Saanich residents will be presented with a ballot question at the Nov. 15 municipal election, though it won’t be specific to amalgamation.
The unanimously endorsed question, put forward by Mayor Frank Leonard, differs significantly from that of other Capital Region municipalities. It will ask: Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?
“I appreciate you’re all supporting this,” Leonard told councillors after they offered ringing endorsements of the motion. “Once it’s approved, (this question) will become owned by the community and the agenda will be set by the community, not by council.”
Amalgamation proponents had been pushing Saanich to approve a non-binding ballot question that asks residents if they support studying various models of integration for the region’s 13 municipalities. The study would be funded by the province, and municipal councils would then choose how they want to proceed with those options.
So far, Victoria, Esquimalt, Sidney, Central Saanich, Langford and Oak Bay have agreed to ask residents about amalgamation at the ballot box.
During discussion before the vote, Coun. Judy Brownoff said a governance review will bring Saanich in line with modern governments and offer an opportunity to highlight Saanich’s current regional partnerships.
“The motion is appropriate in that we’ve had some issues around some governance things. We used to have presentations, now we don’t,” she said.
Brownoff said Saanich puts $1.5 million annually into the Capital Regional District’s Arts Committee, and that other regional financial commitments need to be better publicized.
Coun. Susan Brice called the ballot question “momentous,” and said it will provide for broad community input. “There can be no limit to the suggestions that may arise,” she said.
Outside council chambers after the vote, Saanich mayoral candidate Richard Atwell criticized the decision and said council is avoiding asking residents about amalgamation by asking a less relevant question.
“Council is proposing a Saanich-made solution that will be paid for by Saanich taxpayers, when everyone else is pursuing a straw poll that will engage the provincial government and allow for a provincially funded study on amalgamation options,” Atwell said. “The most interesting part for me is that even with this, the public didn’t have input. They did this at council, not at committee of the whole.”
The municipal election takes place Nov. 15.