North Saanich joins regional economic development initiative

North Saanich council had been unsure of the value of joining.

North Saanich became the 12th Greater Victoria municipality to add its name to a new regional economic development initiative.

On Monday, Jan. 11, council voted to join the South Vancouver Island Economic Development Association (SVIEDA). North Saanich and Highlands were the last two holdouts, as 11 of the 13 municipalities had already signed on before the new year.

North Saanich council was unsure of the value of joining and had municipal staff look into three aspects: the need, the value and the business case for such an entity in the region.

Mayor Alice Finall said Monday during debate among councillors that recent media reports had Victoria leading the province in creating jobs. She wondered why, then, was a new economic development office needed.

Finall noted she’s concerned that economic growth in this region typically means population growth — and its subsequent pressure on the District’s agricultural land.

Other councillors expressed concern that North Saanich was one of only two holdouts to the initiative.

“The other 11 municipalities can’t all be wrong,” said Coun. Murray Weisenberger.

Coun. Heather Gartshore added she supported joining the initiative to show North Saanich is a good regional partner.

‘Yes, it is a gamble,” she said, “but I want us to have a voice at the table, to help form it.”

Coun. Geoff Orr noted that joining the  SVIEDA was a ‘tricky’ decision for him.

“I don’t think North Saanich wants more businesses or more people,” he said. “I look at this as a risk.”

Orr added there is a minimum three-year commitment in the council’s decision to join, which could allow the District to back out after that time if they deem the experiment a failure.

“The worst case,” he said, “we are only out an estimated $28,000 over the next two or three years.”

Joining the SVIEDA means the District will pay $3,770 in start up funding this year. There’s an additional fee of $7,701 for year one funding in 2016-2017 and an annual fee of $17,351 in years two to five (up to 2021). The fees are proportional to each municipality’s population.

Coun. Jack McClintock added he felt the region needed a combined voice on economic development, saying if North Saanich didn’t join in, the District would be missing out on an opportunity.

Sidney and Central Saanich were among the first to sign on in late 2015.