s biggest challenges is helping the public understand what it does.

The TNRD has a communications strategy in place that helps a great deal but as I mentioned in a column some time ago, the more interest the media have in shining a light on TNRD decisions the less mysterious an entity it will be.

As the TNRD begins its next 50 years, it has a lot on its plate, and I’ll suggest just five.
That communications thing. The TNRD exists to help people, and it needs to continue to find new and better ways to engage with the public.

Finding new sources of funding. The property tax system is a good base, and federal gas tax funding and infrastructure funding are important sources of additional help to communities, but worthy projects and essential services often find themselves short of money.

Improving water systems. Residents of rural communities that have water systems understandably become frustrated with water quality. It will be an issue until new funding is found in partnership with senior governments to provide universal filtration.
Solid waste management (that’s garbage, to you and me). It’s well in hand, but there will continue to be increased demands as population grows.

Protecting rural lifestyle. With urban populations growing more quickly than in rural areas, special attention needs to be given to keeping rural areas vital.

Continue to enjoy Canada’s 150th year, and a happy TNRD 50th as well.