Mayor Richard Atwell publicly urged voters to support plans for a citizens’ assembly to study the proposed amalgamation of Saanich with Victoria.
“I encourage you all to vote yes on the ballot, so that we could the answers that we are looking for,” said Atwell during an all candidates’ forum held Wednesday at the Cadboro Bay United Church.
The event organized by the Cadboro Bay Residents Association was the second of its kind and arguably gave the issue of amalgamation more prominent play than the first forum held last week.
When voters voters in Saanich and Victoria elect their respective mayor and councillors on Oct. 20, they will also face the following question on their ballot:
“Are you in favour of spending up to $250,000 for establishing a Citizens’ Assembly to explore the costs, benefits and disadvantages of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria?”
Atwell’s direct appeal to voters set him apart from Coun. Fred Haynes and Rob Wickson, who refrained from making such an appeal to voters. Also running for mayor is David Shebib, who did not attend Wednesday’s forum.
While Atwell did not directly endorse amalgamation, he signalled opposition to the status quo in his remarks, in predicting that the citizens’ assembly (if approved) will yield valuable insights.
“We wonder is it [amalgamation] going to save money or not,” he said. “That is up for debate, and that is something that the analysts will figure out. But my common sense tell me, and I think you share this, that this region does not need 13 payroll departments.”
Wickson and Haynes did not directly appeal to voters to endorse the ballot question in offering a more neutral position.
Wickson said the pros and cons of amalgamation will emerge out of the citizens’ assembly, if approved.
“It’s not for me to stand here and tell you what the pros and cons are,” he said. “I don’t know until I see the evidence. None of us really knows. I get very frustrated with people, who ‘amalgamation is wrong’ or ‘amalgamation is right.’ How do they know?”
Haynes agreed the assembly, if approved, will reveal the pros and cons of amalgamation.
“You as residents though, as you head into that [vote], you need to be thinking, ‘what are the objectives that you would see as a benefit and what are the objectives that you would see may be as a deficit,” he said.
Citing Toronto’s forced amalgamation as an example, Haynes said that municipality is still not reaping the benefits of amalgamation, because of a failure to clearly identify the goals of amalgamation.
“It’s not on my desk to decide,” he said. “It’s on your desk. But I do say this. Whatever option you choose, I will give you very effective governance, if you elect me as mayor.”
Shellie Gudgeon of Amalgamation Yes endorsed Atwell’s appeal.
“I did not watch the debate but I am supportive of Richard’s comment,” she said. “Let’s get the facts.”