Saanich council will discuss whether the municipality should participate in a province-led study of regional amalgamation at its May 25 meeting, after Coun. Colin Plant pushed the issue forward on Monday night.
Under questioning last week in the B.C. legislature, Community Minister Coralee Oakes said Saanich and Langford have yet to express interest in a provincially funded study of Capital Region amalgamation. Oakes said Victoria, Esquimalt, Sidney, Central Saanich, North Saanich and Colwood have all sent formal letters to her office requesting the study, which would be non-binding and examine several models of regional integration.
On Monday, Plant put forward a notice of motion allows council to discuss Saanich’s participation in the province-led study. The motion was unanimously supported, which will bring the issue forward for discussion at a May 25 meeting.
“If you were thinking about painting your house, and everyone on your street was getting a quote on house painting, why wouldn’t you get a quote,” Plant said.
Saanich voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot question in November that asked if they support “a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and partnerships within the Region.”
The guidelines for that internal review have not yet been set, despite a motion passed on Dec. 8 by Coun. Vic Derman that asked Saanich staff to present a report within 90 days.
“We’ve had an interesting start-up and the governance review hasn’t been on the front of everyone’s work list,” Plant said.
Participating in the province-led study could be done in parallel with a Saanich-led review, Plant added.
“This won’t prevent us from self-determining our political future,” he said. “If everybody else around us is taking a look at this, why wouldn’t we want to be a part of it?”
Coun. Fred Haynes, who seconded Plant’s motion, said participating in a study on the benefits and risks of amalgamation will provide “another set of data” for reference in addition to the municipality’s own review.
“We still don’t know if amalgamation is the answer, but we have to have a conversation about what problems we’d like to solve,” Haynes said. “If there’s no cost to us to participate, why would we back away from another discussion of this that includes our regional partners?”
Haynes said there are legitimate concerns about the real benefits and cost savings of amalgamation, but the purpose of a province-led study is to sort out these concerns.
The B.C. Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development told the News in 2013 that any municipal amalgamation would require a public vote from affected residents. At that time, voters would be provided with the details of what a proposed government structure would look like.
“If the municipal councils involved agreed that there was enough public support of amalgamation, they could request the Minister to order a restructure vote in each of the municipalities that participated in the process,” a ministry spokesperson said. “In order for amalgamation to take place, the vote would have to be successful in each municipality.”