The standing committee tasked with guiding Saanich through a process that could lead to its amalgamation with the City of Victoria is holding its inaugural meeting.
Saanich struck the citizens’ assembly standing committee after almost 67 per cent of voters in Victoria and 57 per cent of voters in Saanich voted in favour of the non-binding referendum question on their election 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?”
Chaired by Mayor Fred Haynes, the membership of the committee also includes Couns. Judy Brownoff, Rebecca Mersereau and Colin Plant.
The committee’s agenda appears short, but crucial as members start to draft terms of reference that will guide the citizens’ assembly tasked with studying the pros and cons of amalgamation.
Mersereau expects that the group will proceed with “a lot of caution” to help set up the assembly for “success in terms of being able to objectively evaluate the pros and cons of amalgamation with the City of Victoria” as directed by voters.
“While we’re mindful that time is ticking, it’s critical to ensure that the [citizens assembly] is transparent, independent and credible in order for our residents to place trust in the process and the outcomes, which could have a significant bearing on the future of our municipality,” she said. “We need to get this right.”
Plant agreed with a need for a transparent process that looks at the issue of amalgamation in comprehensive manner.
“For me a big issue is ensuring that the [assembly] looks at both positive and negative aspects of amalgamation and not only a fiscal analysis on the subject,” he said.
Plant for his part would like to see the assembly work with timelines, returning recommendations to each council well before the next municipal election in 2022. “This is important because, if the [assembly] recommends amalgamation a referendum in both municipalities could be held in advance of the fall 2022 general municipal election.”
But first come the terms of reference. Council, he said, will have the final say on the terms of references, which will then have to be shared with the City of Victoria.
“I could envision a joint meeting between the council committees may need to be held to negotiate terms of reference,” he said.
Finally, the province will also have to sign off on the process, before granting its blessing and financial support.
Mersereau for her part expects a complex process. “I think we need to anticipate that there will be a significant body of technical work required to support the work of a citizens’ assembly, to allow participants to fully consider pros and cons and reach a conclusion,” she said. “In my view, to do this right, it should be undertaken by an independent party, and will therefore need to be resourced adequately by both municipalities.”