Proposed plans for a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation will be on the agenda when council meet Monday

Saanich to learn more about amalgamation process

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps will meet with a senior provincial official next week to discuss plans for a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation.

Atwell said the April 11 meeting with Marijke Edmondson, director of governance and structure branch, local government division is part and parcel of a search for a process that will allow citizens rather than elected officials to steer any future process.

Neither Saanich nor Victoria are currently pursuing a specific outcome, he said. It is instead about finding a process, because citizens will ultimately decide, he said.

Atwell made these comments after Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing, responded to Atwell and Helps’ request for a meeting to discuss the establishment and funding of a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation with interested municipalities.

Saanich along with Victoria had asked for the meeting after council ratified a recommendation asking the provincial government to establish a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation.

Robinson said in her letter that the province is “always open to discussing specific, practical proposals further if local governments can provide plans for how they would proceed in the best interests of their residents.”

Amalgamation studies by their nature are collaborative, said Robinson.

“Should you be ready to advance a joint, specific study proposal — as the City of Duncan and District of North Cowichan did in 2016 — it would be considered in the same way,” she said.

Citing the Duncan-North Cowichan proposal, a specific proposal to the province would among other elements define the scope and geography of a study into amalgamation, its structure, its timeline and costs. According to Robinson, the Duncan-North Cowichan process required an estimated $145,000 plus staff time, with each municipality and the provincial government contributing about a third of the costs.

“In addition, I would suggest that the request also identify any specific benefits to be gained for residents from such an exercise,” said Robinson in the letter.

Atwell acknowledged these items, but said no specific actions would be taken until after next’s week meeting.

Council is set to consider the letter at its next committee-of-the-whole meeting.

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