Saanich could spend up to $250,000 on a citizens’ assembly if residents in both Saanich and Victoria approve plans for a citizens’ assembly to investigate amalgamation between the two largest communities in the Greater Victoria region. Black Press File

Citizens’ assembly on amalgamation could cost Saanich up to $250,000

A forum to study amalgamation with the City of Victoria could cost about $750,000, with Saanich and Victoria each putting one third – $250,000 – towards the final estimated cost. The province would cover the rest with provincial funding not yet confirmed.

The public heard these figures and uncertainties as Saanich council ratified the non-binding referendum question that will appear on the municipal election ballots on Oct. 20 in both Saanich and Victoria. The non-binding question will test public support for future amalgamation talks – not amalgamation itself – between Saanich and Victoria.

Specifically, the question will ask residents in both communities whether they are “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.”

An earlier version of the question did not not include Saanich’s share for the citizens’ assembly, should residents in both communities approve future amalgamation talks, because the information was not available when Saanich and Victoria councillors held a historic joint meeting on June 26 to draft the question that will appear in the fall.

While an even earlier draft of the question omitted any cost references whatsoever, councillors from both communities eventually settled on the question that would include information about eventual costs.

“This is as neutral a question as possible, that can be put to the public,” said Coun. Susan Brice.

Supporters of amalgamation had previously questioned the inclusion of any cost figure, suggesting that it would bias voters against moving forward with future talks about amalgamation.

Coun. Colin Plant picked up on this point, when he repeated his earlier concerns about including any cost figures in the actual question, because it risks turning the question into an economic question. But he also acknowledged that the majority of both councils supported that direction.

He also addressed residents concerned about the costs. He said the investment will be worth it, because it will provide valuable information (assuming voters support plans for a citizens’ assembly).

Coun. Karen Harper echoed this point in stressing that the fall referendum is just the first step in a process that could or could not lead to amalgamation. She also added that a growing number of issues such housing and homelessness cut across municipal boundaries.

“We need to start looking for regional solutions,” she said.

Coun. Fred Haynes said he is not convinced which way Saanich would vote. But he said he is convinced that this question gives them the clarity to make a choice.

Coun. Leif Wergeland was less sure as he lobbied but failed to include wording that would include some specific reference to Saanich on grounds that both Saanich and Victoria had agreed to put the same question on the ballot.

Other comments focused on the current absence of provincial funding. Staff told council that the province might not be able to come up with its full share of $250,000. Saanich, in other words, might end up spending up more than $250,000 (assuming voters support a citizens’ assembly).

“I hope that the $250,000 will be enough,” said Plant. “If not, we have a challenge.”

Brice, for her part, publicly declared that she would oppose spending more than $250,000.

Mayor Richard Atwell downplayed the possibility that the province might not come to the table with the full amount of $250,000, but also acknowledged concerns about the reliability of the estimated cost for the citizens’ assembly.

Couns. Judy Brownoff, Leif Wergeland and Vicki Sanders opposed ratification of the referendum question.

Brownoff pointed to the possibility of Saanich having to foot more than $250,000 towards any future citizens’ assembly and questioned the rationale behind the referendum.

Compared to other issues such as housing, governance does not rank high among public priorities, she said.

“I don’t think it’s a priority for our residents,” she said.

Should Saanich residents support plans for a citizens’ assembly, the funding would come from Saanich’s strategic initiatives fund.

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

Just Posted

Campus View Elementary undergoes $4.2 million in seismic upgrades

Campus View Elementary undergoes significant seismic upgrades

Claremont Spartans win the inaugural Senior Girls’ AAAA Basketball Island Championship

Claremont Spartans win their Feb. 15 game agains the Royal Bay Ravens 71 - 64

Sidney company tastes sweet success with sugar kelp

Cascadia Seaweed is experiencing rapid growth after launching six months ago

North Saanich floats tougher policies for buoys and moorings near Tsehum Harbour

Municipality also considers additional collaboration with Sidney and other communities

Westin Bear Mountain invests $2 million to renovate newly-named spa

‘Amatista Spa’ has yet to announce official opening date

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

Henrique scores 2 as Ducks soar past Canucks 5-1

Vancouver tumbles out of top spot in Pacific Division

Trudeau cancels Caribbean trip amid pipeline protests across Canada

Protests against Coastal GasLink have disrupted rail service

B.C. VIEWS: Inaction on pipeline protests not a viable response

Columnist Frank Bucholtz on how the Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute got so bad

PHOTOS: Top 10 memories of the 2010 Olympics

Black Press Media’s Jenna Hauck, shares some of her most memorable images of 2010 Winter Games

#FoxForFiver: Support grows in B.C. to put Terry Fox on new $5 bill

Terry Fox’ Marathon of Hope raised money for cancer research

Trudeau confers with cabinet ministers as rail blockades continue

The Trudeau government has been criticized for not doing more to end the blockades

Canadian nurses’ unions warn national standards for coronavirus protection too low

President says safety protocols nationwide are inadequate compared to those in Ontario and other countries

Most Read