– That’s the Question on the Ballot on Oct 20th
by Roger Stonebanks, citizen reporter
Residents of Saanich and Victoria will vote on a non-binding amalgamation question at the municipal elections on Oct. 20.
This was agreed almost unanimously by members of both councils meeting on June 26 as committees of the whole. The recommendation must be approved by both councils at meetings where the public can provide further comment. The size of the vote almost certainly means the recommendation will be approved by councils.
The recommended ballot question is –
“Are you in favour of spending [an amount to be determined] for establishing a Citizens Assembly to explore the costs, benefits and dis-advantages of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria.”
This was the same recommendation made by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell but this amendment was made at the June 26 meeting, inserting – “spending an amount to be determined.” This cost will be estimated by staff and included in the ballot question. Helps commented later, “Our staff now have the responsibility of working together, working with the province, to figure out what that amount is and bring back a report to both councils independently.” By following the Citizens Assembly approach used in Duncan-North Cowichan, Victoria and Saanich are hoping for provincial approval including a three-way split in the cost.
The vote among Victoria council members was 8-to-1 with Mayor Helps and Couns. Marianne Alto, Chris Coleman, Jeremy Loveday, Margaret Lucas, Pamela Madoff, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Geoff Young voting in favour and Coun. Ben Isitt voting against.
The Saanich vote was 7-to-2 with Mayor Atwell and Couns. Susan Brice, Karen Harper, Colin Plant, Fred Haynes, Leif Wergeland and Dean Murdock voting in favour and Couns Judy Brownoff and Vicki Sanders voting against.
The joint meeting lasted three hours and 10 minutes and included 45 minutes of public input from 13 residents who were roughly evenly divided on both sides of the amalgamation issue.
Much of the debate by council members centred on the cost of a Citizens Assembly. Some wanted the public to know the financial implications before the vote, others thought it would “muddy the waters” and lead to opposition.
HERE’s the link to the webcast of the meeting held at the CRD office.
Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson has made no promises but did refer to a “template” Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation in Duncan-North Cowichan which cost $145,000 (plus staff time) shared one-third each. The cost for Victoria-Saanich is expected to be much higher than $145,000 – Victoria-Saanich are far bigger municipalities and are nearly seven times more populous than Duncan-North Cowichan. The Duncan-North Cowichan Citizens Assembly, in a report, recommended amalgamation to their voters but it was rejected by 59 per cent in Duncan while approved by 68 per cent in North Cowichan. Both municipalities needed to vote “Yes” to amalgamate.
Near the end of the joint meeting, Saanich Coun. Colin Plant started to make a motion that “we seek clarification” about what the BC government is prepared to provide, financially, for a Citizens Assembly. But he decided to leave this to Mayors Helps and Atwell who will be writing and likely meeting Robinson to bring her and ministry staff up to date.
Both councils also agreed that they should disseminate the same written education information to residents in advance of the referendum.
For full background information on this subject go HERE.
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