A spokesperson for a group favouring improved governance says it will encourage Saanich and Victoria to create a citizens assembly on amalgamation in a “timely manner” following the municipal election.
Almost 67 per cent of voters in Victoria and almost 57 per cent of voters in Saanich voted in favour of the non-binding referendum question on their election ballot: “Are you in favour of spending up to $250,000 for establishing a Citizens’ Assembly to explore the costs, benefits, and disadvantages of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria?”
“I am pleased with the community question result,” said Shellie Gudgeon, a spokesperson for Worth The Study. “Now we will encourage the newly elected council to fulfill the mandate from the electorate in a timely manner.”
Gudgeon said she was optimistic that the referendum would pass in both communities. “Our team worked very hard to overcome the [dollar figure] that was attached to the question,” she said. “The voter understood that this cost is worth it. Most importantly both councils now have a mandate to ensure that this is a top strategic priority for the upcoming year.”
The first order of business will be to establish terms of references for the citizens’ assembly, a deliberative forum, which the provincial government defines as an “independent assembly of randomly selected individuals with a mandate to examine an issue over an extended period of time and make a recommendation to the Legislative Assembly.”
Key issues awaiting resolution include among others the size and composition of the forum. When Duncan and North Cowichan — two communities significantly smaller than either Victoria or Saanich — struck a citizens’ assembly, it included 36 members, but Gudgeon suggests it could be 48 in case of Victoria and Saanich.
“However, according to the experts often times more people results in louder voices rather than rational and considered ones,” she said.
Other issues include access to outside expertise, timelines and participation of First Nations — in short, plenty of contentious issues, which will perhaps resonate more in Saanich, where voters perhaps heard more concerns about amalgamation than in Victoria, with most concerns centred on the environmental and financial costs of amalgamation.
Several voices including re-elected Couns. Judy Brownoff and Susan Brice, as well councillor-elect Nathalie Chambers have also raised various degrees of concern, if not outright opposition to the concept.