by Roger Stonebanks, citizen journalist
The BC government has called all Greater Victoria mayors and councils to separate half-hour meetings on the continuing issue of amalgamation/governance that was the subject of differently-worded referenda last Nov. 15 in eight of the 13 local municipalities.
The invitations were sent by Coralee Oakes, minister of community, sport and cultural development. Saanich Voice Online (SVO) has learned that Esquimalt will meet with the minister on July 14, View Royal’s meeting is the following day and Saanich’s meeting is on the 16th of July. North Saanich will meet the minister on Tuesday (July 14).
The meetings follow a “mandate” letter on June 12 from Premier Clark to Oakes which said, for the coming year – “Develop and present options to Cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June 30, 2016.” Clark defined “annual mandate” in her letter as “designed to be an ongoing workplan for your ministry that is updated on an annual basis.”
Here is the most recent statement from the community ministry on the subject, courtesy of the Peninsula News Review (July 2):
“This is an important and complex process involving 13 municipalities and it will take time and careful consideration to determine the appropriate steps and process.
“Hearing from and consulting with local voices must be a cornerstone of Government’s approach and the Province will not impose a particular approach or solution on the Capital region.
“To date, the Minister has heard from some mayors and councils – but it is important to hear from others to gauge interest and better understand how to collaborate on this goal. The province is also interested in the outcomes of community conversations happening in the region and hearing the results of discussions among local governments.
“Decisions about potential next steps will come once there is a better understanding of how local leaders believe they can collaborate in this conversation on governance and service.”
The minister’s invitation to Saanich is to ” . . . meet on the issue of governance and services in the Capital area. I feel it is important to hear from all local governments so I can understand how to support a conversation in governance and service integration in the Capital area.” Oakes also says that ” . . . given the complexity of this issue and the diversity of perspectives, I would like to hear directly from you and Council members about your interests and thoughts on service and governance integration in the Capital area.” The word “amalgamation” is not mentioned.
The Esquimalt and Saanich meetings will involve mayors and council. And for Saanich, the meeting will also include interim Chief Administrative Officer Andy Laidlaw. The View Royal meeting will be attended by Mayor David Screech and Chief Administrative Officer Kim Anema, and attending from North Saanich will be Mayor Alice Finall, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan and two councillors.
Mayor Screech commented on Saturday (July 11): “I will go back to what I have asked all along: ‘What is it exactly that we are trying to ‘fix’? I think that question has to be answered before we can decide on any course of action. There are so many areas where we do need to cooperate, regional crime units and a regional transportation authority for example, but simple amalgamation is not the answer. On the Westshore we all share our recreation services, our policing, our library, etc, etc. Our fire departments are composite forces that work seamlessly together. In View Royal we have a comparatively small staff and contract a lot of our work out to local business, hence providing good employment opportunities across the region. We do many things so well in the CRD already and it is really important to remember that.”
July 15, 2015 – Esquimalt and View Royal provide comments
Mayors and Councillors from Central Saanich, North Saanich, Sidney and Esquimalt met separately with Community Minister Coralee Oakes on Tuesday (July 14).
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins posted these comments on Facebook on July 15: “Great conversation with Minister Oakes yesterday regarding governance study. Your council were out in full (regrets M. Brame) to speak to Esquimalt referendum questions and to our proposed townhall meeting to come. All agreed it is important to understand what it is that is being asked for. Thanks Minister Oakes and Council for your great interest and discussion.”
Esquimalt Coun. Beth Burton-Krahn told Saanich Voice Online: “I was very impressed with the minister’s understanding of this issue and her tremendous respect for the complexity of the file. She was very generous with her time – a very positive and fruitful discussion between all of us. I can say, on the record, that the minister is committed to an open and ongoing dialogue with municipalities as she continues to make sense of all the various referenda results.”
Also attending the Esquimalt meeting were Couns. Olga Liberchuk, Tim Morrison, Susan Low and Lynda Hundleby. Coun. Meagan Brame was unable to attend because of work commitment.
View Royal Mayor David Screech had these comments after his meeting today (July 15) with Minister Oakes, “I had an extremely worthwhile meeting with Minister Oakes this morning to discuss regional governance issues. I was impressed with how she and her staff are tackling this issue. They see it as a real opportunity to explore how we can make our region even better. They clearly realize this is a very complex issue and that there are no easy solutions. The minister is interested in discussing governance issues in general as opposed to doing an amalgamation study. She will be working with all the councils across the region in the coming months as we identify a process to involve the public in a regional discussion. I look forward to working with the province, the public and our regional partners as we identify ways and means of collectively moving our region forward.”
July 16. 2015 – comments from Saanich
Mayor Richard Atwell of Saanich, every councillor, and interim Chief Administrative Officer, Andy Laidlaw, met Minister Oakes today (July 16). Coun. Fred Haynes said afterwards that council met Oakes, “to discuss the province’s ideas for a regional study on governance and services. This was part of a dialogue involving all 13 municipalities that the minister intends will evolve towards a collective ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ in late September.
