North Saanich municipal council has reversed direction and will add an amalgamation question on the ballot for this November’s local election.
Asking voters to get a clearer picture on the issue is the right thing to do, even though most councillors and the mayor were clearly loathe to do so and predicted resounding ‘no’ votes and presented a general unwilling attitude about considering amalgamation proper. They may be right. It will take a ballot question to really determine that.
Fans of reducing Greater Victoria’s 13 municipalities down to only a few — or even just one — will be celebrating what is essentially a minor victory. In the end, these votes will not be binding. A new council after Nov. 15 could simply throw the results out the door. The province, too, could refuse to pay for the studies on amalgamation that these questions call for.
B.C.’s Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes this week pledged resources and support to communities exploring amalgamation and governance structure change. It’s unclear if this means money for studies. If that’s what is on offer, it could eliminate one roadblock to actually going ahead with studies of the feasibility of amalgamation.
Nothing in the vote this fall in North Saanich, Sidney, Central Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria, Langford and Esquimalt would mean that after Nov. 15 they would actually amalgamate. It will only put into motion studies to see of it’s worth it to do so. Years of debate and additional voting will have to take place first.
Amalgamation as a fact will be another issue altogether. This time, the electors of the Saanich Peninsula and elsewhere in the region will be weighing in on whether it’s a good idea. Like Coun. Ted Daly says, it’ll be good to know how people feel so local politicians can respond appropriately. In Greater Victoria, amalgamation has been a burning issue for so long that it was bound to reach the voting public at some point.
Is this the right time, then, to go beyond just talking about amalgamation and studying it?
No. This fall, the vote will be about getting better information to make better decisions.