The many municipal quirks of Victoria’s Capital Regional District

Prefer libraries over police? Want your garbage collected, or would you rather pay lower taxes? Well, choose your Greater Victoria municipality wisely 

In the 2014 B.C. civic elections, non-binding referendums in eight of the 13 municipalities that compose Victoria’s Capital Regional District indicated widespread support for amalgamation. But economist Robert Bish, an expert on B.C. local government, says that large bureaucracies are usually more expensive and less responsive than the small officialdoms that have developed over time. B.C.’s regional district system allows municipalities to contract, share or tailor their own services. While some—such as water, transit and community centres—benefit from economies of scale, others do not. The result is a patchwork of unique cultures. “The system has created neighbourhood identities,” he says, “and it’s self-reinforcing. You only go to Metchosin if you want that particular rural lifestyle.” 

North Saanich

Population: 10,941
Incorporated: 1965
Thumbnail sketch: Largely agricultural land, North Saanich also boasts marinas, beaches and cycling trails.
Claim to fame: The authors of The 100-Mile Diet finally found locally grown Red Spring wheat at the Roost Farm Bakery.
Service quirks: Residents are content with lean services. Keep a flashlight in the car: no streetlights or sidewalks.
Sore point: Development. A controversial 2013 bylaw created two small areas that were allowed increased density in apartments and townhouses. It led to the ousting of a majority of council.



Population: 11,153
Incorporated: 1952
Thumbnail sketch: Its walkable seaside downtown made Sidney a popular retirement destination, but development is slowly diversifying.
Claim to fame: Canada’s only Book Town, named for its concentration of used bookstores.
Service quirks: The town is a model of accessibility, with policies to make sidewalks and new construction friendly to people who use scooters or mobility aids.
Sore point: Downtown business owners want to protect their boutique district from large commercial developments planned within its borders, in North Saanich and in the Tsawout First Nation.


Central Saanich

Population: 15,749
Incorporated: 1950
Thumbnail sketch: Boutique farms and equestrian operations, with two, perhaps three, commercial centres.
Claim to fame: Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn grew up in Central Saanich.
Service quirks: While North Saanich and Sidney share an RCMP detachment, Central Saanich has its own, more expensive, police department.
Sore point: Neighbours and council have battled Woodwynn Farms, which offers housing, rehabilitation and agricultural work to homeless people.



Population: 110,767
Incorporated: 1906
Thumbnail sketch: Primarily a residential suburb with no distinct town centre, Saanich has fiercely protected its rural and green spaces.
Claim to fame: Steve Nash, two-time NBA MVP, grew up in Saanich.
Service quirks: With four major recreation centres, Saanich is the envy of its neighbours.
Sore point: The controversial Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw prohibits about 2,000 home owners from building a fence, subdividing a large lot or removing plants. 


Oak Bay

Population: 17,488
Incorporated: 1906
Thumbnail sketch: Quaint and upscale, Oak Bay is home to many employees of UVic and Royal Jubilee Hospital.
Claim to fame: Home to the 1850 Tod House, the oldest continuously occupied home in Western Canada.
Service quirks: The Oak Bay Police Department provides foot patrol and bylaw enforcement, but more specialized functions, including dispatch and investigation, are contracted from Saanich Police.
Sore point: Well-mannered residents 



Population: 83,200
Incorporated: 1862
Thumbnail sketch: Home to business district, entertainment and tourist attractions, provincial government.
Claim to fame: Tech now rivals government in office space downtown.
Service quirks: Victoria carries more than its fair share of costs for cultural events and social disorder. Canada Day celebrations, for one, cost the city close to $200,000 in traffic control, public works and policing.
Sore point: Victoria is part of the Greater Victoria Public Library system but doesn’t have a signature downtown library.



Population: 16,207
Incorporated: 1912
Thumbnail sketch: Known for its blue-collar history, Esquimalt is home to a Canadian Forces base and the federally owned Esquimalt Graving Dock.
Claim to fame: Esquimalt had its own joint police-fire department until 2002.
Service quirks: CFB Esquimalt makes payments in lieu of taxes amounting to 40 per cent of the municipal budget, allowing Esquimalt to punch above its weight with its own arena, library, and recreation and fire departments.
Sore point: Esquimalt scuttled the CRD’s plan for a monolithic sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in 2014.



Population: 16,636
Incorporated: 1985
Thumbnail sketch: Largely residential, Colwood still has significant tracts of land for development.
Claim to fame: Royal Roads University.
Service quirks: No municipal garbage collection—residents contract private service, which is cheaper.
Sore point: As 70 per cent of residents have their own septic systems, they question why they should pay for the region’s new wastewater treatment plant.



Population: 4,968
Incorporated: 1984
Thumbnail sketch: With no zoning less than one acre, Metchosin is staunchly rural.
Claim to fame: Violin virtuoso Philip Manning grew up in Metchosin.
Service quirks: Metchosin’s four public works employees maintain roads, mow lawns, do engineering reports and double as volunteer firefighters. This model has been emulated in other small districts.
Sore point: Development. “There’s no director of planning. We don’t do that kind of crap,” says Mayor John Ranns.



Population: 12,257
Incorporated: 1999
Thumbnail sketch: From a logging and fishing past, Sooke has transformed into one of the area’s last bastions of affordable single-family homes.  
Claim to fame: The annual Sooke Fine Arts Show occupies an entire arena and attracts thousands of visitors.
Service quirks: In 2004 Sooke built its own wastewater treatment plant, which enabled the growth of its town centre.
Sore point: A recent spate of violent crime and robberies in the idyllic community has prompted calls for night-time security patrols. 



Population: 34,577
Incorporated: 1992
Thumbnail sketch: Long known as an enclave of big boxes, Langford is now the fastest-growing municipality in B.C.
Claim to fame: Home to Rugby Canada, Golf Canada and soon a massive tennis facility.
Service quirks: Proudly pro-development, Langford boasts a 24-hour turnaround on building permits and a $100 flat-fee business licence.
Sore point: Traffic congestion from Bear Mountain residential area to shopping, services and entertainment.



Population: 2,221
Incorporated: 1993
Thumbnail sketch: Rugged rural area whose residents are highly self-sufficient, with their own septic systems and their own aquifer.
Claim to fame: At 39 per cent parks, Highlands is the lungs of the CRD.
Service quirks: The District of Highlands is remarkably lean. It employs six people.
Sore point: Invisibility. “Nobody knows where Highlands is, but people love living here,” says Mayor Ken Williams.


View Royal

Population: 10,714
Incorporated: 1988
Thumbnail sketch: Mixed residential and commercial areas with a large portion of parks and shoreline.
Claim to fame: Anyone born in “Victoria” was likely born in View Royal, the home of Victoria General Hospital.
Service quirks: An annual tree-planting program and $3,000 fines for illegal tree-cutting.
Sore point: Residents are piqued by commuter traffic between the downtown and rapidly growing West Shore.