“An important observation I had was that the word ‘amalgamation’ did not appear in any process the minister described, or in the outcomes. Instead the emphasis was on the need for very good data, a very good and transparent process of public education such that the data can be understood, and that this leads to the opportunity for the people of the region to eventually have their say through a referendum.”
Coun. Colin Plant commented that, “the meeting was called in order for Saanich council to share its thoughts with the minister about a proposed governance study for the CRD. Each member of Council had a brief opportunity to share their perspectives. Minister Oakes is very aware that this is an incredibly complex issue and one what requires a clear, inclusive and transparent path forward in order for the process to maintain integrity.
“Overall, I was very pleased with the meeting. Here are several comments Ms. Oakes made at the meeting that I noted: – This is about modernizing local governance – What are we trying to solve? – That there is no pre-determined outcome – That whatever the results, residents will have a chance to vote on any proposals – The next step will be calling a meeting in September or October to try and determine the next steps of beginning a study – Improved governance, and not amalgamation, is the goal.
“I believe that as a result of this meeting, Saanich will likely no longer be sending the minister a letter indicating our interest in participating in a regional study. The minister’s comments seemed to assuage my colleagues concerns about the intent of the study.
“The only downside to today is that the public was not able to hear the comments of each individual member of Saanich council to the Minister.” He invited the public to contact him.
Asked by SVO if he meant Saanich not be included in the study or that there is no longer any need to send the letter to the minister because it has been supplanted by the current/ongoing ‘conversation’ with the minister, Plant replied, “Definitely the latter. People’s concerns were allayed by the Minister’s comments.”
July 17 – Comment from Saanich
Saanich Coun. Susan Brice told SVO today that council’s meeting with Minister Oakes on July 16 “was of an introductory nature with the minister laying out to council her desire for the ministry to assist municipalities examine best practices to see if there is a better way to deliver services. She emphasized that this was not an amalgamation study and that she was going to involve representatives of the municipalities in establishing a terms of reference. She expressed her goal in establishing a Memorandum of Understanding and comment was made from our council that we would need to approve any terms of reference. “It was a very pleasant meeting and the minister gave all council members an opportunity to speak. A first good step I’d say. It was encouraging to hear Minister Oakes say on several occasions that she wants to hear what is working well.”
UPDATE July 27 – Comments from North Saanich
North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall gave this statement to SVO after peninsula municipal representatives met Minister Oakes:
“Along with Mayors Price and Windsor, our respective CAOs, Councillors King and Cormier from Central Saanich and Councillor Gartshore from North Saanich, I met with Minister Oakes on Tuesday July 14 in the late afternoon.
At the commencement of the meeting I stated our purpose, which was to reinforce our request for provincial funding so that our municipality could respond to the mandate from our residents. That is to conduct a study on the costs, feasibility and implications of amalgamation of the three peninsula municipalities. Mayor Price reinforced the mandate from Sidney, as did Councillor King regarding Central Saanich.
“The Minister did not pursue a discussion on this point even when raised again near the end of the meeting. She spoke of modernization of municipal government and ultimately suggested quarterly meetings and further discussions. Further points were raised by municipal attendees about the extensive level of joint endeavours among the three peninsula municipalities. The Minister did not pursue these points.
“From the perspective of obtaining provincial funding for the study mandated by our residents, we did not achieve any certainty.”
UPDATE July 27 – Comments from Central Saanich
Mayor Ryan Windsor sent this statement to SVO:
“As has been reported already, the three Peninsula Mayors and their respective CAO’s were joined by Councillors Heather Gartshore from North Saanich as well as Councillors Cormier, Jensen, King and Paltiel from Central Saanich at a meeting on July 14th with Minister Oakes regarding the issue of funding for a cost benefit analysis on the amalgamation of the Saanich Peninsula municipalities.
“The meeting was convened as a response to letters sent to the minister following the results of the ballot question last November in each of the three municipalities, which saw majorities greater than 60% of voters who cast ballots, in Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich interested in seeing an analysis done. The Minister acknowledged the request for funding in the initial invitation sent by email addressed to Mayors and Councillors of all three municipalities. Articulated clearly in the invitation was the intent of the Minister to seek the feedback of representatives from each of the three municipalities.
“In response to questions by the group Minister Oakes did identify that no funding model had yet been concluded, though it was clearly communicated that this was a result of the differing nature of the questions posed by eight of the 13 municipalities in the Capital Region and the lack of any ballot question in the remaining five.
“It should be noted that the Minister did state that direct community conversations with residents are an important next step and that they would observe such a process. Finally, it was concluded that quarterly meetings be conducted between representatives of the three peninsula municipalities and the Minister. ”
SVO will continue to post mayor and council responses as they become available.
For previous SVO news stories about amalgamation/governance – go HERE
You’ll find an ongoing conversation (discussion and information) on amalgamation and civic governance on Facebook at Local Governance Talks 2.0.