Victoria and Saanich plan joint council meeting for September

An historic meeting set for Sept. 7 isn’t about amalgamating the region’s two largest municipalities. But when Victoria city councillors play host to their counterparts from Saanich, the hope is the experience will be positive enough to make the joint meetings a biannual affair.

An historic meeting set for Sept. 7 isn’t about amalgamating the region’s two largest municipalities. But when Victoria city councillors play host to their counterparts from Saanich, the hope is the experience will be positive enough to make the joint meetings a biannual affair.

Saanich mayor Frank Leonard and Victoria mayor Dean Fortin decided it would be a good idea to have both councils get together to “discuss initiatives of mutual interest,” Leonard said.

“It’s nothing more than seeing how we can be more effective by working together – that’s why the topics aren’t the most (contentious),” he said.

On the agenda for the Sept. 7 meeting are regional emergency planning and climate action planning.

Leonard said the idea of the joint meeting isn’t to make big decisions about the region. Rather both councils will have presentations from separate departments that relate to regional issues.

“I think it’s natural for people to speculate on (amalgamation) with something like this, but it’s nothing Dean and I discussed,” Leonard said. “That was never the expectation in discussing how we work together, where we can integrate better and where we can co-operate better. The discussions have always been respectful of each other’s community and jurisdiction.”

As Saanich and Victoria have seen successes in both emergency preparedness and climate action planning, the mayors think gaining insight into one another’s plans will be beneficial for both in the long run.

“If we can work to understand how we’re co-ordinating and planning together, that’ll help us provide the best level of service for both (municipalities’) residents,” Fortin said. “Working together, that’s a good thing. We can learn from each other.”

In his 25 years in Saanich municipal politics, Leonard has never participated in a joint council meeting – not to mention one outside municipal boundaries.

Staff needed to consider the implications of any get-together of councillors and the mayor, which is why the September gathering has been made a formal meeting.

“Really, any time you’ve got all of us (Saanich council members) meeting somewhere, it’s a meeting. In fact, if you get five or six of us meeting somewhere informally, you’re playing with fire,” Leonard said. “You and the other 115,000 people we’re accountable to need to know when we’re meeting and what we’re talking about – this forces it to be formalized.”

Leonard and Fortin are talking about holding joint council twice a year. The next meeting will be held in Saanich in early 2012.

“What you have are two separate councils, each having their own meeting, together,” explained Carrie MacPhee, Saanich’s director of legislative services. “Both mayors will be calling each of their councils to order, there’ll be staff presentations, and obviously there’ll be dialogue amongst all the people at the table. But if the City of Victoria wants to make a motion on anything, it would be only their council voting on that, and likewise with Saanich.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com