by Marsha Henderson, citizen reporter
Amalgamation has been an on-again, off-again subject in the Capital Regional District (CRD) for more than 100 years. Over the last few years there has been a significant amount of organization added to the pro-amalgamation side of the quiet debate, culminating in a variety of referendum questions on governance being added to the 2014 municipal election ballots. The addition of the questions was the result of concerted, organized and funded efforts of a small group called Capital Region Amalgamation Society, or Amalgamation Yes, as it’s commonly known.
The results of the referendum varied, as did the questions asked, with both pro- and against amalgamation people claiming victory. The only thing that seems to be certain is that nothing is clear.
Past proponents of amalgamations have been land developers and the business community. Urban Development Institute suggested a three-municipality arrangement in the 90’s and the Victoria Chamber of Commerce holds a policy position recommending forced amalgamation in the region. The current push is from a more diverse group that are well organized and funded.
The two main groups are Amalgamation Yes (AY) and Pro-Amalgamation (Pro-Am). Smaller groups of proponents have united to form the two organizations, each with the same goal but differing functions, operating complementary to their shared objectives.
Amalgamation Yes is now the main organization working to move amalgamation forward in the CRD. It is registered as a provincial non-profit; and also as a registered political entity, a Third Party Sponsor under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA).
Amalgamation Yes was founded in 2011 by Times Colonist sales rep Susan Jones and then Victoria City Councillor and restaurateur Shellie Gudgeon. Gudgeon funded an amalgamation information event in Victoria that attracted enough interested people to produce a working group. Gudgeon and Jones continued to organize and connect discussion groups. A strategy emerged and Jones eventually took on the lead in fundraising and communications.
Pro-Amalgamation was registered by Amalgamation Yes director James Legh as an Elector Organization (a civic political party) under LECFA.
Amalgamation Yes and Pro-Am are supported through sponsorships and donations from business and private citizens. Last year, Amalgamation Yes initially reported more than $22,000 in donations. Knappett Projects Inc., Harbour Air, Il Terrazzo, Vibrant Victoria (marketing) and the Vandekerkhove family are all listed as donors and/or sponsors.
Pro-Am collected almost $14,000 to finance three unsuccessful election campaigns of pro-amalgamation candidates running in View Royal, Colwood and Sooke 2014 municipal elections.
Amalgamation Yes held its 2015 AGM on June 20 with 21 members in attendance and one non-member. At press-time the proposed Directors for the 2015 elections were John Vickers, Shellie Gudgeon, Earle Anthony, James Legh, Lesley Ewing, Marg Gardiner, Colin Nielson, John Weaver, James Anderson, Marg Gardiner, Sandi Menzies, Aaron Hall, with Tony Heemskerk, as for president (since confirmed). These are names that have been associated with Amalgamation Yes and Pro-Am for sometime.
These 20 or so members of Amalgamation Yes’ names are regularly seen in letters to the editor, are frequent flyers on social media, are regular guests on local radio talk shows and as such are the ones that are actively framing the conversation around amalgamation.
Other efforts to move the amalgamation debate forward are the Greater Victoria Conversation (GVC) and The Victoria Salon.
The GVC hosts a moderated Facebook Page and Twitter account with Susan Jones as one of the moderators. The group has also organized two community forums on amalgamation with attendance less than 125 people each. Their Facebook page has about 75 followers while the Twitter account has just over 500 (for Twitter perspective – Susan Jones herself has over 8,000 followers). The Victoria Salon has hosted two debates, the second one on amalgamation with a suggested reading list taken primarily from the AY website offerings, and absent of some local well-known university-based research that is not pro amalgamation.
Amalgamation Yes director James Legh runs the Amalgamate Greater Victoria blog, on which can be found a detailed strategy for the process of obtaining a referendum on the issue during a municipal election. New Amalgamation Yes director Jaclyn Casler is the main blogger and Twitter voice behind blog Victorian Analysis, the self-proclaimed new voice on local government here in the Greater Victoria region.
Amalgamation Yes has funded and disseminated the results of one Angus Reid study, and are apparently preparing for another.
Where are the community associations in this discussion? Where are our community leaders?
It’s critical that our citizens are able to get information needed to decide if this is even worth considering, and that information must be from reliable and unbiased sources. Is a decision to proceed with a study in fact a decision to proceed with some form of amalgamation? In Saanich at least, that fact has never been made clear and has never been voted on. Community support for an amalgamation study has never been asked for, or given.
The replacement of our municipalities and regional governance structures with one, three or five larger cities is a huge decision. Understanding the significance of the consequences is essential to making a decision as large as potentially deleting Saanich from the mapbooks.
For more citizen journalist-offered articles on this topic, simply pop amalgamation or governance into the search bar on the top left of the home page of SVO.