Will it be amalgamation or integration?

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor says municipalities are still waiting on the province for answers.

Central Saanich council and residents are in the process of discussing what amalgamation will look like.

In a town hall meeting with residents of Central Saanich on Nov. 30, council talked of their meeting in the summer with former Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Coralee Oakes. They attended that meeting along with North Saanich and Sidney councillors.

Mayor of Central Saanich, Ryan Windsor, has since met with the new Minister, Peter Fassbender, who made a number of introductory statements on the topic, seeking out more integration of services being a major one.

Windsor said the mayors are looking at amalgamation from a point of view where there is already co-operation. He noted different mayors have different feelings on the subject, as do the 13 different councils in Greater Victoria.

During the November 2014 municipal election, Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney posed a similar referendum question to their respective electorates. In essence, voters were asked if they favoured a provincially-funded and led study into what amalgamation might look like on the Saanich Peninsula. All passed with a solid majority

Yet, the question now has become would such a study be on amalgamation or would it be an integration study?

Windsor said there are more questions left unanswered at this point about the future of a study and what it might look like.

“I think really that’s what we’re trying to understand from the perspective of the Minister is if they’re going to fund something,” he said. “What are they prepared to fund? What are they prepared to facilitate? We don’t know that yet so I’m not going to speculate as to what their intentions are.

“They’ve been very clear that they will not force amalgamation on any district,” Windsor said during a town hall meeting on Nov. 30 of this year.

Before touching on amalgamation in a meeting with the 13 mayors a week ago, Windsor said it was too early to speculate what would come out of it.

“I think we have to be mindful that the question that we asked was simply do we want to look at the study. Ours was very specific to Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney only. I think we’ve communicated in the past that really from our perspective, we’re not looking south really in any way.”

Councillor Zeb King added Central Saanich had a referendum question posed to residents, on whether they are supportive of the municipality petitioning the province to fund the study. In other terms, he continued, “do you want us to ask the province for the money to do a study?”

King added council has sent a letter to the province asking for the funds for a study.

“There are examples in the past but we also have to be mindful of when we say the province, well what are you prepared to do? Part of the reason we’re asking that question is because of the realities of the three districts on the Peninsula,” said Windsor, adding Central Saanich uses a municipal police force while North Saanich and Sidney use the RCMP.

“They’re not necessarily compatible police services from the outset, so we need to understand what the province is willing to look at from our perspective …”

Coun. Niall Paltiel said he had posed a question to the community back when the discussion with Oakes had occurred. He said he asked people that if the District did proceed in studying shared services or more shared integrated services or possibly amalgamation on the Peninsula, do they think they could do so without isolating the CRD.

“I think its important … how many people in this room feel well connected to what’s going on at the CRD? I don’t think that we can have a conversation on integration of Peninsula municipal services without thinking about what the CRD is providing and having a whole list of conversation on integration,” he said during the town hall meeting.

Paltiel added he is in favour of looking into it as he said he is an advocate for a core review of what services the CRD provides to residents, taxpayers and stakeholders but he asked about how to go forward on that conversation.

“We need to know first what the province is willing to do and I need to be able to communicate that back to council and to the public so that everyone is aware of what we are proceeding with,” Windsor responded.

A resident at the meeting said one of the things she likes most about the community are discussions like the Nov. 30 one and fears that with amalgamation, the community will lose that. She added she knows all the councillors by name, interacts with them and she feels she wouldn’t have the same rapport if there were three amalgamated.

How well does she know the CRD? She said she doesn’t know them at all.