The head of a local group lobbying for amalgamation said she believes Greater Victoria residents would support the regionalization of police, but also warns of rushing the issue.
”A core force would be the ideal situation,” said Shellie Gudgeon, chair of Amalgamation Yes. “[However], we respectfully suggest that Victoria work with their neighbouring communities of Esquimalt, Oak Bay and Saanich… to strengthen their plea to the [provincial government].”
She made these comments after Victoria councillors unanimously endorsed a resolution that calls on the province to establish a regional police, with funding following established Capital Regional District (CRD) guidelines.
The resolution appears as an appeal by one municipality to a senior level of government to direct neighbouring municipalities towards the desired outcome of regionalization.
Leading officials in Victoria starting with Mayor Lisa Helps as well as Chief Del Manak of the Victoria Police Department, which serves both Victoria and Esquimalt, favour the idea of creating a regional police force, and Victoria’s resolution reads like an attempt by that municipality to ratchet up the pressure on would-be resisters like Saanich.
Helps for her part tried to discourage this interpretation by saying that any move towards regionalization would happen in “consultation and collaboration” with municipalities throughout the region.
Victoria’s appeal to the province happens against the backdrop of Saanich and Victoria working towards the establishment of a citizens’ assembly tasked with exploring the “costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamation.
Once in place, the assembly will inevitably consider the issue of policing, deliberations likely to be coloured by the current disagreements between Helps and Haynes over regional policing.
The idea of an amalgamated police force has often appeared as a smaller, less comprehensive alternative to full-blown amalgamation, and it is hard to image a future amalgamation scenario that would merge both communities, while retaining separate police forces. The question of policing, in other words, is potentially shaping up to be a litmus test.
“Mayor Haynes is respecting the will of the electorate by following through with [the citizens’ assembly],” said Gudgeon. “His reaction in the media with regards to policing is concerning; however, I was not privy to the entire conversation.”
Bruce Kennedy of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Victoria applauds Victoria’s appeal.
“It has bewildered us why Mayor Haynes has voiced opposition of a consolidated police force,” he said. “We would call on the Saanich Mayor and [council] to be proactive and to ask their residents through a series of town hall meetings and online surveys whether they support this idea.”
Mayor Fred Haynes said he would be wrong to say that he opposes regional policing, noting that the subject of policing will be come up during the deliberations of the citizens assembly. “We need to know the problem that we are trying to solve with regional policing,” said Haynes. If the problem is of a budgetary nature, Haynes said he is not convinced that regional policing won’t solve that problem, adding Saanich is currently pursuing a number of ideas including tiered policing for budgetary reasons that could serve as examples.
Haynes said he is not surprised that Victoria passed the resolution. Regional policing is part of the municipality’s strategic plan, and the municipality has the authority to pass resolutions as it sees fit without consulting with other municipalities, he said. This said, if the City of Victoria wants the provincial government to look at policing, it would also be necessary to look at the “whole basket of goods” around inter-municipal equity.
Saanich operates one of four municipal police forces in the region, along with Victoria-Esquimalt, Oak Bay, and Central Saanich. The remaining communites and electorial in the Capital Regional District (CRD) contract the RCMP for policing services.