Province plans to review region’s amalgamation referendum results

City of Colwood plans to join post-election study of issue

The next step for regional amalgamation is in the hands of the province now that Greater Victoria voters have shown their support, says Amalgamation Yes’ John Vickers.

“The issue took a big step forward with 75 per cent of voters in the region supporting the non-binding question (if it was on) Saturday’s municipal election ballot,” Vickers said. “Now it’s up to the province, the only way it’s going to fly is if we really do see leadership from them. We want to see an end run here.”

Seven of eight Capital District municipalities voted yes to the non-binding question of amalgamation on Saturday, including Langford, whose question directly asked residents if they favoured amalgamation.

Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes of released a statement on Monday in response to the positive result saying it’s now in the process of reviewing the referendum results in greater detail.

“I remain committed to provide the support and resources required by the newly-elected local governments, once they have had an opportunity to discuss and review the results in greater detail.”

Vickers said he’s had communications  with the ministry but it’s imperative now to keep moving that forward.

“What we’d like to see is a commission with experts and insight into the various issues, to study and come up with two or three different models, which will hopefully lead to a provincially run referendum in 2018 or a binding municipal referendum.”

It was outgoing Mayor Frank Leonard who framed Saanich’s “governance review” question but it will be mayor-elect Richard Atwell and council overseeing its implement.

Atwell, who came to municipal politics through his work with the Sewage Treatment Action Group, is hesitant to pledge a direct allegiance to amalgamation but said his early focus on the matter would include a review on the Capital Regional District.

“If it reaches a review then one area I’d think would be considered is the election format for the CRD directors. Should they be elected directly?” he asked.

“There is additional cost-savings to be had at the CRD level but I’ve heard (amalgamation) won’t necessarily save money … the challenge is to retain the personal connection with residents, you don’t want to lose that balance.”

One of Atwell’s campaign issues and now a priority is to open up council meetings to allow the public a chance to speak on non-agenda items, something he would want built in if Capital District moved to regional governance.

The other seven municipalities with a non-binding question on the ballot regarding amalgamation were North Saanich, Oak Bay, Central Saanich, Langford, Esquimalt, Victoria and Sidney, representing more than 86 per cent of region’s population.

The questions varied slightly but most  called for public consultation and a provincial study on amalgamation and regional governance.

Seventy-five per cent of the  approximate 80,000 ballots voted in favour of a study.

The report stated Oak Bay was the only municipality to vote against it at 62 per cent. Langford came in a shade over 50 per cent in favour, while View Royal, Colwood, Highlands, Metchosin and Sooke, with a combined population of about 46,000, elected to not place a non-binding question on the ballot. However, Colwood will join a post-election study or review.

“The Oak Bay and Langford question didn’t have any consultation, it was ‘Will you marry me before the first date?’” Vickers said.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com