Council is moving ahead with plans to test public support through a referendum this f on future amalgamation talks. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Council is moving ahead with plans to test public support through a referendum this f on future amalgamation talks. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich pushes ahead with plans for referendum on future amalgamation talks

Saanich is moving ahead with plans to hold a referendum in the fall that would test public support for future amalgamation talks — not amalgamation itself — with Victoria.

Citing council’s previous decision to establish a citizens’ assembly on the subject of amalgamation in collaboration with interested parties (which so far only includes Victoria), Saanich now has to follow through, said Coun. Colin Plant.

“I don’t think council has another choice if it wants to be legitimate in its decision-making,” he said, as council voted unanimously to endorse a recommendation from Mayor Richard Atwell. He and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps had previously met with provincial staff to discuss plans for a citizens’ assembly into the subject.

Specifically, Atwell recommended a joint meeting with Victoria city council to “determine which question both local governments” would place on the Oct. 20, 2018 municipal election ballot to measure support to “explore the costs and benefits” of amalgamation.

“If we start spending public money, we need the concurrence of our community,” said Coun. Susan Brice.

Monday’s vote has several practical ramifications. First, it will increase the cost of the upcoming municipal election. Second, it means that Saanich and Victoria will not be able to strike a citizens’ assembly into the subject of amalgamation until after the fall of 2018, assuming Saanich and Victoria can agree on a common question and voters in both communities give their approval.

Coun. Karen Harper, who had already expressed reservations about a pre-referendum, raised this point. “This is a slower stop forward than many would like,” she said.

Coun. Fred Haynes also raised the point that amalgamation cannot be the pre-determined outcome of this process. The process must also remain open to outcomes other than amalgamation, he said.

The ball now lies in the court of Victoria and with the municipal election less than six months away, time is becoming a factor.

“There is limited time to do it,” said Atwell.

If so, council also heard from Saanich resident Katherine Whitworth, who urged council to think very seriously about this process, if not pump the brakes, entirely.