An aerial view of downtown Sidney. The Town and its Saanich Peninsula municipal counterparts, appear to have no appetite to talk about amalgamation. (Don Denton/News staff file)

Saanich Peninsula politicians won’t talk amalgamation at UBCM

North Saanich councillor says issue is all but dead, despite the last election results

Amalgamation of the three Saanich Peninsula municipalities appears to be a topic no one is talking about — except one North Saanich politician who feels the issue was never properly addressed.

Nor will it likely come up from the three municipalities at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver Sept. 25 to 29.

Coun. Murray Weisenberger was prepared to debate getting the issue on the table with the provincial minister in charge at the UBCM during a North Saanich council meeting this week. But he says he withdrew his request after the rest of his council made it clear it was too late to get a meeting with NDP Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Selina Robinson.

That, and no one seemed too interested in the subject.

Putting aside his frustration over having his request delayed to a point where it was impossible to get it on the UBCM agenda, Weisenberger said he saw there was “no appetite for this council to move on this issue.”

In November, 2014, a majority of the voters in that year’s civic election, said yes, they wanted the province to fund a study into the costs — and possibility of — amalgamation on the Saanich Peninsula.

That study, requested at the time from the BC Liberals, has not materialized. And Weisenberger is not hopeful that the NDP minority government will seriously pursue it either.

The province, in March 2017, did release a Capital Integrated Services and Governance Initiative report. While that report did not get into amalgamation specifically, the province did say it would not force amalgamation on anyone.

“There’s been a lack of leadership on this issue,” Weisenberger said, adding the CISGI report “didn’t answer the questions the electorate wanted them to.”

Weisenberger made it clear he’s not necessarily in favour of amalgamating all three Saanich Peninsula municipalities. He said a question was asked in the last civic election and was simply not answered. Even at the integration of services level, Weisenberger said his municipality is about to pay $150,000 for a communications study — a cost that probably would be the same for a single city of 40,000 people. That’s approximately the size of an amalgamated community on the Peninsula.

Ryan Windsor, Mayor of Central Saanich, said the District’s election question “asked for a study specifically addressing amalgamation of the three Peninsula municipalities, but as you know we did not get that.”

“The new provincial government seems to have indicated that it’s not a priority, so short of doing our own study or asking the question about amalgamation with the limited information in the CISGI report, I’m not sure the issue is moving forward at this point.”

Sidney Mayor Steve Price said “the amalgamation question was just recently addressed by the (CISGI) report released by the provincial government which showed that on the Peninsula, we already are heavily integrated in regards to water, sewer, recreation, police, library, to name a few.”

“As you know study after study has shown that amalgamation increases costs and reduces the level of service and local autonomy which is not what our residents have asked for.”

Price added Sidney’s policing costs, if amalgamated with others in the region, would in all likelihood be substantially higher.

“I don’t believe our residents would appreciate that. We are not seeking any more studies on amalgamation, nor is the provincial government.”

Price added he will be having a CRD mayors meeting at UBCM with the Solicitor General on the topic of more regional co-operation and integration of specialized policing services.

The News Review emailed all the Peninsula mayors for comment and had not immediately heard back from North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall.

“If this is going to be left up to local politicians, nothing is going to happen,” Weisenberger said.

Weisenberger added people simply wanted information about what amalgamation might look like and what it would cost.

editor@peninsulanewsreview.com