Community News

Blue-sky Vision(s) of Amalgamation?

Aug 02, 2015 Editor

But are they Minister Coralee Oakes’ Peter Fassbender’s visions, or Premier Clark’s?

by Michele Murphy

Peter-Fessbender
Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport, Cultural Development and Minister Responsible for Translink

Just after SVO’s August issue press-time the BC Liberal government announced a cabinet shuffle that sees, among several changes, Coralee Oakes moved to Small Business, Red Tape, and liquor, and former Education Minister (and former mayor of Langley) Peter Fassbender take over the Community, Sport and Cultural Development  – and Translink – file.

This shift comes on the heels of Coralee Oakes meeting with most of the mayors, councils, and CAOs from the Capital Region. It also comes on the heels of SVO releasing an online story of Oakes’ meeting with the Victoria-Swan Lake BC Liberals and Amalgamation Yes guests at a breakfast meeting. In this meeting Oakes talks of her long-time vision of amalgamating the Capital Region, and what that might look like.

Why the shuffle? Was it something that Oakes did wrong, or Fassbender does right – and if so, what, and how will it affect Saanich and the Peninsula? Whatever the ministerial change means, the written mandate from Premier Clark to Fassbender on July 30 is the same as her written mandate to Oakes on June 12 – “Develop and present options to Cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June 30, 2016.”

SVO‘s printed August issue leads with the following update to our on-line story. SVO will continue to update the story as details and analysis become available.

July 29, 2015 – Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes met last month with some of the councils from around the CRD, after having invited all to separate 30-minute meetings. Many of the Capital Region’s mayors and councillors emerged hopeful of seeing a robust and unbiased investigation into governance. 

Following Saanich’s meeting, with the Minister Councillor Fred Haynes commented, “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.”

Saanich Councillor Colin Plant repeated comments made by the minister including her saying that “there is no pre-determined outcome,” and that “improved governance, and not amalgamation, is the goal.” Plant felt that, “People’s concerns were allayed by the Minister’s comments.”

View Royal’s outspoken Mayor David Screech said, ‘The minister is interested in discussing governance issues in general as opposed to doing an amalgamation study.”

But are they Minister Coralee Oakes’ Peter Fassbender’s visions, or Premier Clark’s

by Michele Murphy

If an open, honest investigation into local governance in the Capital Region is what you’re looking for, this all sounds hopeful. But a recording of a private March 10, 2015 breakfast meeting where Minister Oakes spoke to a gathering organized by the BC Liberal Victoria-Swan Lake Riding Association tells a different story.A link to a recording of the meeting is found on the Amalgamation Yes website.  The recording has Oakes addressing the amalgamation-friendly crowd candidly and openly, making references to her long-time dream of amalgamating Victoria. 

Oakes opened the presentation recalling a “blue-sky” Liberal caucus event where the premier [Clark] asks her caucus to put on the table something that they really, really want to do. Minister Oakes picks the amalgamation of Victoria as her “blue-sky” vision, saying that she thinks that it’s time. She says that she spent 14 years working with the BC Chamber of Commerce. She explained that the Chamber has a key policy around the amalgamation of Victoria communities. 

Oakes, a self-proclaimed process-person, lays out the path ahead. Directly after what she refers to as a successful referendum result, she says,  “The first step is that local governments have to ask us to do a governance study.” And for the municipalities that won’t come forward Oakes says that the Province can, “do supportive work, reminding the local governments what the citizens have asked for.” Oakes cautions that, “amalgamation is going to be a long process, and we might need to look at phased-in approach.”

A member of the audience suggests that it would be wise to call the mayors together for a conversation. In response Oakes says that she “runs into this little challenge around respecting local governments’ autonomy. That’s the one challenge that I always have, because if we didn’t have that one little piece, man what I could do.” Her audience laughs.

Oakes suggests that no one wants to be left out of conversations. If they can get two or three local mayors, the other communities will follow. “What I am saying is I have a letter from the city of Victoria saying they want to have a meeting with the minister. We are going to send that letter out, which is going to drive the conversation, “ says Oakes, adding, “I guarantee you, if I say that I’m going to sit down with Victoria to talk about this, other people are going to want to come and be part of that conversation.”

Oakes went on to say that she wants to look at what type of grassroots processes they use, citing pros and cons on the size of the grassroots movement. Is it a citizen-led conversation, and if it is, the conversation would then need to invite the Province into the conversation.

The minister assures the audience that resources are available. The money has been put aside for the governance study. 

So why the disconnect? Why is Oakes now speaking of improved governance, and not amalgamation? Could it be that Oakes has changed her blue-sky vision? Or is it something else?

The probable answer to the language softening is found just 18 minutes into her presentation to the breakfast group when Oakes says, “As we come forward I think you’re going to see us use different language. You’re going to see us use language like restructuring. You’re going to see shared services. I didn’t want to come into the room and have that language and then you think that I’m trying to steer us away from what was on the ballot.”

Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps, met with the minister on July 14th, but has been rather reluctant to use any language at all around the meeting. Helps met with Oakes in private, without her council, and except for a re-tweet of Oakes’ Twitter comment, “Great meeting with @lisahelps. Lots of optimism and ideas!,” Mayor Helps has yet to respond to SVO’s request for comment. 

While Oakes may have changed the language, it seems that Premier Clark didn’t get the memo. In the Premier’s June 12 annual mandate letter to Oakes she stated that the minister was to, “Develop and present options to Cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June 30, 2016.” 

Mayors and Councillors from Central Saanich, North Saanich, and Sidney met separately with Community Minister Coralee Oakes on Tuesday, July 14. SVO asked mayors and councils from Saanich and the Peninsula for comment on the Minister’s March 10th presentation providing a transcript of the event.

Long-time Saanich Councillor Vicki Sanders said that had she heard the recording before council met with Minister Oakes she would have had a clearer understanding of the use of the words governance and integration rather than amalgamation. Sanders says, “I am now aware that the intention is to encourage amalgamation.” 

North Saanich Councillor Celia Stock felt that the Minister’s March 10th comments were unclear. Stocks asks, “Is her blue sky vision about amalgamation or better governance? Does she think that better governance at the municipal level will be attained by amalgamation?”

One thing Oakes has said that is clear, democracy is difficult.

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For more info:

Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport & Cultural Development on Amalgamation at March 10, 2015 or on DropBox

Peter Fassbender Mandate Letter, July 30, 2015
Coralee Oakes Annual Mandate Letter, June 12, 2015

More stories on amalgamation and governance on SVO – HERE.