Show us our proposal for a citizens’ assembly, then we will show you the money.
That sums up the position of the provincial government when it comes to funding the citizens assembly that will study the pros and cons of amalgamating the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria.
“They [provincial officials] haven’t agreed to any funding in advance of us doing our work to bring forward something from the two [municipalities],” said Mayor Fred Haynes Monday, as council signed off on the creation of a standing committee described as “the initial step in establishing the governance structure and mandate” of an appointed citizens’ assembly in conjunction with the City of Victoria as per the outcome of the Oct. 20 referendum question.
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?”
The committee chaired by Haynes includes Couns. Colin Plant, Rebecca Mersereau and Judy Brownoff, a consistent critic of the process leading up to the referendum, and it was Brownoff, whose questions led to the revelation that the province has not yet committeed any funding to the assembly, a point of some concern to Brownoff.
“Pencils and work [plans] will have to be sharpen if the [provincial] money does not come in or…is less than [one-third],” she said.
Speaking on background, an official with the ministry of municipal affairs and housing confirmed that the ball now lies with the two municipalities to submit a joint proposal for a citizens’ assembly. Only then will be the province be able to provide funding for a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation, the official said. This statement also confirmed the possibility that the province’s contribution might be less than $250,000 as it did not include a specific figure.
The public also heard from Haynes on Monday that the province expects a fairly detailed proposal that would also outline steps after the assembly completed its work.
‘The province was not eager to see your work stop at the creation of the citizens’ assembly,” he said. “They are looking for the whole ball of wax before they put some money towards it.” For example, the province would like both municipalities to outline steps in case the assembly rejects amalgamation in favour of service integration, he said.
It is not clear yet whether Victoria will mirror the structure of Saanich’s standing committee, but Haynes said any recommendations emerging from it and its work with Victoria will require the approval of the full council.