An extensive review into the governance of Saanich and its relationship with the rest of the region may end just as it started – with a referendum.
Mayor Richard Atwell raised that possibility as the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee (GRCAC) launched its schedule for seeking public feedback on the state of Saanich’s governance and its larger status within the Capital Regional District.
If a referendum were to take place on the final results of the review, it would “ideally” coincide with the upcoming municipal election scheduled for next year.
John Schmuck, chair of the GRCAC, said the committee has a “soft” deadline of Oct. 23 to present its findings to council. As part of the consultation process, the committee is currently developing a body of educational resources as it gets ready to consult broadly.
“We are going into this with an open mind, we are going into it with a blank slate,” he said. “We are looking to see what comes back organically from the people.”
The committee, Schmuck added, has already had three targeted discussions and received various guest submissions. Now, it hopes to hear from a wide range of voices, whether they live inside or outside of Saanich. Schmuck said interested individuals can offer input in multiple ways. They can submit written submissions at email@example.com, fill out an online survey available on the district’s website March 1, participate in coffee chats and community meetings, or attend one of four public meetings, with two different formats. Working with consultants, the committee will also conduct focus groups that will be closed to the public to ensure diversity of opinions, candour and anonymity. For further information, see saanich.ca/governancereview.
As for what will happen after the committee has submitted its report, Atwell stressed that a final decision remains outstanding.
“I left it open-ended,” he said. “It is really up to…the work of this committee then to make its recommendations to council and then what council decides to do with that, it is too early to tell yet. Given that this started with a referendum question, it is conceivably possible that it could turn into another referendum question, to then take it another step. So I have put that out there as a possibility, but there are no promises, but we have to follow this process through and then interpret the results.”
Saanich’s current council appointed the GRCAC after almost 90 per cent of Saanich voters supported the initiative in a 2014 referendum.
While the question was general in nature, Atwell said the community’s response was overwhelming.
“And given that the municipality hadn’t provided a lot of education material on the vote, it was interesting to see such a high response, that 88 per cent. And for me, I embodied a desire, a desire to take a look. But take a look at what? That really wasn’t so well defined,” he said.
The committee promises to fill that gap by delving into what Atwell called the “primary components of governance, that is authority, accountability, decision making, continuous improvement and the district’s role in the Capital Region.”