Details remain sparse, but the public can expect to learn more about plans for a citizens’ assembly to study the pros and cons of amalgamating the District of Saanich with the City of Victoria.
“There isn’t anything to share on this right now, but there will be an update released soon with the upcoming council agenda,” said Megan Catalano, a spokesperson with the District of Saanich.
Saanich has scheduled a regular council meeting Jan. 21 and a committee-of-the-whole meeting for Jan. 28.
Almost 67 per cent of voters in Victoria and almost 57 per cent of voters in Saanich on Oct. 20 voted in favour of the non-binding referendum question on their election 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?”
Almost three months later, a spokesperson for Amalgamation Yes predicts that the pace of the process will pick up.
Shellie Gudgeon, president of Amalgamation Yes, said she expects Saanich and Victoria to jointly outline a draft timeline, budget and terms of references in the coming days, which the respective councils would then approve in principle following a preliminary review.
“A final plan of action for an [assembly] would then be presented to and approved by each [council],” she said. “The [province] would make an announcement to confirm formal support of the process, timing and financial parameters.”
Saanich and Victoria would then issue a joint request-for-proposal to select an independent “facilitator” to lead the membership selection process, as well as meetings, deliberations, and report preparation.
“Timing is uncertain as to whether the [assembly] could be constituted by late spring or commence in early fall of 2019,” she said.
Gudgeon said the entire process should be as unbiased as possible.
“Other than establishing the [terms of references], elected officials and affected staff should be removed from the process entirely,” she said. “Ideally, sessions would be recorded to have a record and to hold the successful facilitator to account, but no affected staff or elected official would be involved.”
This commitment to fairness and transparency also extends to Amalgamation Yes itself. “As previously committed, to avoid any concern of bias or conflict of interest, leaders of Am Yes will not serve as members of the [assembly] but will monitor the process as it evolves,” said Gudgeon.
“We remain convinced that to respect the will of the voters and to realize the potential of our urban region wherein our municipalities share common interests, a comprehensive, innovative and independent review of the current state of municipal governance is necessary.”