Saanich councillors have signalled to their counterparts in Victoria that they want to proceed with caution during the next phase of the process that could eventually climax in the municipality’s amalgamation with the City of Victoria.
Saanich council (with Coun. Colin Plant absent) unanimously approved a motion that limits the negotiation power of municipal representatives during upcoming talks with their counterparts from the City of Victoria over the final shape of the future citizens’ assembly tasked to “explore the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamation.
“I don’t think it should be on their shoulders to have to negotiate away positions, which have been taken firmly here at this table,” said Coun. Susan Brice, who proposed the motion.
It calls on the four members of Saanich’s standing committee on the citizens’ assembly to bring back “any issues of disagreement, so Saanich council can deliberate” if “serious discussions” with Victoria failed to reach agreement.
“I say that with all respect for those who will go down, and I think that to some extent, may give some comfort to those who have to do this work on our behalf, but there are a couple of issues that really were very firmly held by this council,” said Brice.
Councillors passed that motion after they had unanimously approved Saanich’s proposed terms of reference for the citizens’ assembly following some minor revisions and asked the four members of the citizens’ assembly standing committee to meet with their Victoria counterparts to “finalize” a joint draft terms of reference for “consideration by the respective [councils].”
The committee itself consists of Mayor Fred Haynes as chair, Coun. Judy Brownoff, Plant, and Coun. Rebecca Mersereau.
Brice’s motion earned explicit support from both Haynes and Brownoff, whose comments also pointed towards the issues, likely requiring the support of full council.
They include the size of the assembly (Saanich proposes an assembly of 100 members, while Victoria’s terms of reference calls for an assembly of 49 members), and the question of whether the assembly’s final report should include a final ‘Yes/No’ recommendation to the respective councils on “proceeding” towards a referendum. Saanich council struck this requirement from its proposed terms of references, while Victoria’s terms of reference have retained it.
“We have flexibility, but there are some key things,” said Brownoff in support of the motion. Coun. Karen Harper agreed. “I don’t consider every sentence [of the terms] to be sacrosant, [but] there is a difference between a position and the language around the position,” she said.
Perhaps the only form of criticism of this limitation came from Mersereau. “The possible outcome of this [limitation] is coming back here [to the full council] fairly quickly,” she said, conceding that final terms of reference will be before council anyway at a later date.
While Haynes acknowledged that this limitation might require an additional meeting of the committee with its Victoria counterparts, the magnitude of the situation requires the full input of council. Saanich residents expect council to proceed with care and due diligence, he said earlier.
He echoed this broader point in comments to Saanich News after the meeting.
“Last night, council worked to ensure that our terms of reference for the citizens’ assembly discussion in the joint Victoria-Saanich group respected the ballot question,” he said.