A member of the Saanich committee shaping the forum charged with exploring “the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich and Victoria says a larger assembly will improve the decision-making process.
“I believe the task at hand is quite complicated and the more sets of eyes on this issue, the better,” said Coun. Colin Plant, when asked why Saanich’s standing committee on the citizens’ assembly proposes an assembly of 100 members, more than twice the number – 49 – that Victoria proposes.
“I felt that this is such a big decision that we need to ensure that there is a wide array of demographics included and ensure that a wide array of viewpoints will be considered,” he said. “Given Saanich will have approximately 57 or 58 of the 100 and that we are looking for a variety people of different ages and gender and from both urban [and] suburban settings, I do not feel 100 is too many.” That figure, he added later, means .05 per cent of the [combined Saanich Victoria population] might be asked to participate. “Again, that is not a large number to me,” he said.
Plant made these comments in responding to six broad questions from the Saanich News to the four members of the committee.
The questions asked them for their rationale behind the committee’s proposal for an assembly that would be larger, meet more often, but also offer fewer incentives to would-be members. The questions also asked why they favour an assembly using consensus and its nature. The Saanich News also asked them to judge the chances that Victoria would support any of the elements proposed in Saanich’s proposed terms of reference in the pending reconciliation process prior to the formation of the assembly.
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau, who did not answer the six questions, but responded to an earlier request for comment, said she does not think Saanich’s terms of reference will surprise Victoria much.
“From the start, they’ve been aware of some difference preferences reflected in our draft, as we have theirs,” she said. “I anticipate that we’ll ultimately land somewhere in the middle. I have a lot of confidence that both [councils] and sub-committees will come to the table in good faith with a willingness to compromise whilst still ensuring we’ve set up a strong and balanced framework for the [assembly] to do their important work.”
Saanich’s proposal for an assembly of 100 appears among several differences between Victoria’s proposed terms of reference and Saanich’s. Saanich’s committee, for example, proposes up to 12 meetings, with a minimum of six meetings, the maximum figure that Victoria proposes.
“I cannot speak on behalf of the committee, but I can say I personally wanted to ensure that citizens’ assembly members would be aware of the potential for 12 meetings and not be surprised if more were required,” said Plant. “This is a very complex decision and I believe we want to ensure everyone has enough time to do the work and not be surprised by what they are being asked to participate in.”
Another issue concerns compensation. Saanich’s Victorian counterpart has proposed an honorarium of $100 per person per meeting plus additional costs to cover childcare and transportation. Saanich’s committee currently rejects such an honorarium, while promising to cover costs for childcare and transportation.
Plant said he is currently not debating Victoria’s terms of reference. “I believe that residents who will need financial support to participate in the assembly will be able to access funds,” he said. “I certainly support transportation, childcare and [food and drinks] being provided to all members of the assembly. If someone needs to be remunerated for lost wages, that is something that can be considered under our [terms of reference].”
Saanich’s committee also punted the question of whether meetings should be open or closed to the full council. Plant said council needs to consider best practices when making this decision, adding he will research the subject.
Plant said it is important that the public remains abreast of developments and that it can trust that the deliberative process is unfolding according to the values found in the terms of reference. “[But] I am also sensitive to ensuring that the assembly can do their work without the pressure of an audience observing every moment of the process and potentially influencing the assembly.”
Mayor Fred Haynes also responded to the questions, but not as specific as Plant.
Haynes said the committee has completed its task of preparing draft terms of reference following several meetings of “detailed examination and deep thinking about our terms of reference in regard of the Saanich perspective.”
That work has now concluded, he said. “We have not to my knowledge worked on the comparison with Victoria,” he said. “That work comes once our council has had opportunity to review the terms of reference and give its feedback along with community feedback.”
When pressed for specifics, Haynes offered this response. “Given the committee’s work is ongoing and has yet to be reviewed by [council], and that until that process is completed, there is no conversation with Victoria, then from my point of view, any additional details would not provide an appropriate service to your readers, the residents of Saanich or our [council].”
Coun. Judy Brownoff did not respond to the questions. The Saanich News has also asked Amalgamation Yes for comment, but has not yet received any to Saanich’s proposed terms of reference.