Saanich stands accused changing the mandate of the assembly exploring potential amalgamation with Victoria among other concerns. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich stands accused changing the mandate of the assembly exploring potential amalgamation with Victoria among other concerns. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Proposed terms for forum exploring amalgamation between Victoria and Saanich under fire

Amalgamation Yes questions size of assembly, while Saanich stands accused of changing mandate

The proposed size of the citizens’ assembly exploring the potential amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria has received criticism among concerns that Saanich is trying to change the assembly’s mandate.

A draft of the terms of reference for the assembly proposes a membership of 96 members, with a proportionate number of members from the two municipalities, with 55 members coming from Saanich, 41 members from Victoria based on population statistics from B.C. Statistics.

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The draft itself appears in the minutes of the second citizens’ assembly standing committee meeting.

Amalgamation Yes, a pro-amalgamation group, has questioned this proposed size.

“Based on our research and information provided at our public forum hosted in the spring of 2018, 96 would likely be far too many people,” said Shellie Gudgeon, chair, in a statement posted on its website. “A group of less than 50 provides a forum size that can sustain good relationships and afford everyone a chance to be heard in plenary.”

An assembly with 96 members would require positions, driving up costs.

“It could also force the assembly to vote on the outcome, rather than achieve consensus through dialogue,” she said. “We recommend that the [citizen assembly] be about half the size proposed. A smaller group would also reflect the modest budget [of up to $750,000].”

Others have also commented on draft terms.

Katherine Whitworth, a Saanich council observer and critic of the amalgamation process, questions language, which says the assembly “must include a final Yes/No recommendation to the respective [councils] on proceeding towards a [referendum] on amalgamation.”

Whitworth said phrasing violates the mandate approved in the referendum, which asks the assembly to explore the “costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamation — not render a definitive verdict for or against it.

“The [standing committee] seems to be heading down a path that was not articulated on the ballot question and for that, the standing committee need to answer for that,” she said. “It should be noted, that only [Coun.] Brownoff did not agree with the wording.”

Chaired by Mayor Fred Haynes, the committee also includes Coun. Colin Plant and Coun. Rebecca Mersereau.

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According to the minutes, the assembly would include equal proportions of men and women, various age groups, renters and home owners; and at least five individuals, who self-identify as Aboriginal. These various shares would be established with the help of the “most recent (2011) census profile” — not figures from the 2016 census, a choice left unexplained.

Gudgeon fears the proposed selection process for the assembly would be costly — all residents and businesses in both communities would receive invitations to participate — and skew the sociology of the assembly.

“Based on research, we know that higher income, better educated residents are more likely to volunteer, and so will have a higher likelihood of being selected in the final draw,” she said.

Gudgeon also questions why businesses would receive separate invitations. “Including business owners is also problematic,” it reads. “[It] would double many business owners’ chances of being asked to participate on the [assembly].”

Ultimately, the assembly’s yet-to-be-hired facilitator should determine the forum’s selection process, she said on behalf of the group, which praises the general direction of the terms of reference.

“[We] are very encouraged to see that it honours the voice of your citizens with this unprecedented opportunity to explore the future of Victoria and Saanich,” she said.

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The terms are not yet final, partly because Victoria appears to be lagging. Its amalgamation committee will hold its first meeting Tuesday, and it is unlikely that it would simply copy and paste Saanich’s work. Any final document that has the support of both committees would also still require final approval from both councils, possibly through a joint session.


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wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com