Saanich council will consider a report from the mayor requesting that the District step back from the study of amalgamation with Victoria due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)

COVID-19: Saanich council to consider closing the door on amalgamation with Victoria

‘It’s uncertainty we don’t need’ during the pandemic, Saanich mayor says

Saanich council will consider a request to halt the study of amalgamation with Victoria indefinitely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

During an electronic meeting on April 20, Saanich council will discuss a report from Mayor Fred Haynes advising that the District call for a “cease and desist” on the Citizen’s Assembly exploring amalgamating Saanich and Victoria. In the report, Haynes asks that council agree to step away from talks of amalgamation, write a letter informing both the City of Victoria and the province of the District’s decision to cease all further action regarding the Citizens’ Assembly “until further notice,” and reallocate the $250,000 assembly budget.

READ ALSO: Voters in Saanich and Victoria support creation of citizens’ assembly on amalgamation

During the 2018 municipal election, 57 per cent of Saanich and 67 per cent of Victoria voters responded positively to a non-binding referendum question on the ballot: “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?”

After more than a year of discussion, in January 2020 both municipalities agreed to joint terms of reference for the Citizens’ Assembly. However, with all the uncertainty created by the current pandemic, Haynes is concerned that the municipalities would not be stable enough for the assembly to proceed until after the health crisis has ended and recovery has taken place. He added that it could take 24 to 36 months to recover from the health and financial impacts of the virus.

READ ALSO: Saanich and Victoria agree on terms of reference to further amalgamation study

Haynes explained that when considering amalgamation, it’s also important to look beyond Saanich and Victoria.

“I don’t think it’s in the region’s best interest right now” as it could lead to a referendum requiring provincial funding followed by several years of adjusting, he said.

He added that the Citizens’ Assembly would require 75 residents and other facilitators to work closely for six months, and with the current orders from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry regarding large gatherings of more than 50 people, Haynes isn’t certain the group could even meet.

This is not the appropriate environment to go forward with discussions, he emphasized.

READ ALSO: Proposed terms for forum exploring amalgamation between Victoria and Saanich under fire

Haynes pointed out that halting the Citizens’ Assembly and closing the door to amalgamation for the time being would also “free up important resources internally” that could be reallocated to the 2020 budget to relieve the financial strain on residents. He explained that the funds allocated for the assembly could be redirected to address financial issues within the 2020 Saanich budget – which council will also be re-examining during the April 20 meeting.

Haynes also noted that he feels it would be irresponsible to assign extra work relating to the Citizens’ Assembly to municipal staff who are already busy with additional duties due to the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Saanich resident takes the helm of Amalgamation Yes

Amalgamation has been a controversial topic in the region for many years, he said, pointing out that he understands it has been the “ambition” of many residents for a long time. However, Haynes emphasized that “the world looks different now” and likely will for some time.

If the interest resurfaces in a few years, amalgamation could be reassessed by council, he said. For now, Haynes feels the Citizens’ Assembly isn’t Saanich’s top priority.

“It’s uncertainty we don’t need,” he said.

With files from Wolfgang Depner


@devonscarlett
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

City of VictoriaCoronavirusDistrict of Saanich

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich mayor joins fight to protect local wildlife from rat poisoning after second owl dies

Mayor Fred Haynes to meet with provincial, federal pest control industry representatives

Greater Victoria writer releases first novel inspired by U.S. school shootings

Dear Mr. President tells thought provoking story of victims left behind

Sidney fire responds to fewer but more severe calls during pandemic

Rise in severity linked to changes in routine during COVID-19 pandemic

Saanich police see spike in excessive speeding compared to previous years

Nearly 100 excessive speeders caught since January 2020

Colwood branch drop-off to continue throughout summer

COVID-19 safety measures remain in place

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of the world of summer sports

In a typical year, there are plenty of summer sporting events and tournaments held across Canada

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

PHOTOS: U.S. cities brace for increasing unrest over police killing of George Floyd

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has fully mobilized the state’s National Guard

Most Read