The Capital Region’s largest municipality is coming under increasing pressure to ask residents what they think of amalgamation at the ballot box, but Mayor Frank Leonard says the discussion isn’t one his residents need to have.
On Monday, Esquimalt and Sidney councils joined Central Saanich, Langford and Victoria when they agreed to put a non-binding amalgamation question on the ballot in the Nov. 15 municipal election.
“The debate is not a Saanich debate,” Leonard said.
“It’s not our place to comment on whether our neighbours are too small. That’s for them to do internally.”
The question will ask residents if they support moving forward with a provincially funded study of various models of integration for the region’s 13 municipalities.
Municipal councils can then choose how to best proceed with those options.
John Vickers, AmalgamationYes spokesperson, said a yes majority vote would give municipal leaders the tools to evaluate the benefits of further integration.
Vickers cited an Angus Reid poll conducted in July that showed 89 per cent of people surveyed felt the amalgamation question should be put to residents at the voting booth.
“Five municipalities have recognized the right of the public to have a say on this,” Vickers said.
“As long he [Leonard] denies the call from constituents in his own community, then he’s certainly not doing any favours for the region or for Saanich.”
While an online AmalgamationYes petition has less than 1,000 signatures, Vickers said volunteers have collected thousands of hard copy signatures across the region, many of those in Saanich. Specific numbers were not available.
Leonard said the logistics of managing Saanich’s sprawling farms, parks, urban areas, lakes and streams takes a small army of 1,500 municipal employees, and that increasing those responsibilities won’t necessarily result in efficiencies.
“All our colleagues recognize these challenges, apart from maybe one vocal mayor. They too know that bigger isn’t better,” Leonard said.
“The only government bigger than Saanich around here is the CRD, and that doesn’t help the bigger is better argument either.”
Saanich council does not have any discussion scheduled around the amalgamation ballot question at upcoming public meetings, he added.