Bringing the ballot questions back to the council chambers
by Roger Stonebanks
Voters spoke at the Nov. 15 municipal election in non-binding plebiscites on amalgamation and governance – and now councils are moving to act on the results.
“The amalgamation question response is quite clear – people are interested in information about costs and feasibility of amalgamation,” said North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall, where voters supported this question: “Are you in favour of a study, provincially funded, to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula of Sidney, Central Saanich and North Saanich?”
Central Saanich voters supported this question, “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?” Sidney voters said “Yes” to this question, “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?”
Mayor Finall told Saanich Voice Online that her council will spend two days in early January considering its priorities for the coming year.
“I anticipate that this will be one matter that they will discuss,” she said. “For the District to conduct the study, as stated in the referendum question, we will need to receive the necessary funding from the province. This will require us to make an application to the province. Council will need to decide whether we make this application in conjunction with the other peninsula municipalities. I am working to organize an early tri-municipal meeting which North Saanich will host.”
The District of Saanich, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with a “governance review” as a result of voter support for this question which avoided the “amalgamation” word – “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?”
In two motions specifically referenced to the voter-approved governance question, council approved unanimously on Dec. 8, “That a governance review, in accordance with the motion on the ballot, be initiated as soon as possible, within a 90-day period.” Council also requested municipal staff “to prepare a report, as soon as possible within a 90-day period, indicating how such a review might be structured and carried out in accordance with the motion on the ballot.”
The two motions were initiated by Coun. Vic Derman who predicted at council that the governance review process will be lengthy and complex with a variety of venues available to allow the public the chance to express ideas. Webcasting council meetings could be started before the end of the review. It was important, he said, to provide the public with as much information as possible to make informed decisions.
Mayor Richard Atwell noted that in his inaugural address to council on Dec. 1 when he announced the formation of a Governance and Cooperation Review Select Committee. How this and other initiatives roll into Coun. Derman’s motion was a question, he said. Coun. Derman responded that the question put to voters did not include the formation of a Governance Committee but it will become part of the discussion once the staff report is received.
The Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Coralee Oakes, made the following official statement regarding amalgamation /governance following the Nov. 15 municipal elections:
“In the Capital Region, a number of municipalities asked ballot questions about governance structures at the local level, and results indicate many citizens in the region are open to examining changes to the local government structure and/or service delivery.
“There is always value in dialogue about whether current governance structures are meeting local community needs. There is only one taxpayer, and it is the responsibility of all levels of government to ensure the most efficient and effective delivery of public services.
“The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development is now in the process of reviewing the referendum results related to this highly complex matter in greater detail, as I am sure the newly-elected councils will wish to do so when they take office.
“I remain committed to provide the support and resources required by the newly-elected local governments, once they have had an opportunity to discuss and review the results in greater detail.”