What is on the horizon for the proposed amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria? That is the looming question as voters prepare to vote in Saturday’s election. Wolf Depner/News Staff

What is on the horizon for the proposed amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria? That is the looming question as voters prepare to vote in Saturday’s election. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Anxiety amongst voters on amalgamation referendum

Non-binding referendum asks Victoria and Saanich residents to endorse citizens’ assembly

Residents of Victoria and Saanich will not just elect their respective mayor and councillors on Saturday. They will also decide whether their two communities will strike a citizens assembly to study the pros and cons of amalgamation.

So Saturday’s election could be one of, if not the last general municipal election that would feature the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich as separate municipalities.

RELATED: Saanich to test public support for future amalgamation talks

It is this prospect that looms in the background as voters in both communities face the following question on their respective 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?”

To be clear: the question itself does not ask whether the two communities should amalgamate, a point several speakers including Coun. Colin Plant stressed during Saanich’s sixth and final all-candidates event.

It instead asks residents to approve or reject the creation of a format to study the issue with an open outcome. In short, it could recommend amalgamation, warn against it, or any measure between those two poles.

So the stakes appear high. But if the stakes are high, it is not entirely clear which way voters are leaning.

Shellie Gudgeon, spokesperson for Worth The Study, a third-party group, whose self-stated purpose is to get the “facts” on amalgamation, and president of Amalgamation Yes, a “grass roots movement of residents who seek to reduce the number of municipalities within Greater Victoria, said she is positive about the outcome. “We have worked hard and either way the citizens will have had their say,” she said.

This said, Gudgeon said the absence of reliable polling makes the outcome difficult to gauge. The educational material for the non-binding referendum also differs across both communities.

RELATED: Saanich accused of setting up amalgamation referendum for failure

Gudgeon, a former Victoria city councillor, expects the referendum will pass in Victoria. “However as Saanich takes on more and more of the regional issues [like the tent city that has moved in and out of Saanich], they may be at a tipping point and see that better governance is critical.”

If the referendum fails in Saanich, it won’t be because of incumbent Mayor Richard Atwell. He has not only asked voters to vote for the citizens’ assembly, but also expressed support for a different governance structure. Two of his rivals — Coun. Fred Haynes and Rob Wickson — have been less explicit, saying only that the pros and cons of amalgamation will emerge out of the assembly, if approved. A fourth mayoral candidate — David Shebib — supports amalgamation, but his voice is unlikely to matter.

RELATED: Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell urges voters to vote yes on amalgamation referendum

The run-up to Saturday’s referendum certainly suggests that opposition to the citizens’ assembly is higher in Saanich than in Victoria.

Coun. Judy Brownoff — who has been on council for 22 years and is running for re-election — voted against approving the question in wondering why the issue appears before voters, pointing to surveys that do not identify regional governance as a major priority.

Coun. Susan Brice, another powerful voice, who is also running for re-election, voted for the question, but warned against the emergence of an all-powerful ‘Metro’ government during the final all-candidates’ forum. Both promised though that they would abide by the outcome.

RELATED: Saanich council candidates face off for last time in front of 500 people

Among incumbents, only Coun. Karen Harper has openly expressed support for the citizens’ assembly and amalgamation itself. As for non-incumbents, many have chosen a let-us-wait-and-see approach when it comes to amalgamation. But many also expressed concerns that Saanich, despite being the larger community, could end up on the losing end of amalgamation because of Victoria’s debt, environmental concerns and loss of planning control in Saanich’s rural areas.

This said, voices on all sides agree that a no-vote in Saturday’s referendum will take the issue of amalgamation off the table for the foreseeable future.

“If it fails, it will be at least a decade before it is reconsidered,” said Gudgeon.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

amalgamationReferendum

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Const. Mat Jones of the CRD Integrated Road Safety Unit joined a team of Saanich police officers and ICBC representatives cracking down on distracted driving at the McKenzie/Quadra intersection in Saanich on March 3. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
‘Leave the phone alone’: 40 distracted driving tickets issued in two hours at Saanich intersection

Saanich police, CRD Integrated Road Safety Unit crackdown on drivers’ cell-phone use

Police seek information after a pedestrian was hit in a crosswalk at the intersection of Goldstream Avenue and Veterans Memorial Parkway on March 3.(Google Maps)
Witnesses sought in Langford pedestrian hit and run

Suspect is older man driving four-door, gold sedan

The University of Victoria has said some of its students were impacted by an off-campus exposure to COVID-19 last weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
University of Victoria students impacted by off-campus COVID-19 exposure

UVic has not specified where the exposure occurred

This male Dungeness can safely be harvested after passing muster. An official with Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it is not clear how well locals on the Saanich Peninsula are complying with crabbing regulations, but her comments suggest that any problems might be of a minor nature. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans/Submitted)
Sidney and Sooke record 57 crabbing violations in 2020

While recreational crab fishery has ‘compliance issues,’ no evidence of ‘large scale poaching’

Cleanup happens after an overnight flood Monday damaged areas of the Oaklands Community Centre. (Facebook/Oaklands Community Association)
Greater Victorians offer flood of support to Oaklands Community Centre

Blown hot water tank Monday night leaves staff cleaning up soggy mess

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 2

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: How’s your butter?

Recent reports have some Canadians giving a second look to one of… Continue reading

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

The City of Duncan will implement a new pilot project targeting vandalism this spring. (File photo)
Graffiti trouble? Duncan will give you the brush and the paint to remove it

Initiative based on a successful project to protect Port Alberni from unwanted spray paint

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

The first of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s long-range maritime patrol aircraft—the Dash-8—becomes operational. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s new De Havilland Dash-8-100 long-range surveillance air craft is capable of staying aloft for eight to 10 hours for a variety of missions up and down the B.C. coast. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
New plane will double DFO’s surveillance capacity in B.C.

The Dash-8 will fly out of Campbell River for enforcement, conservation missions

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

Most Read