Try Looking Up “Subsidiarity”

Dave Killion — October 23, 2010

Here in the greater Victoria region we are fortunate to have local government divided amongst 13 different municipalities.  Unfortunately, there are some folks who don’t know how lucky we are, and, worse yet, are calling for various sorts of amalgamation.

Amalgamation proponents are universally concerned with the inability of local government to ‘get things done’.  Whether it is policing, libraries, light rail, or garbage collection, they look at all the time and energy local governments must use in order to coordinate with each other, and they get the vapours.  All they can see are nasty individuals selfishly protecting the interests of their own little fiefdoms, while ignoring the greater good.  Wouldn’t it be so much better, they ask, if there were a centralized power that could simply make those hold-outs do what is best for everyone?

Well, no, it wouldn’t.  Neither Halifax, no Winnipeg, nor Toronto have realized the benefits promised by the pro-amalgamaters.  Policing is still bad, the governments are still oversized, and nobody is saving any money.  This is no surprise to libertarians, and should be no surprise to anyone else.  In a decentralized system, municipalities must compete for residents and for businesses, which helps keep quality up and price down.  Successful policies are quickly adopted by adjacent municipalities, and more importantly, damage resulting from bad policies is confined.  The local municipality of Colwood is in bad financial straits as a result of years of bad governance, and even had to lay off staff last year.  Imagine if the remaining 12 municipalities had also been under the control of Colwood’s Mayor and Council!

The problems we have in Victoria with policing, libraries, and garbage collection don’t arise chiefly from the wrong kind of government.  They arise from being providing by the public sector rather than the private sector.  And that isn’t something that’s going to be fixed by amalgamation.

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