Amalgamation question not a high priority on West Shore

General lack of support for putting question on 2014 ballots

Amalgamation doesn’t appear to be on the minds of many in the West Shore.

With local elections approaching in November, municipalities across Greater Victoria are deciding whether to include a question on the ballot that would gauge voters’ interest in pursuing further some form of regional amalgamation.

Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton hasn’t heard a peep from city residents.

“I haven’t had anybody phone me and say ‘Hey, this is a burning issue for me and Langford,’” he said. “I can’t speak for the rest of council, but I don’t think anybody’s even considered it.”

City of Victoria council voted to put a question on its ballot, while Oak Bay and Central Saanich councils  rejected the idea. Even the Capital Regional District decided not to ask member municipalities to include the query.

Throughout the West Shore, there seems little interest in exploring the issue, though the Town of View Royal is now leaning towards including a question. With a general atmosphere of support around the table, according to at least one councillor, View Royal’s committee of the whole recommended that town staff look into options for doing so.

“The general consensus was some sort of question should go on the ballot,” said Coun. John Rogers. “So that’s interesting.” The trick, he said, is to make sure the right question is asked.

Rogers said most agreed the question suggested by non-profit group Amalgamation Yes, “Are you in favour of reducing the number of municipalities in the Capital Regional District through amalgamation?” is too broad and potentially leading.

Colwood turned to residents for input on including a ballot question, but a callout for people to serve on a focus group looking at the issue produced only a handful of responses.

Nonetheless, applicants will be interviewed starting this week and the callout remains open.

Mayor Carol Hamilton said it’s best to get a sense from the community whether or not a question concerning amalgamation is desired, to avoid potentially spending money on something nobody wants.

Council has voted in favour of having a question, but Hamilton said if it turns out the public interest isn’t there, it may not happen.

“We’re cautious about budget implications on things, but we want to ensure that if this is the direction the general populace wants to start taking things, then how do we get there?”

Out in Metchosin, Mayor John Ranns expressed a similar sentiment, noting that if residents aren’t interested in amalgamation, why spend the money to explore it?

“We’ve had absolutely no interest from the public,” he said. “There hasn’t been a single indication that anybody wants to see this on the ballot.”

If public support isn’t forthcoming, Ranns can’t imagine the district will go ahead with a question. While he isn’t entirely opposed to the idea of amalgamation, he said the province should never impose it in any form without first hearing from the public.

“I do believe that amalgamation done right can have positive benefits,” he said. “But amalgamation done wrong is going to be far worse than what we have now.”

kwells@goldstreamgazette.com