ELECTION 2014: North Saanich will put almalgamation question on the ballot after all

North Saanich council reverses earlier refusal to ask voters about a non-binding study into the amalgamation question in Greater Victoria

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall says she admires the lobbying efforts of Amalgamation Yes to push the issue of getting a question on the Nov. 15 municipal election ballot in her community.

North Saanich council voted Monday night to ask its electors in a ballot referendum question if they favour asking the province to pay for a study of the impacts of amalgamating with the Town of Sidney and District of Central Saanich. Councillor Conny McBride raised the issue last month, stating she wants to know how residents in North Saanich feel. The District was the only Saanich Peninsula holdout on a ballot question, having reiterated their desire not to add it to their ballot as recently as last month.

Finall, who has been outspoken in her opposition to putting a non-binding question on seeking a study on the good and bad of amalgamating with neighbouring communities, added her vote to a unanimous council decision Monday night to do just that.

“This is not against my principles to ask this question,” she said, adding she doesn’t see the positive outcome that Amalgamation Yes is hoping for.

“We just haven’t had a tsunami of letters form residents on this,” Finall continued. “You can count them on one hand.”

Councillor Ted Daly said North Saanich has come a long way, referring to his stance years ago that the issue should be addressed in some form. Daly has stated his position on amalgamation at the time might have cost him an election.

“While I credit Amalgamation Yes for pounding away at this, if the result is a resounding ‘no’, we can tell them to go away and never come back here,” Daly said.

The ballot question, Finall pointed out, will be non-binding. That means the new council may or may not follow through on the result of the vote. The outcome of the vote – a study on amalgamation – would also be dependent upon the Province of B.C. funding it.

During the meeting representatives and supporters of Amalgamation Yes, the Victoria organization that would like to see the 13 municipalities in the region reduced through this process, stated their case. They emphasized giving voters the chance to tell council how they feel about the issue.

“Give electors the option with a non-binding vote,” said Colin Nielsen with Amalgamation Yes, “so the issue can be resolved once and for all.”

North Saanich resident Jim Rae said he wants the option to answer a ballot question in the fall. He suggested a recent Angus Reid poll showing the majority of those asked favour such a question, should be enough to convince council to do so.

Despite voting to add the question in November, most councillors expressed their opposition to actual amalgamation – or the A-word, according to Coun. Celia Stock. They stated, however, they were no longer opposed to asking this preliminary question. Other questions around the impact of amalgamation on tax rates, debt load veto powers and representation, Stock said, might be pat of a study – if it goes that far after Nov. 15.

“Right now I am opposed to amalgamation,” said Coun. Dunstan Browne. “I don’t think it will be in our favour to propose it.”

Coun. Craig Mearns added he believes people should be asked at least this much, saying he thinks actual amalgamation will be a hard sell.

“If you like the CRD, you’ll love amalgamation,” he said.

Coun. Elsie McMurphy said council cannot say yes or no to proceeding with a study on amalgamation without knowing how the electorate feels, or the implications of such a move. She said she thinks this ballot question is a precursor to asking in a future election if people  are in favour of amalgamation.

“This is a pre-nup,” she stated.

*Updated Oct. 8/14 to correct a name spelling