INITIATIVE UP TO COUNCILS
By Roger Stonebanks, citizen reporter
The initiative for an amalgamation study /Citizens Assembly remains with Victoria and Saanich councils.
This was made clear by Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson in a statement to Saanich Voice Online (SVO) on Oct. 23 following voter approval in Victoria and Saanich to this question in a non-binding referendum –
“Are you in favour of spending up to $250,000 for establishing a Citizens Assembly to explore the costs, benefits and disadvantages of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria?”
Voters gave 55.93 per cent approval in Saanich (16,852 yes, 13,274 no) and 66.46 per cent approval in Victoria (18,343 yes, 9,253 no) on Oct. 20. There were 85,004 eligible voters in Saanich and 66,243 in Victoria.
Both councils have previously expressed the hope that BC will join in and contribute a like amount – up to $250,000 – for a total of up to $750,000 for the citizens assembly and study.
Robinson told SVO:
“The voters of Saanich and Victoria have signalled their support for an amalgamation study, and the respective councils need to determine next steps. Once the councils agree on the scope and process for the Citizen’s Assembly, I am open to discussing specific proposals. When the municipalities agree on a proposal, their councils may jointly apply for a funding contribution from the province for a study.”
Her comment mirrors a statement from the ministry to SVO last July – “If the new councils and voters from both municipalities share a desire for an amalgamation study, there is opportunity to discuss specific proposals. These proposals would provide detailed plans for how these municipalities would proceed in the best interests of people in their communities, including such things as the nature and scope of the study, the process, and engagement with the public and other stakeholders.”
As to any financial participation by BC, the ministry said last July: “When the municipalities agree on a proposal, their councils may then jointly apply for a funding contribution from the province to a complete a study. At that point, the Ministry will review the proposal and consider next steps. A grant for a study is contingent on the availability of funding, other commitments already in place and the framework for such grants established by regulation.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told SVO she hopes both councils will appoint a joint sub-committee comprised of the mayors and two councillors from each council by Nov. 15. She referred to her election platform part of which stated –
“Year one: Subject to the outcome of the October 20th question, convene a subcommittee of Victoria and Saanich Council and staff to convene a Citizens Assembly and commission a technical analysis, including seeking one third of the funding required from the Province to support the process.”
Here is what she spelled out for Year Two and Year Three – “Year two: Implement the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly including holding a binding referendum to amalgamate the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich, if this is what the Citizens Assembly recommends. Year three: If there is a referendum and it passes, lay the groundwork for the amalgamation of the two local governments as of the 2022 municipal election. If there is no referendum and the two local governments remain distinct, take lessons learned and information gleaned from the Citizens Assembly process to improve governance in the region and continue to work with local governments in the region on shared priorities such as transportation and better integration of police and fire.”
Saanich Mayor-elect Fred Haynes did not respond with comment before SVO’s deadline for the November issue. During the recent election, his platform included this – “I have an open mind and evidence-based approach. On October 20th, you can vote in a ballot to say yes or no to establishing a Citizens’ Assembly to examine amalgamating Saanich with Victoria. I have never been a member of Amalgamation Yes. I have an open mind. If elected as your Mayor, I will follow the informed decision of Saanich residents. Regardless of the ballot, I am committed to responsive government, cost-effective service delivery, including shared services where beneficial”
You can read more SVO article on amalgamation HERE