A Saanich councillor questions why Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps favours shutting out the public from deliberations of the future citizens assembly tasked with exploring the “costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich with Victoria.
“This is not an ‘in camera issue,’” said Coun. Judy Brownoff in responding to comments from Helps, who had said Tuesday that the deliberations of the citizens assembly would not open to the public or webcast following a question from Coun. Ben Isitt during a meeting of Victoria’s Citizens Assembly Council Committee.
“Why not?” he asked. “We can debate the merits of that, but then all of the other citizens assembly take place…in a way that is safe, that doesn’t have the public looking on,” Helps said. “There is a public reporting out process. Again, we are not re-inventing the wheel, we are working [with] best practices of citizens assemblies. What has been found is that it works best if the citizens assembly deliberates and the public then has an opportunity to participate in other ways.”
This said, Helps also said that an expert on citizens assembly could offer additional guidance.
Brownoff, who serves on Saanich’s counterpart to the Victoria committee, said she would like to see the meetings to be open in wondering why Helps was so quick to follow the work of others.
“Mayor Helps says she has read a lot about [citizens assemblies],” said Brownoff. But just because somebody had done something one way in the past should not automatically follow that route, she said.
Saanich, she said, puts a “high standard” on public engagement, openness and transparency. If the goal of the assembly is to “explore costs, benefits and disadvantages of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and Victoria,” why should these meetings be closed, she asked.
This said, the issue remain unresolved. “My reflections are mine,” she said. “I’m not sure Victoria came to an understanding and of course Saanich’s committee has not discussed this.”
But if Brownoff sounds open to resolving this issue, she is clearly in favour of opening up the deliberations.
“Is not openness and transparency on issues what we hear in government all the time? We will see,” she said.
Brownoff’s committee colleague Coun. Colin Plant declined to comment on Helps’ comment.
”Until Saanich [council] has received an official copy of Victoria’s proposed [terms of reference] for a [citizens assembly], I won’t be commenting on the proposed terms of reference that the City of Victoria is working on,” he said.
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau joined Plant in declining comment.
“As both Saanich and the City of Victoria are still actively working on draft terms of reference for the [citizens assembly], I consider it premature and unconstructive to comment on the City of Victoria’s progress or preliminary outcomes,” she said.
Mayor Fred Haynes also declined to comment on Helps’ comments.
“As you know, the Saanich [terms of reference] on the [citizens assembly] remain a working draft document of the [standing committee]. This work is ongoing,” he said, pointing to multiple steps that remain outstanding until the terms of reference are complete.
“It is an important issue that depending on its outcome could potentially see the end of Saanich by 2020 and its amalgamation with Victoria,” he said. “It seems responsible therefore for our [council] to take the time and the care to correctly establish the [terms of reference] for the [citizens assembly] and to ensure that the residents of Saanich can appropriately have their say.”