Regional districts: enlightened self-interest

Whose interests are regional directors supposed to represent?

The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) and the BC Ministry of Community Services “Regional District Tool Kit” includes a comprehensive set of fact sheets and guides.

Discussion Guide 1 (Regional / Local Interests) addresses the question “Whose interests should directors promote at the board table?

Some relevant quotes (described in the tool kit as the principle of “enlightened self-interest”):

  • Underlying the regional district model is the principle of self-interest, which maintains that a jurisdiction’s decision to participate in services that are provided through the regional district should be based on the jurisdiction’s own interest.
  • In all, there will be many instances when a jurisdiction’s own, local interest is furthered by the willingness of its regional board representatives to compromise and collaborate with others to pursue regional initiatives. In these instances, however, local interests are not being compromised for the benefit of the broader regional community.
  • The true test comes when a jurisdiction’s interest, as understood by its director(s), is not furthered by initiatives that are deemed by others to benefit the region as a whole. In these cases, whose interests should the director promote? The principle of self-interest, as described here, appears to suggest that the director should act on the interests of his or her own jurisdiction.

My understanding is that our regional director is supposed to promote the interests of our jurisdiction (Lasqueti), while also aiming to cooperate to meet regional goals. This “enlightened self-interest” is consistent with the consensual and voluntary nature of regional districts as representative democracies.

Contrary to the UBCM/provincial principles, some within the PRRD seem to believe that a regional director should prioritize regional interests over local interests, as indicated by two agenda items on a recent PRRD agenda (Aug 17, 2017):

  1. Which hat am I wearing now” by E. Mina was written for local vs. national interests.  The original article was modified by someone in the PRRD to change “global” to “regional”. I checked with the author and verified that references to bylaws and legislation requirements weren't applicable to regional districts.
  2. Supporting the Board Decision” by G. Cuff was written for municipal councils.

These two items suggest that global/council interests should take precedence over local interests. However, neither are fully applicable to regional districts because regional districts are not a separate level of government (they are federations of municipalities and electoral areas). The role of regional director is different from an MP, MLA and municipal councilor.

This distinction is crucial when there is a conflict between local and regional interests. Enlightened self-interest indicates that the Lasqueti regional director should give precedence to Lasqueti interests, with consideration for regional interests, and not prioritize regional interests over Lasqueti interests.