More than $17,000 was spent by the Cowichan Pro-Amalgamation group during the lead up to the referendum on joining Duncan and North Cowichan in June.
Meanwhile, the Cowichan No Amalgamation group spent just $910, according to Elections BC’s recently released report on the revenues and expenditures of the two third-party groups that registered to participate in the campaign.
Third party groups looking to participate in local referendums must apply to Elections BC for registration as a Local Election Advertising Sponsor, which gives them the right to legally raise and spend money in the debate and discussions on the merits of a referendum.
Cowichan Pro-Amalgamation, which was formed and led by Patrick Hrushowy, managed to raise more than $16,000 from businesses and corporations for its campaign, with individual donors making up the rest of the revenues.
Cowichan No Amalgamation, led by Sharon Jackson, raised $538 of its revenues from individuals, while Jackson came up with the rest of the cash.
Most of the money from both groups was spent on advertising.
Hrushowy, currently a candidate for a council seat in North Cowichan, said he felt that with almost 50 per cent of the residents of North Cowichan voting in favour of amalgamation in June, there was good reason before the referendum to believe that the ‘yes’ side had a chance to win.
But he said it became quickly obvious that many in Duncan liked the status quo and wanted no part of amalgamation.
“I have no regrets about the campaign because amalgamation was the big question hanging out there and I felt we needed to find out what residents of both communities thought of it once and for all,” Hrushowy said.
“We had a non-binding referendum (in the municipal elections in 2014) about amalgamation in which most voters said they wanted it studied, the Citizens’ Assembly recommended it and we’ve had many joint meetings of council over amalgamation, so it was important that the issue be decided, one way or another, to finally clear the air.”
As for the vast majority of contributions to Cowichan Pro-Amalgamation coming from businesses and corporations, Hrushowy said they felt it was in their best interests to back the ‘yes’ side.
“The local business community has had concerns for a long time about the splintering of jurisdictions here,” he said.
“If a business actively transcends municipal boundaries, they have to deal with differences in regulations and zoning, so a win for amalgamation would have rid them of a lot of uncertainty.”
Jackson, a long-time Duncan city councillor who is now running for mayor, said the pro-amalgamation side was clearly out of touch with the people on the issue.
“I don’t know why they thought that amalgamation would have been a great idea,” she said.
“When I was going door-to-door in Duncan during that campaign, I found just one couple in the city who said they were in favour of it.”
She said the Cowichan No Amalgamation group paid for just 30 lawn signs and several thousand flyers during the campaign, but quickly realized that the majority of people in Duncan were not going to vote for amalgamation regardless of the vastly different budgets of the two groups.