The respective committees developing the terms of reference for the citizens assembly charged with exploring “the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich and Victoria disagree on a number of key issues. Black Press File.

Saanich and Victoria committees disagree over size of assembly studying amalgamation

Proposed composition of future citizens assembly among several points of disagreement

The two committees charged with developing the future forum exploring “the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich and Victoria disagree on several issues.

The committee developing Victoria’s terms of reference for the citizens assembly on amalgamation has proposed that the assembly would include 21 residents from Victoria and 28 residents from Saanich for a total number of 49 — nearly half the figure that continues to appear in Saanich’s draft terms of reference.

The draft minutes of Saanich’s standing committee on the citizens assembly, meanwhile, include language that pegs the size of the assembly at 100, up from 96 heard earlier.

An assembly of this size could not only lead to additional costs if assembly members were to receive an honorarium as Victoria proposes, but also more difficult to manage, a prospect Saanich’s committee dismisses, according to the minutes.

“A good facilitator will be able to manage any size of group,” read the minutes. “[There] should be enough voices in the room to get different perspectives.”

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Saanich — like Victoria — has also not yet settled on a final number of meetings.

Based on the last available minutes, Victoria has proposed “four to six” full-day Saturday meetings starting in “September 2019” and concluding in “March 2020.”

The current wording in Saanich’s terms of reference speaks of “6-10 full-day Saturday sessions.” So Victoria’s maximum is Saanich’s minimum.

Megan Catalano, a spokesperson for Saanich, said Saanich’s committee continues to discuss the number of members and meetings for the proposed assembly.

“The number included in the draft terms of reference was based on a review of other citizen assembly examples in [British Columbia] and the scale and scope of considering the amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria,” she said. “It was established on that basis for the purposes of discussion by the committee in finalizing the terms of reference.”

Other areas of disagreement have also appeared. While both Saanich and Victoria broadly agree with the need for a representative assembly, Saanich’s committee specifically singles out business owners as a group to be represented in the assembly.

The two communities also remain apart over the question of whether assembly members should receive compensation.

“Further discussion is needed on providing an honorarium to members of the [assembly],” Saanich’s minutes read after Victoria’s committee added language that calls for each assembly member to receive an “honorarium of $100 per meeting.”

Another potential area of disagreement concerns whether assembly meeetings will be open or closed to the public.

Saanich’s committee proposes to throw that question to council.

“Council should discuss whether or not [the citizens’ assembly] meetings should be open or closed to the public,” the minutes read. Victoria, meanwhile, favours open meetings. “All meetings of the assembly will be open to the public,” it reads.

Victoria adopted this language after Coun. Judy Brownoff questioned comments from Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who had said earlier that the deliberations of the citizens assembly would not be open to the public or stream online.

It now appears that Brownoff’s position must still earn the support of her colleagues.

RELATED: Saanich councillor questions why Victoria Mayor Helps would shut out public from amalgamation deliberations

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Saanich’s committee also proposes that the “[assembly] will make decisions based on the consensus of its members.” While consensus is not synonymous with unanimity, the minutes offer no guidance to what constitutes consensus, and a larger assembly will likely find it more difficult to reach it than a smaller one.

Saanich’s committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow, Monday, April 15.

Once Saanich has signed off on its terms of reference, the municipality must reconcile them with Victoria’s.


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