The a-word was one of a couple topics brought back for discussion after the matter was tabled last month during Coun. Tara Ney’s absence in order to offer her a voice.
During its June 22 meeting, council opted out of seeking a ‘place at the table’ regarding amalgamation discussions.
Coun. Kevin Murdoch crafted a motion that the mayor write to the minister of community, sport and cultural development requesting that Oak Bay be included in meetings, discussions and studies the province may initiate regarding governance review or amalgamation related to core Greater Victoria communities.
“We don’t want to be seen to be endorsing amalgamation,” he reiterated. “Council has a fiduciary responsibility … to make every effort to ensure we’re part of any discussions.
“We have an obligation to our people to be at that table.”
Oak Bay was the lone community, of eight that posed a referendum question during the election, where voters rejected amalgamation by 62 per cent, 3,594 to 2,184.
“Our community has said no,” said Ney. “I don’t want to participate in any way that might be seen to be endorsing amalgamation. Our community has said no.”
Only Murdoch and Coun. Hazel Braithwaite supported the failed motion.
Coun. Michelle Kirby said she hoped Oak Bay and all area municipalities would be sourced for information should a study take place. “To not approach all municipalities … that would be an irresponsible and incomplete approach to any study,” she said.
Murdoch was prompted to suggest the letter in response to media reports that B.C.’s Community Minister Coralee Oakes hadn’t heard from certain communities on their willingness to participate in a study of governance in the region.
“It was really a disappointment, not that it came as a huge surprise,” said John Vickers, vice-chair of AmalgamationYes, a grassroots group lobbying for a study of some form of amalgamation since 2014. “For council to present that it’s a non-issue in Oak Bay defies everything that we’ve picked up.”
He sees it as an issue Oak Bay residents are interested in participating in, based on an Angus Reid poll conducted prior to last November’s municipal election. Results showed 76 per cent, or 22 of 29 people surveyed, in Oak Bay supported looking at an amalgamation study.
“As one of 13 municipalities, this can have affects on Oak Bay and it’s just unfortunate to see Oak Bay council not be a willing participant at the table,” Vickers said. “To deny the community is just appalling and it’s just unfortunate. Hopefully when the province does move forward we can continue a grassroots effort in Oak Bay.”
They’ve also seen support on the street through sidewalk petitions, and the AmalgamationYes board features Oak Bay residents such as Lesley Ewing.
“I think they made a poor decision, they did a real disservice to the residents of Oak Bay,” Ewing said after Monday’s meeting. “Council should always be looking at opportunities to make the municipality more efficient, ways that we can improve our services and ways that we can work with other municipalities.
“It’s completely no cost to the municipality so why wouldn’t we take the opportunity to be part of this. If we don’t participate we will just be the passive participant of what comes out of the terms of reference.”
She asserts that council basing their decision on results of a flawed question, one that simply asked residents if they wanted to be absorbed by another municipality and didn’t address a study or governance review – such as a question proposed across the region at the time by AmalgamationYes.
“People will naturally say ‘no, I need more information’,” Ewing said. “It is really the residents of Oak Bay and Greater Victoria who have to continue to put pressure on community leaders that this is something they are interested in looking at.”
Victoria, Esquimalt, Colwood, North Saanich, Central Saanich, Sidney and Metchosin have indicated their willingness to join a regional amalgamation study.