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Amalgamation Study – Inching Along

Jan 07, 2019 Editor

by Roger Stonebanks, citizen reporter

Exactly two months after voters in Victoria and Saanich signalled support on Oct. 20 in a non-binding referendum to a Citizens Assembly/amalgamation study, Mayors Lisa Helps and newly-elected Fred Haynes met by telephone with Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson and her staff.

Afterwards, the ministry reiterated in a statement to Saanich Voice Online the previous stated BC position – the amalgamation study initiative remains with Victoria and Saanich and, clearly, there is much work for them to do.

The first step is to form a joint working group of our two councils to develop a proposal …

The Ministry  stated:

“On Dec. 20th, Minister Robinson met with mayors Helps and Haynes and discussed the next steps for the two municipalities if they wish to move forward with an amalgamation study.

“Since the voters have signalled their support for this study, the two municipalities will need to work together on a joint proposal including process scope, budget, and timeline, along with plans for public and stakeholder engagement.

“Once the two municipalities have the proposal ready, they may jointly apply for Provincial funding to support the study. The ministry will consider the funding request against the viability of the proposal, available funding, and how the proposal fits within the framework for such grants as established by regulation.

“Ministry staff will be available to provide information to both municipalities as they decide to move forward with an amalgamation study process.”

Mayor Helps told SVO it was a “very informative” telephonic meeting with Minister Robinson and her staff in which “she laid out the steps we would need to take in order to move ahead with a Citizens Assembly.

“The first step is to form a joint working group of our two councils to develop a proposal which would then go to both councils for input, refinement and eventually, approval. Once we have that in hand, including clear terms of reference for the Citizens Assembly and a budget and scope of work, we would seek budgetary support from the Province as well.

“Key in our conversations with the Minister and clear to me is that we need both councils to make clear at the outset that we are genuinely willing to explore the possibility of the amalgamation of the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria and some kind of indication that both Councils will be bound by (or at least very strongly guided by!) the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly.

“I have personally made a commitment to take the recommendation of the Citizens Assembly, whatever it might be. I am neither for amalgamation or against amalgamation but I am open to the exploration and look forward to seeing what the randomly selected and hardworking (if Duncan and North Cowichan is any indication) group of residents come up with.”

Mayor Haynes told SVO:

“The joint conversation just before the holidays with the Minister Robinson and her staff, and Mayor Helps, was very useful in understanding the next steps. It was good to understand the clear expectations from the Province for our two municipalities to come forward with an agreed process leading to the Citizens Assembly. “My understanding was this process includes an agreed terms of reference for the Citizens Assembly on a possible amalgamation of the District of Saanich with the City of Victoria. It would cover its scope of work, provide clarity on the types of information sought regarding implementation costs, long-term costs, operational benefits and be balanced with descriptions of the fiscal and operational risks. These metrics would inform the budget requirements and time lines.

“To achieve this, Mayor Helps and I committed to and look forward to forming a working group from our two councils. In commencing this, my initial function in the new year is to seek input from our council on their expectations in implementing this first critical step to exploring the options for an amalgamation of the District of Saanich with the City of Victoria. Once my Council’s expectations are clear, I will then be in a position to create the Saanich component of the joint working group.

“Going into 2019, I think we all appreciate that the Citizens Assembly is an immensely important project with clear implications for our shared municipalities, the region and the province. I very much look forward to our council jointly settling upon a wholesome and informed process to commence our thoughtful work on this.”

Voters in Saanich and Victoria approved spending up to $250,000 by each municipality for “establishing a Citizens Assembly to explore the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Victoria and Saanich. Both councils have expressed the hope that BC will also contribute up to $250,000 but this remains to be seen.

The link to the last SVO story on this subject: HERE