Amalgamation idea spreads to Sidney but not North Saanich

North Saanich still only Saanich Peninsula holdout for a fall referendum.

Electors in Sidney and Central Saanich will be asked about amalgamation on the Saanich Peninsula during this fall’s municipal election, while the residents of North Saanich will not.

Monday night, Sidney councillors agreed to pose a referendum question on November 14, similar to the one agreed on earlier this month by Central Saanich:

“Are you in favour of a provincially-funded study to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the municipalities of the Saanich Peninsula?”

While the questions being posed this fall clearly include all three municipalities in the mix, North Saanich remains the lone holdout.

“Council decided a month ago not to (ask an amalgamation question),” said Mayor Alice Finall.

Amalgamation Yes, the Victoria-area organization leading the charge on getting a question on the ballot in this year’s municipal elections, had a speaker at Monday night’s North Saanich council meeting. That, however, had no impact on the outcome of a vote.

The vote Monday night was to reiterate council’s earlier position on the issue.

“There wasn’t much debate,” Finall said, noting they have talked about it before.

‘It’s not a question whether (amalgamation) is good or bad,” she continued, “we just confirmed our earlier decision.”

Councillor Ted Daly said he has been soft-selling the amalgamation question issue but has been reluctant to really push it since a failed by-election challenge years ago was lost to him over the same issue.

“In spite of my efforts,” he said, “we wouldn’t touch (amalgamation) with a ten-foot pole.”

Daly has stated he would not take up the matter without the public doing so in the first place — especially after his past electoral defeat. He is, however, open to the idea of asking electors whether they want to know more about amalgamation.

“I’m not saying we need to amalgamate, but we can at least ask people if they’re interested.”

The response from the majority of council was, however, no.

“It was a non-starter.”

Daly added he understands why some people might not wish to entertain amalgamation — especially when it comes to North Saanich’s low tax rate. An upside to seeking people’s opinions, he said, is just that — getting a solid direction from the  electorate on the issue.

Both Daly and Finall said they weren’t sure how North Saanich’s decision not to ask a referendum question will impact Central Saanich and Sidney.

While Sidney council did agree to pose their question, it was clear the outgoing mayor and some of the councillors are opposed to amalgamation. They stated, however, they are not opposed to asking residents what they think.

“I am a no voter (on amalgamation),” said Mayor Larry Cross. “It’s not in the best interests of Sidney.”

Cross, who is not seeking re-election this fall, said his concern lies mainly in how amalgamation will impact people’s finances. He said he would anticipate added costs in taxation, policing costs and more — without any added benefits to Sidney.

Coun. Steve Price, who is running for mayor this fall, said council isn’t willing to expose Sidney without reason, which is what a more general amalgamation question might do. While he is in favour of asking in the first place, he said he’s wary of the outcome if taxpayers are forced into paying more in the end.

“You hear that sucking sound?” added Coun. Tim Chad. “It’s all going down the highway.”

Chad said he likes the idea of the question, but is not in favour of amalgamation at all.

Coun. Marilyn Loveless said she would rather have a multi-level question on the ballot, but noted the Local Government Act doesn’t allow for that. She said Amalgamation Yes’ suggested ballot question — Are you in favour of reducing the number of municipalities in the Capital Regional District through amalgamation? — might not reflect the true opinions of local electors.

“The biggest question I get (on this issue) is people asking if Sidney and North Saanich

should join.”

Coun. Mervyn Lougher-Goodey added no one is beating down his door for amalgamation but does say North Saanich has used Sidney as its commercial core for years.

“So, they are welcome to join,” he quipped.

Sidney and Central Saanich’s ballot questions are non-binding on their respective new councils after the election. They are also contingent upon provincial funding.

The municipal election takes place Sat., Nov. 14.

Amalgamation Yes

Amalgamation Yes has been working to get a question on the issue on this year’s municipal election ballots in the 13 Greater Victoria area municipalities.

Of those communities, five councils have voted to pose a question, yet not all questions are the same and the word of some, according to Amalgamation Yes, have not yet been determined as of this week.

Where an amalgamation question will be asked in November:

Town of Sidney

District of Central Saanich

Esquimalt

Langford

City of Victoria

Find out more at www.amalgamationyes.ca.