Saanich has initiated a series of steps to learn more about amalgamation and the creation of a regional police force.
Council, meeting as committee-of-the-whole, passed a motion that calls on the province to establish and fund a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation with interested municipalities in the Capital Regional District.
“If council supports this motion, it is saying, Saanich is interested in getting into the discussion [around amalgamation], Saanich is interested in getting information to make future decisions about it,” said Coun. Susan Brice.
A citizens’ assembly is a deliberative forum, which the provincial government defines as an “independent assembly of randomly selected individuals with a mandate to examine an issue over an extended period of time and make a recommendation to the Legislative Assembly.”
Perhaps the most famous citizens’ assembly of recent memory was the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, which recommended the Single-Transferable Vote (STV).
Smaller jurisdictions have also used this “well-based mechanism for tapping into community interest” as Brice called it, including Duncan and North Cowichan, whose residents will be voting on amalgamation in the spring of 2018.
Coun. Karen Harper pointed to this precedent in offering her support for an assembly, which the province should fund. “This is an excellent first step, and I do think…by voting in favour of this we are indicating that Saanich is indeed an interested party.”
Saanich also signaled support for the creation of a regional police force by asking Mayor Richard Atwell to invite mayors for a meeting. While all municipalities will receive the invitation, only Victoria, Oak Bay and Central Saanich maintain their own municipal forces alongside Saanich.
Other CRD members contract policing through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Coun. Colin Plant said he remains concerned about the possibility that a regional police force could concentrate resources in downtown Victoria. “But I think we need, and we owe it to our residents and the residents of the region to at least have the discussion.”
Atwell said Saanich needs to talk about regional policing, but questions remain. Who would hold it accountable, he asked. “Would it report to the CRD? Would it report to us? What would we be losing? What would we be retaining control of?”
But if Atwell generally supported the idea, Coun. Leif Wergeland said Saanich should not discuss the possibility before having done its own homework first.
Council’s committee-of-the-whole made these decisions after reviewing the findings of a committee that had reviewed the findings of a report from the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee (GRCAC).
Saanich launched GRCAC after almost nine out of 10 Saanich voters supported a “community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and its partnerships within the region” during the 2014 municipal election against the background of amalgamation, the proposed merger of communities in Greater Victoria to cut governance costs.
Monday’s meeting thus marked a milestone, but council met before a largely empty gallery. But the meeting nonetheless had an aura of anticipation, as the recommendation from the review committee had become public last week. It sparked controversy among GRCAC members and others, who had participated in the $100,000 process.
Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association, said the review committee lacked leadership.
James Anderson was even more critical. “As I read the memo to [council] of Dec. 12, it is clear that [the] majority of shortcomings identified and remedies suggested in the report have been ignored, despite the clarifications, you have offered,” he said.
Several hours later Anderson had changed his mind. “Hold the presses. Nice to see that the council has taken control and was willing to step up and respect the work of the task force.”