Should Vancouver Island be its own province?
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A petition before the B.C. legislature is calling for a return to the past, when Vancouver Island was the only self-governing colony west of Upper Canada.
Organized by a group called Vancouver Island Province, the petition "request(s) that the Honourable House call upon the government of Canada to... take suitable measures that will lead to the Proclamation of the Province of Vancouver Island by May 16, 2021, fully 150 years after British Columbia entered the Confederation of Canada."
Prior to being amalgamated with the mainland in 1866, Vancouver Island was a separate colony with its own legislative assembly. Laurie Gourlay, one of the people behind the petition, wants to see that autonomy returned.
"It's a coming of age thing," he said. "There's 765,000 people on the Island now, and we've got the infrastructure and resources to maintain and manage our own affairs."
Although he's concerned that "what's taken off Vancouver Island is not necessarily given back," Gourlay stressed his group is not "at odds" with the province. Rather, he believes residents — and Confederation as a whole — would be better served by recognizing the Island as a separate province.
"They say competition is good, so wouldn't Canada like to have two provinces on the west coast rather than one?" he said.
Gourlay also believes issues important to the Island, such as climate change and resource management, would be better handled by a government that's closer to home.
"There needs to be a hands-on approach to planning that looks at the Island as a unit, so we can address those matters for the long-term benefit of everyone living here," he said.
To date, Gourlay says 106 people have signed his petition. Copies were presented to the legislature last week by Comox Valley MLA Don McRae and Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog.
MLAs are required to present any petitions submitted to them, whether or not they endorse their contents.
James Lawson, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, said he found it difficult to imagine the petition becoming reality.
"Dividing up provinces is not something that's really happened; the practical obstacles are enormous," he said. "Even if you could get the province to agree to it, it would be hard to provide incentives for the other provinces to go along."
Lawson said the other provinces would likely oppose "giving another entity a seat at the federal table." That means it would be difficult to drum up the two-thirds support necessary to alter the constitution.
And according to Lawson, autonomy could make the Island less financially stable.
"When one part of the province has it bad, the other parts can buoy up government spending and tax revenues and you're better off that way," he said. "You need that wider jurisdiction to even out problems."
For more information on the petition, visit viprovince.ca.