Councillor calls amalgamation with Victoria a ‘horrible idea’ for Saanich taxpayers

Coun. Nathalie Chambers fears amalgamation would open up Saanich’s rural areas for development

As Saanich council prepares to debate terms of reference for the forum exploring “the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich and Victoria, one Saanich councillor remains unconvinced.

Coun. Nathalie Chambers said the process so far has gone “afoul of good governance” in questioning the overall prospect of seeing Saanich amalgamate with Victoria.

“It is important that I clarify that I am still waiting to be convinced of the merits of amalgamation,” she said. “So far, I think that it is a horrible idea for Saanich taxpayers and I do not think that our assets…in Saanich have been calculated. Although I do know this [amalgamation] is a very good deal for Victoria.”

RELATED: Saanich and Victoria committees disagree over size of assembly studying amalgamation

She made those comments when the Saanich News asked Chambers, as well as Couns. Susan Brice, Karen Harper, Ned Taylor and Zac de Vries a series of questions related to the terms of reference that Saanich’s standing committee on the citizens assembly has drafted. Chaired by Mayor Fred Haynes, its membership also includes Couns. Judy Brownoff, Colin Plant and Rebecca Mersereau.

The committee will formally present their work to the rest of council and the public-at-large Monday during a committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Chambers compared Saanich and Victoria to “apples and oranges” in drawing a sharp contrast.

“Victoria and Saanich are very different culturally,” she said. Saanich has a higher degree of home ownership than Victoria, and possess what Chambers has called “the most thorough civic engagement process” in British Columbia.

“Saanich is very fiscally conservative and the civic engagement process honours this,” she said. This process may be lengthy, but has helped the municipality avoid mistakes like the cost overruns that accompanied Victoria’s replacement of the Johnson Street Bridge, she added.

Chambers said in her remarks that Saanich faces considerable pressure from developers, and amalgamation with Victoria would only increase it.

“I kind of got the feeling that amalgamating with Victoria is open season on our [Urban Containment Boundary] and rural areas,” she said, noting that 50 per cent of Saanich is rural.

She also questioned the process. While the future citizens’ assembly will have Aboriginal representation — current language in both Victoria’s and Saanich’s terms of reference calls for at least five individuals who self-identify as Aboriginal — the overall process has so far lacked “informed and prior consultation” with First Nations.

“At Saanich, we take our pledge to [the Truth and Reconciliation Commission] and improving relationships with our First Nations neighbours seriously,” she said.

Chambers’ comments come after Haynes joined his Victoria counterpart Lisa Helps Tuesday to discuss amalgamation in front of luncheon audience hosted by the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, with Chambers praising Haynes’ “fantastic job of representing” Saanich.

“I was so impressed with him and he was very respectful to ensure that my question that was passed over indeed had a chance to be heard,” she said.

If Chambers appears unconvinced, public correspondence to the municipality concerning the terms of reference points to potential areas of controversies once the two municipalities start to reconcile their respective terms of reference.

Familiar controversies include the eventual size of the assembly and the frequency of meetings, with Saanich favouring a larger assembly (100 as opposed to 49) and more meetings (Saanich’s minimum of six meetings is Victoria’s maximum).

Victoria’s terms of reference call for all meetings to be open to the public, while Saanich’s terms of reference have left open the decision to council.

“If this process is to have credibility, it must have transparency and that can only happen with meetings open to the media and the general public – and hopefully also, this being the 21st century, webcast and archived for those who cannot attend in person, just like council meetings,” said Roger Stonebanks, a local community watchdog in an email to council.

Other correspondence questioned language that calls for the assembly to deliver a “final Yes/No recommendation to the respective Councils on proceeding towards a Referendum on amalgamation.”

Saanich resident Katherine Whitworth, a longtime observer of Saanich council, said this language runs counter to the ballot question that voters answered in October.

“If you would return to the actual ballot question, nowhere does it state that the [assembly] is to determine a “Yes/No recommendation,” she said. “The [only] outcomes that the [assembly] can provide to both [councils] are the results of their exploration into costs, benefits and disadvantages,” she said.

It falls upon the respective councils to accept or reject their respective assessments.

The Saanich News will add the comments of Couns. Brice, Harper, Taylor and de Vries when and if they become available.


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