Province setting stage for amalgamation study

Saanich, Victoria and Esquimalt mayors meet with Community Minister Coralee Oakes to discuss amalgamation

Saanich took a step closer to the possibility of amalgamating additional services with other Greater Victoria municipalities last week.

Mayor Richard Atwell and council met with Community Minister Coralee Oakes to discuss a governance review for the municipalities of Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay and Saanich. The minister was in town for the LNG debate and invited Saanich council to the legislature for a 30-minute discussion about the province’s intention to go forward with a regional governance study.

“It’s really an undefined process at this point, a memorandum will determine how we move forward,” Atwell said. “The municipalities will have to sign the memorandum about supporting the study in September [approximately]. I believe council will sign on to it, that’s the next step.”

Saanich voted in support of moving ahead with a “governance review study” in last November’s municipal elections while most of the region voted in favour of an amalgamation study.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins also met up with Oakes.

“It was a dialogue, it was awesome. We passed ideas back and forth,” said Helps.

“Ditch the word amalgamation and let’s talk about a regional governance review because if we’re talking just about amalgamation, we’re talking about the municipalities, we’re not looking at the [Capital Regional District].”

Helps stressed the idea of a regional governance review that needs to be done in collaboration with all 13 municipalities. She hopes the study will look at water, parks, transit, resource recovery, waste collection, fire and police and how to best integrate those services.

“I don’t just want to know if it’s going to cost more or less if Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay and Esquimalt amalgamate. Simple data like that, that’s not going to really help us make a decision,” said Helps, noting that the Greater Victoria Public Library board is a good example of a regional board that works.

“Cost is only one factor. I’m interested in quality of life and well-being and how we can best organize governance in the region to support those things.”

Desjardins said it was a “positive meeting” with the minister, but hopes to have further discussions with residents about the issue.

The Amalgamation Yes group is encouraged by signs the province is moving ahead with a review of how the Capital Region’s 13 municipalities are being governed.

Premier Christy Clark sent a letter to Oakes last month, directing her to “develop and present options to cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery” by June 30, 2016.

“We are encouraged that recently Minister Oakes has reached out to all 13 CRD municipal councils and met with several of them this month,”said Amalgamation Yes spokesperson John Vickers.

“We’re hopeful that this will eventually lead to a process whereby Greater Victorians will be able to express their preference via a binding referendum,” said Vickers. “This is the ultimate expression of grassroots democracy when citizens are provided a formal mechanism to determine how they wish to be governed.”

– With files from Kendra Wong

Clarification: This story has been updated to replace “amalgamation” with “governance review” in the instances of Saanich mayor and council’s meeting with Minister Coralee Oakes.