Election 2014: Amalgamation – what happens now?

Saanich Mayor-elect Richard Atwell talks about pending governance review, while province responds

Now that many voters have voted in favour of exploring the idea of some regional amalgamation, the next step is firmly in the hands of the province, says AmalgamationYes’ John Vickers.

“The issue took a big step forward with 75 per cent of voters in the region supporting the non-binding question (for those who included it on) Saturday’s municipal election ballot,” Vickers said. “Now it’s up to the province. The only way it’s going to fly is if we really do see leadership from them. We want to see an end run here.”

Seven of eight Capital Region municipalities voted Yes to the non-binding question of amalgamation on Saturday including Saanich, though Saanich’s question was asking about a governance review and was the only core municipality not to include the word amalgamation in the non-binding question.

Regardless, Saanich voters were overwhelmingly in favour, with 89 per cent voting yes to: “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?”

Minister Coralee Oakes of Community, Sport and Cultural Development released a statement on Monday in response to the positive result. Oakes said her ministry is now in the process of reviewing the referendum results in greater detail.

“I remain committed to provide the support and resources required by the newly-elected local governments, once they have had an opportunity to discuss and review the results in greater detail,”Oakes said.

Vickers said he’s been in contact with the ministry, but it’s imperative now to keep moving the issue forward.

“What we’d like to see is a commission with experts and insight into the various issues, to study and come up with two or three different models, which will hopefully lead to a provincially run referendum in 2018 or a binding municipal referendum,” he said.

It was outgoing mayor Frank Leonard who framed Saanich’s “governance review” question, but it will be Mayor-elect Richard Atwell and council who oversee its implementation.

Atwell, who came to municipal politics through his work with various community organizations and as head of the Sewage Treatment Action Group, is hesitant to pledge direct allegiance to almagamation.

But he said his early focus on the matter would include a review of how directors are appointed to the Capital Regional District.

“If it reaches a review, then one area I’d think would be considered is the election format for the CRD directors. Should they be elected directly?”

“There are additional cost-savings to be had at the CRD level, but I’ve heard (amalgamation) won’t necessarily save money. … The challenge is to retain the personal connection with residents. You don’t want to lose that balance.”

One of Atwell’s campaign issues – and now a priority – is to open up council meetings to allow the public a chance to speak on non-agenda items, a process he would want enshrined should any municipal responsibilities move to regional governance under an amalgamation model.

The other seven municipalities with a non-binding question on the ballot regarding amalgamation were North Saanich, Oak Bay, Central Saanich, Langford, Esquimalt, Victoria and Sidney. Collectively, they account for 86 per cent of region’s population.

The questions varied but most  called for public consultation and a provincial study on amalgamation and regional governance.

Seventy-five per cent of the  approximately 80,000 ballots cast were in favour of a study.

The report stated Oak Bay was the only municipality to vote against it with 62 per cent saying No.

Langford came in a shade over 50 per cent in favour, while View Royal, Colwood, Highlands, Metchosin and Sooke, with a combined population of about 46,000, refused to place a non-binding question on the ballot.

However, Colwood will join a post-election study or review.

“The Oak Bay and Langford question didn’t have any consultation, it was ‘Will you marry me before the first date,’” Vickers said.

The issue could also be debated at the CRD board level prior to the provincial government taking action on any amalgamation study.

reporter@saanichnews.com

Yes for the A word

  • Municipality, total population, voter result
  • Central Saanich, 15,936, Yes (71 per cent)
  • Colwood: 16,579, No question but will join study post-election.
  • Esquimalt, 16,209 Yes (67 per cent)*
  • Highlands, 2,257, No question.
  • Langford, 29,228, Yes (50 per cent)
  • Metchosin, 5,312, No question.
  • North Saanich, 11,021, Yes (63 per cent)
  • Oak Bay, 18,015, No (62 per cent)
  • Saanich, 109,752, Yes (89 per cent)
  • Sidney, 11,538, Yes (68 per cent)
  • Sooke, 11,435, No question.
  • Victoria, 80, 017, Yes (80 per cent)
  • View Royal, 10,858, No question.

*Esquimalt had two questions, included is the amalgamation question.

– Source: AmalgamationYes.