Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has reversed her position about whether deliberations of the future citizens assembly on amalgamation will be open to the public.
“They are public meetings, because they are convened by and for the public,” she said. “We may wish to consider whether they will be recorded for public viewing afterwards, whether we wish to open some of them to a larger audience than the members of the public [participating], but none of them are closed meetings.”
Helps made these comments Friday as Victoria’s citizens assembly committee continued to discuss the Terms of Reference for the proposed citizens assembly tasked with exploring the “costs, benefits and disadvantages” of amalgamating Saanich with Victoria.
Helps had said during the committee’s first meeting that the members of the assembly would not be open to the public or webcast following question from Coun. Ben Isitt.
“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 comment drew a rebuke from Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff said she would like to see the meetings to be open in wondering why Helps was so quick to follow the work of others.
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.
That apparently will no longer be the case.
Saanich and Victoria, however, appear to be odds over the number of meetings that the assembly would hold.
According to its copy of the proposed Terms of Reference, Saanich’s citizen assembly standing committee envisions six to 10 full-day Saturday sessions beginning in 2019, and concluding in 2020.
Victoria’s committee, meanwhile, has floated the idea of six meetings running from September 2019 to March 2020, with three public roundtables.
The eventual composition of the assembly also remains uncertain. Saanich’s version of the Terms of Reference proposes 96 members, but Victoria Coun. Jeremy Love said he thought an assembly with 96 members would be unruly.
Deliberations eventually settled on 49 members with 28 coming from Saanich, 21 from Victoria.
Victoria’s committee also floated the idea of paying each assembly member an honorarium of $100 per session.