A Saanich councillor defends the proposed terms of reference developed by the standing committee on amalgamation.
Coun. Colin Plant said it would be mistake to establish a citizens’ assembly to explore “the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich and Victoria, then deny that very forum the ability to render a recommendation for or against the idea.
“I would suggest that establishing a [citizens’ assembly] but not giving them the ability to provide a recommendation, would be a significant missed opportunity to involve the very people who had been directly studying the issue,” Plant said in response to criticisms from former councillor candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff.
Teale Phelps Bondaroff, a former councillor candidate involved in several local organizations, said language requiring a verdict of yes or no in favour of amalgamation is not consistent with the ballot question that voters in both Victoria and Saanich answered during the last municipal election, which read as follows: “[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?”
Plant disagrees with Phelps Bondaroff, who issued his criticism on the eve of council discussing Saanich’s proposed terms of reference.
Plant, along with Mayor Fred Haynes, and Couns. Judy Brownoff and Rebecca Mersereau, helped to draft those terms.
The purpose of the citizens’ assembly is to re-install trust in the political process by taking ownership of decision-making, said Plant.
“I cannot envision a satisfactory outcome to the situation where the respective [councils] would be tasked with developing their own determination of whether or not to proceed with an amalgamation referendum after the assembly was concluded,” he said. “In my view the whole purpose of the proposed [citizens assembly] process is to take the perception of ‘politics’ out of the process and to allow the public to provide direction after extensively studying the issue.”
If Saanich and Victoria had wanted to directly oversee the process to determine whether to schedule a referendum on amalgamation, each council would not have asked residents to vote on the ballot question during the last municipal election, said Plant.
“It would not have proposed the [citizens’ assembly] model and instead would have appointed themselves to oversee the evaluative process,” said Plant.
Plant also noted that any positive recommendation on amalgamation from the assembly would not be binding on each council.
“I cannot imagine a negative recommendation being overruled by either council,” he said. Any future referendum question would also have to receive the approval of each council, then the province before going ahead, he added.
Within this context, the public will have the opportunity to weigh in, he said.
“The potential decision by Saanich [council] to proceed with a referendum would be made in an open [council] meeting and the public could share their opinions with [councillors] on the validity of the recommendation of the [citizens’ assembly] and whether or not a referendum should be held,” Plant said.
Once council has approved the final version of the proposed terms of reference, they will have to undergo reconciliation with Victoria’s.