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Victoria-Saanich amalgamation consideration process is back underway

Pandemic delayed gathering a citizens' assembly to delve into what merging municipalities would actually look like

By Cameron Welch
April 11, 2023
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria-Saanich amalgamation consideration process is back underway

Pandemic delayed gathering a citizens' assembly to delve into what merging municipalities would actually look like

By Cameron Welch
Apr 11, 2023
Looking south towards Victoria and Saanich borders. Photo: James MacDonald/ Capital Daily
Looking south towards Victoria and Saanich borders. Photo: James MacDonald/ Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria-Saanich amalgamation consideration process is back underway

Pandemic delayed gathering a citizens' assembly to delve into what merging municipalities would actually look like

By Cameron Welch
April 11, 2023
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Victoria-Saanich amalgamation consideration process is back underway
Looking south towards Victoria and Saanich borders. Photo: James MacDonald/ Capital Daily

Earlier this month of April, representatives from Victoria and Saanich councils convened for an update on the citizens’ assembly that will look at amalgamating the two municipalities. Voters in 2018 supported studying the idea through the assembly, which will gather 48 residents. Those 27 from larger Saanich and 21 from Victoria will be chosen by lottery and reflect a proportionate number of Indigenous residents, different age cohorts, and housing circumstances (urban and rural, renters and owners).

They will study the issue, deliberate, and offer recommendations, options, or a collective decision before the topic goes to a referendum. In 2017, Duncan and North Cowichan considered amalgamation by using an assembly.

The process has been delayed by the pandemic, but a year ago the municipalities and province agreed to split $750K to fund it. Now-former mayors Lisa Helps and Fred Haynes—who have both expressed skepticism that amalgamation would be worthwhile—said at the time that the assembly would “explore the possible outcomes, costs, benefits and disadvantages of amalgamation so that residents have a more complete understanding” of the issue. The municipalities then waited until after the fall elections for the next steps.

With those steps now beginning, the municipalities will now seek to procure an independent consultant to carry out the assembly. The province wants a progress report by the end of 2023 that confirms the assembly recruitment process and has a preliminary work plan.

Some clear pros and cons to amalgamating all or part of region

While the focus of the assembly is on the potential amalgamation of Victoria and Saanich, there has been broader discussion of amalgamating all or parts of the region's unusual patchwork of 13 municipalities, which serve fewer than 400,000 residents. In 2021, Capital Daily assembled an in-depth feature on the broader issue of amalgamating all or parts of the region.

Overall we identified potential benefits to policing and fire dispatch—though these can be addressed without overall city amalgamation, and a provincial evaluation has already recommended that the several local police forces be merged—as well as housing and transportation. Merging also offers an escape from impasses such as Oak Bay not building bike lanes to connect its neighbours’ network, or Victoria and Esquimalt being so at odds on sewage that the province stepped in.

But amalgamation would also mean a loss of political representation and likely much less fiscal efficiency than might be expected. Even if overlapping departments can be consolidated, they’ll still need enough staff and resources to handle the same amount of people and land.

Read that full feature here.

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Cameron Welch
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