I sometimes get questions about how the voting works at the RDOS. The RDOS board has 18 members, of which 8 are rural electoral area directors and 10 represent municipal members. To make things more confusing, each board member carries a certain number of votes based on the population he or she represents. As the representative of Electoral Area F (population about 2,100) I carry 2 votes. The four directors representing Penticton have 4 or 5 votes each. The director of Electoral Area D (Kaleden, OK Falls, Apex, South Skaha; population 5,700) also carries 5 votes.
A couple of important things to note, however:
- The weights only matter for weighted votes. Relatively few questions (apart from financial matters such as the budget) are settled using a weighted vote. Many votes are unweighted (a single vote per director). So although it is true that the City of Penticton has a total of 18 votes compared to my 2 votes, it is a slightly less lopsided 4 to 1 in an unweighted vote. The basis for each vote is decided by the voting policy and is noted on the agenda (highlighted in yellow on image above).
- In keeping with the pay-to-play principle of regional districts, only the "participants" in a service vote on matters concerning that service. So in the image above the agenda item under the heading "rural land use matters" is marked: "Unweighted Rural Vote – Simple Majority". Municipal members of the RDOS (Penticton, Summerland, Oliver, Osoyoos, Keremeos, and Princeton) have their own planning functions and thus do not participate in RDOS rural planning. This means they do not pay for the function or vote on rural land use matters. They are certainly permitted to participate in any discussion prior to a vote (indeed, their input is extremely valuable) but they have no formal role in such decisions. Since much of what the RDOS board does during meetings is deal with rural land use matters, municipal directors spend a lot of time observing, perhaps commenting, but not voting.
- Committee decisions are always corporate and unweighted (all 18 members vote, one vote per director). This facilitates a full airing of controversial topics in committee before the committee recommendations come to the board for a more formal vote. Currently all RDOS committees are committees-of-the-whole. All 18 members sit on all committees. The only difference between RDOS committee meetings and the RDOS board meeting is different people chair the committee meetings and the committee meeting are meant to be a bit less formal.
This all might sound complicated, but it satisfies a few desirable criteria:
- Representative democracy: Big corporate items are generally weighted corporate votes. This means the populations (Penticton, Summerland, Area D) who pay the most and have the largest number of constituents also have the most impact when the votes are counted.
- Local Autonomy: For purely local issues such as rural land use, only the rural directors have a vote. The large delegations from the municipalities cannot dominate because they do not vote on such issues.
- Checks and Balances: It might seem odd that the director from (say) rural Osoyoos can vote on a land use issue in Faulder or the West Bench. I am the director who represents Faulder and the West Bench and thus I "own" such issues. At the very least I have a more direct stake in their outcome than the other rural directors. I see the participation by other rural directors as a check and balance. The rural director for the area in question generally knows the issue well and is accorded some respect and deference by the other directors at the board table. But only to a point. We occasionally see directors lose votes on matters in their own electoral areas. This tells me the checks and balances are working.
Let me know if you have any questions about this. Overall, I would say the regional district system in British Columbia works quite well. Municipal members who have to sit through long debates in which they cannot vote may disagree. However, it is often useful for municipalities to know what is going on in their rural fringes.