Community News

The ‘A’ Question

Oct 02, 2014 Editor

Who’s not asking and why and who’s asking – and what?
by Roger Stonebanks

dollsSome residents in Greater Victoria will vote Nov. 15 on whether they want a study of amalgamation – or to express support for amalgamation. And some won’t. It depends on where we live. And also on what the ballot question actually says.

The amalgamation campaign is being pressed under the banner “Amalgamation Yes” by the Capital Region Municipal Amalgamation Society. (See www.amalgamationyes.ca).

On the Saanich Peninsula, Central Saanich and Sidney residents will have a non-binding referendum but North Saanich council turned down the idea. Saanich council won’t be balloting residents.

Central Saanich voters will face this question on the ballot paper – “Should the District of Central Saanich petition the Province to fund a cost/benefit analysis of an amalgamation of Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney? Yes or No.”

Sidney voters will see this on Nov. 15 – “Are you in favour of a provincially-funded study to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the three municipalities of the Saanich Peninsula?”

Retiring Sidney Mayor Larry Cross and some councillors are opposed to amalgamation but not to asking residents what they think. Amalgamation, said Cross, is “not in the best interests of Sidney.”

North Saanich council will not be putting any question to its residents.

“The main reasons were the opinion of most that amalgamation could only increase municipal cost, increase debt and increase taxes,” Mayor Alice Finall told Saanich Voice Online (SVO).

“With respect to my own opinion, I have had the opportunity to look into the extensive research on this question. This shows, with a number of examples, that contrary to popular belief, amalgamation does not save money but costs money, usually much more than anticipated. It also confirms that satisfactory levels of services tend to drop and access to local representatives is diminished. There are few economies of scale.”

She also said the peninsula municipalities already share certain services, a point echoed by Central Saanich Coun. Zeb King.

Saanich council, it is clear, won’t be putting the issue to residents.

“The current campaign to reduce the number of small municipalities is not a debate Saanich need be a part of,” Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard told SVO.

“We are one of the 10 largest municipalities in BC, are five times the geographic size of Victoria and our population of 115,000 is 40 per cent larger and we have 1,500 employees. The only larger local government in the region is the CRD and many would say that proves bigger isn’t better.

“Should ever a future council want to engage the public on this issue, I’d prefer one where there is factual information and a funded ‘yes’ and ‘no’ side. Currently this year the only information is from the advocates who have funding from the downtown business community.”

Coun. Susan Brice concurred with published comments by Mayor Leonard, in particular this one – “Saanich’s sprawling farms, parks and urban areas, lakes and streams take a small army of 1500 municipal employees and increasing those responsibilities won’t necessarily result in efficiencies.”

Another Saanich councillor, Vic Derman, said Saanich residents have not demonstrated wide support for putting the issue on the ballot and the question that Amalgamation Yes poses (asking if residents are in favour of reducing the number of municipalities) is “far too vague.” He said any decision on some form of amalgamation should be preceded by an “extensive process of public debate on the pros and cons. Only after such a debate could the general public make an informed decision.” Amalgamation Yes, he said, “has given no assurances of such a debate and are certainly not an appropriate organization to conduct one.”

Elsewhere in the region, Victoria (where the question will be, “Are you in favour of reducing the number of municipalities in Greater Victoria through amalgamation”), and Esquimalt and Langford residents, will get to express an opinion. Oak Bay residents might – a notice of motion will be before council on Sept. 29 which was after SVO’s deadline. In the “no vote” or unlikely to hold a vote category are Sooke, Highlands, View Royal, Metchosin and Colwood.

AMALGAMATION – UPDATED

Just as this issue of Saanich Voice Online came out, there were several new developments on the amalgamation question in the Nov. 15 municipal election:

Oak Bay council decided on Sept. 29, after SVO’s deadline, to ask voters on Nov. 15 this question – “Are you in favour of the District of Oak Bay being amalgamated into a larger regional municipality?”

Both votes would be non-binding and require simply “yes” or “no” from voters.

Esquimalt council decided on Sept. 29 (after SVO press-time) to put two non-binding questions to voters:

“1. Are you in favour of the Township of Esquimalt exploring options to achieve efficiencies by further sharing some services with other municipalities? Yes or No.

“2. Are you in favour of exploring the reduction of the number of municipalities within Greater Victoria through amalgamation? Yes or No.”

According to Langford Municipal Hall, they will have the following non-binding question on their November 15th ballot:

“Are you in favour of the City of Langford being amalgamated into a larger regional municipality?  YES or NO

North Saanich had a change of heart as well – as of Monday, October 6th – Councillor McBride’s request to Council to consider adding a question regarding amalgamation to the ballot was granted. As a result, the following question will be added to the North Saanich ballot:

“Are you in favour of a study, provincially funded, to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the municipalities of North Saanich, Central Saanich and Sidney.”

While the District of Saanich will be adding a question to their Nov 15th election ballots, it won’t be a amalgamation question.  The Oct 6th Council meeting saw Saanich council unanimously endorsed Mayor Frank Leonard’s proposed addition of the question, “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?”

Check back here for updates as they come in.