Saanich’s proposed terms of reference won’t include language requiring a yes-no verdict on amalgamation. (Black Press File)

Saanich strikes requirement for a yes-no verdict on amalgamation

Critics of requirement said it unnecessarily constrained decision-making of citizens’ assembly

It is increasingly likely that the forum exploring “the costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich and Victoria will not render a final yes or no verdict.

Saanich council meeting as committee-of-the-whole Monday struck language from Saanich’s version of the proposed terms of reference that initially called on the future citizens assembly to “include a final Yes/No recommendation” to the respective council on proceeding towards a referendum on amalgamation. Monday’s vote makes it unlikely that it would reappear in the eventual reconciliation with Victoria’s terms of reference.

RELATED: Saanich councillor defends request for a clear yes-no answer on amalgamation

Mayor Fred Haynes, along with Couns. Susan Brice, Judy Brownoff, Nathalie Chambers and Ned Taylor, supported an amendment to remove the requirement in echoing criticisms from multiple audience members, who argued the requirement was not consistent with the language of the original ballot that legitimized the assembly in the first place.

It 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?” Various critics of the language argued that the requirement to render a verdict unduly constrained the assembly members.

RELATED: Former Saanich councillor candidate questions proposed mandate for citizens’ assembly

Couns. Karen Harper, Colin Plant, Rebecca Mersereau and Zac de Vries voted in favour of keeping the original wording.

“If it wasn’t clear that they [the assembly members] could make a recommendation, a lot of people would be wondering why were they there in the first place,” said Harper.

Plant, who defended the requirement prior to Monday’s meeting, said his interpretation is that the citizens assembly could still come back with a recommendation for or against amalgamation, or something in between.

“It’s my understanding that they can, but it won’t be a must,” he said.

Notably, councillors approved the final wording unanimously, suggesting that the issue was not as divisive as a 5-4 vote might indicate.

Concerning another key difference with Victoria’s terms of reference, Saanich councillors agreed on web-casting meetings of the citizens assembly. Victoria opted in favour of open meetings.

Another major difference concerns the nature of deliberations. Saanich’s review has proven to be far more deliberate, as councillors spent more than four hours on receiving public feedback and debating amongst themselves. And as if to prove the point that Saanich is treating this process with all its nuances with greater diligence and perhaps more care than Victoria, councillors delayed ratification of the terms until May 27 to give councillors one final look at the edited version of the document.

Next up is a joint meeting of the two sub-committees, who had initially drafted the respective terms of reference to reconcile them. Once reconciled, they will go back before the respective councils.


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