As Saanich and Victoria continue to work out the details of the citizens’ assembly tasked with exploring the “costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamation, their respective councils will consider a suggestion for an assembly with no more than 73 members.
This figure emerged during the second meeting of the joint citizens’ assembly standing committee held Friday featuring members of Saanich and Victoria council charged with reconciling their municipality’s respective terms of reference for the citizens assembly. The group had met earlier Monday last week.
The size of the proposed assembly has been a major sticking point, with Saanich arguing for a larger assembly with 100 members, with 57 members coming from Saanich and 43 from Victoria, and Victoria arguing a smaller number with 49 members, with 28 coming from Saanich, 21 from Victoria.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Victoria favours the smaller number on the basis of previous best practices based on citizens assemblies elsewhere in Canada and around the world. Experts, she said, have identified a figure anywhere 46 and 50 members to “be reasonable,” even when dealing with subjects as large as the future of health care in Ontario. “It’s a manageable number,” said Helps.
Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff, citing among other supporting evidence a long email from Saanich Coun. Colin Plant, said Saanich believes that a larger assembly would not only ensure adequate representation of various sociological groups and views, but also improve accountability given the aim of the assembly. A skilled facilitator would also be able to manage a larger group, she added.
This discussion also revealed deeper philosophical differences among Saanich and Victoria members of the committee, with Helps arguing that the assembly aims to be a deliberative body, rather than a representative body.
Saanich Coun. Nathalie Chambers responded to Helps by saying that Saanich councillors had promised residents that the assembly would reflect the greater diversity of Saanich in protecting their democratic voice.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes picked up on point.
“We have heard from the Victoria side that it is not supposed to be a representative democracy, but it is supposed to be deliberative democracy in the citizens’ assembly,” he said. “If the proportionate representation is removed, what is the value?” He later added to this point by noting that Saanich residents need to have “faith” in the validity of process given that it could end up leading to end of Saanich as a municipality. “This is a serious matter,” he said.
Another related point of disagreements concerns the decision-making mechanics of the assembly.
Victoria Coun. Sarah Potts said the combination of a larger assembly using Robert’s Rules as proposed by Saanich would discourage participation, because the number of people familiar with the rules would likely be low. Chambers disagreed. Robert’s Rules could actually give the process structure, she said.
In the end, committee members picked on comments from Victoria Coun. Geoff Young to split the difference between the two numbers and propose it to the respective councils.
Stressing their lack to mandate the negotiate the figure, Haynes said Saanich representatives would take the suggestion to the full council.
“We are not able today to talk to the merits [of any number],” he said. “However, understanding that you have moved forward on the number is very encouraging.”
This figure, along with a host of other changes, will now go back to the respective councils for review, following preparation of a final document that captures the work of the committee. This review may either lead to additional changes or a joint terms of reference document approved by both councils ready for provincial review.
The public also heard during Friday’s meeting that the province had verbally agreed to contribute up to $250,000 towards the citizens’ assembly pending approval of the terms of reference.