Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said the stakes behind the current amalgamation process are high because it could lead to the dissolution of the municipality.
“This is the biggest decision since the formation of Saanich,” he said after the first meeting of the citizens’ assembly standing committee. While amalgamation might be in the interest of Victoria, his job as Mayor of Saanich is to assess whether it is in the interest of Saanich, he said.
Haynes comments came after the committee chaired by him held its first meeting Wednesday. Its membership also includes Couns. Judy Brownoff, Colin Plant and Rebecca Mersereau.
During their first meeting, committee members started the process of drafting the terms of reference that will guide the citizens’ assembly, which will see voters in both Saanich and Victoria tasked with exploring “the costs, benefits, and disadvantages” of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria.
Haynes said the committee was working off a document that the chief administrative officer (CAO) Paul Thorkelsson had prepared, drawing on the terms of reference that had guided comparable citizens assemblies in other communities like Cowichan and North Duncan.
“I would say the tone of the meeting was professional and collegial and we were very task-oriented,” said Plant. “Everyone contributed and we all listened and respected each other’s idea.”
The committee will resume the drafting process at its next meeting. The terms of reference will then go before council for approval, followed by consultations with the City of Victoria, and eventually, the provincial government, which will have to sign off on the process between Saanich and Victoria before giving its blessing and financial contribution.
“I would say that we need to get the terms right, this is a large process, based on ballot question ‘to explore costs, benefits and disadvantages’ of amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria,” said Brownoff, who had previously raised concerns about the process, including the eventual financing of the citizens’ assembly.
“You know that I have raised the question of costs, so I feel we need to establish the budget, within what we have.”