Saanich has initiated a series of steps to learn more about amalgamation and the creation of a regional police force.
Council, meeting as committee-of-the-whole, passed a motion that calls on the province to establish and fund a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation with interested municipalities in the Capital Regional District.
“If council supports this motion, it is saying, Saanich is interested in getting into the discussion [around amalgamation], Saanich is interested in getting information to make future decisions about it,” said Coun. Susan Brice.
A citizens’ assembly is a deliberative forum, which the provincial government defines as an “independent assembly of randomly selected individuals with a mandate to examine an issue over an extended period of time and make a recommendation to the Legislative Assembly.”
Perhaps the most famous citizens’ assembly of recent memory was the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, which recommended the Single-Transferable Vote (STV). This recommendation, however, failed to earn sufficient support, not once, but twice.
Smaller jurisdictions have also used this “well-based mechanism for tapping into community interest and community expertise” as Brice called it, including Duncan and North Cowichan, whose residents will be voting on amalgamation in the spring of 2018 after convening a citizens’ assembly.
Coun. Karen Harper pointed to this precedent in offering her support for an assembly, which the province should fund given the interest. “This is an excellent first step, and I do…by voting in favour of this we are indicating that Saanich is indeed an interested party.”
Saanich also signaled support for the creation of a regional police force by asking Mayor Richard Atwell to invite regional mayors for a meeting. While all municipalities in the region will receive the invitation, only Victoria, Oak Bay and Central Saanich maintain their own municipal forces alongside Saanich.
The other municipalities and electoral areas in the Capital Regional District contract police forces through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Coun. Colin Plant said he remains concerned about the possibility of a regional police, because it could concentrate policing resources in Downtown Victoria. “But I think we need, and we owe it t0 our residents and the residents of the region to at least have the discussion.”
Atwell said Saanich needs to conversation around a regional police force, but questions remain. Who would hold a regional police force accountable, he asked. “Would it report to the CRD? Would it report to us? What would we be losing? What would we retaining control of?”
But if Atwell generally supported the idea, Coun. Leif Wergeland said Saanich should not discuss the possibility of a regional police force without having done its own homework first, he said.
Council’s committee-of-the-whole made these decision after reviewing the findings of a committee that had reviewed the findings of a report from the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee (GRCAC).
Saanich launched GRCAC after almost out of nine out of 10 Saanich voters supported a “community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and its partnerships within the Region” during the municipal election of November 2014 against the background of amalgamation, the proposed merger of communities in the Greater Victoria to cut governance costs and improve effectiveness.
As such Monday’s meeting marked a milestone, but council met before a largely empty gallery, a turnout perhaps not befitting the occasion. But the meeting nonetheless had an aura of anticipation, as the recommendation from the review committee had become public Thursday. They sparked considerable discussion among GRCAC members and others, who had participated in the process that cost Saanich some $100,000.
In fact, some did not hesitate to criticize council, including Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association, who said the committee showed a lack of leadership.
James Anderson was even more critical. “As I read the memo to [council] of Dec. 12, it is clear that [the] majority of shortcomings identified and remedies suggested in the report have been ignored, despite the clarifications, you have offered,” he said.
Several hours later Anderson had changed his mind. “Hold the presses. Nice to see that the council has taken control and was willing to step up and respect the work of the task force.”