EDITORIAL: Amalgamation question should be put to residents

Sidney, Central Saanich, Esquimalt, Langford and Victoria have agreed to put amalgamation question to voters; it's time Saanich did the same

Just a few months ago, the push to convince the region’s 13 councils that a non-binding question on amalgamation was a good idea during this fall’s elections seemed all but defeated.

AmalgamationYes, a resident group set up to lead that drive, still appears to have limited reach (its online petition includes less than 1,000 names). But the group’s lobbying efforts are bearing fruit, as Sidney and Esquimalt become the latest municipalities to concede the amalgamation question to voters this week. (Victoria, Central Saanich and Langford are onboard as well.)

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard’s belief that amalgamation isn’t in the best interest of Saanich residents seems premature, particularly without the depth of knowledge a provincially funded study would bring to the decision.

Allowing the province to both pay for and staff a team that would examine multiple models of amalgamation and integration in the Capital Region is a good deal for voters and for local politicians. They’ll have to get their hands dirty and do heavy lifting when providing data to the province, but the temporary effort is worth the payoff.

If Leonard can use the study to prove he was right all along, good on him. But if the study provides a better way to share policing, fire and other large pieces of the municipal budgetary pie while retaining autonomous borders, then the temporary effort is worth the payoff.

If the study leads to amalgamation of some natural neighbours in the region and to better cohesion amongst regional players, then the temporary effort is worth the payoff.

Any way you cut it, it’s worth asking the question to see what voters want.

Saanich council wouldn’t be commenting “on whether our neighbours are too small,” as Leonard says, by including the amalgamation question on the ballot; instead, they would be nurturing direct democracy at a time when cynicism towards the political process is at an all-time high.

Perhaps it’s time to take a risk and ask the people what they think.