The conversation around amalgamation between Saanich and Victoria remains on the table as Saanich council opposed a report from the mayor calling for the cancellation of the study due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During an electronic council meeting on Monday, April 20, council chose not to halt the Citizens’ Assembly exploring amalgamation with the City of Victoria and instead voted unanimously to send Saanich staff to connect with Victoria staff to discuss options for how the assembly could proceed.
— Lisa Helps – Victoria Mayor (@lisahelps) April 21, 2020
On April 16, a report by Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes asked the District to halt the Citizen’s Assembly was made public. In the report, Haynes asked that council step away from talks of amalgamation, write a letter informing both Victoria and the province of the District’s decision to cease further action regarding the Citizens’ Assembly “until further notice,” and reallocate the $250,000 assembly budget.
He explained that with the uncertainty created by the pandemic, he was concerned about the logistics of having some 80 residents and municipal staff facilitators work closely for six months. Haynes added that the funds allocated for the assembly might also be better spent on easing the financial burdens of residents during the health crisis.
At the April 20 Saanich council meeting, councillors raised concerns about the terminology in the report – “cancellation” was deemed too final, Haynes explained.
In the 2018 municipal election, the public asked us (through a ballot question) to move forward with this citizens assembly. I believe it is therefore our responsibility as elected officials to do so. 2/2
— Ned Taylor (@CouncllrNTaylor) April 21, 2020
After a lengthy discussion, council agreed that while the timeline of the Citizens’ Assembly will be impacted by the pandemic, taking it off the table for the foreseeable future wasn’t the right decision, Haynes said.
“I certainly didn’t expect this to be proposed,” Coun. Ned Taylor told Black Press Media. The public voted on the matter in 2018 while electing the current councillors, so Taylor feels it’s their “duty” to follow through.
Saanich councillors emphasized that a discussion with the City of Victoria would be a better course of action as Haynes acknowledged there had not been a conversation with Victoria prior to bringing the report forward – he felt it was prudent to bring it to Saanich council first. He added that this was explained to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in correspondence prior to the council meeting as she’d told the public she felt as though “the rug was pulled out from under her” when the report was made public on April 16.
Council directed Saanich staff to reach out to Victoria staff. Before the pandemic, the assembly was expected to take place this spring or summer.
Haynes added that once the terms of reference which both municipalities have already agreed upon have been sent to the province, he expects to have a clearer picture of the new timeline for the amalgamation study.