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It’s ‘Talk Time’ with the BC Government – Amalgamation / Governance

by Roger Stonebanks, citizen journalist

The BC government has called all Greater Victoria mayors and councils to separate half-hour meetings on the continuing issue of amalgamation/governance that was the subject of differently-worded referenda last Nov. 15 in eight of the 13 local municipalities.

The invitations were sent by Coralee Oakes, minister of community, sport and cultural development. Saanich Voice Online (SVO) has learned that Esquimalt will meet with the minister on July 14, View Royal’s meeting is the following day and Saanich’s meeting is on the 16th of July. North Saanich will meet the minister on Tuesday (July 14).

The meetings follow a “mandate” letter on June 12 from Premier Clark to Oakes which said, for the coming year - “Develop and present options to Cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June 30, 2016.” Clark defined “annual mandate” in her letter as “designed to be an ongoing workplan for your ministry that is updated on an annual basis.”

Here is the most recent statement from the community ministry on the subject, courtesy of the Peninsula News Review (July 2):

“This is an important and complex process involving 13 municipalities and it will take time and careful consideration to determine the appropriate steps and process.

“Hearing from and consulting with local voices must be a cornerstone of Government’s approach and the Province will not impose a particular approach or solution on the Capital region.

“To date, the Minister has heard from some mayors and councils – but it is important to hear from others to gauge interest and better understand how to collaborate on this goal. The province is also interested in the outcomes of community conversations happening in the region and hearing the results of discussions among local governments.

“Decisions about potential next steps will come once there is a better understanding of how local leaders believe they can collaborate in this conversation on governance and service.”

The minister’s invitation to Saanich is to ” . . . meet on the issue of governance and services in the Capital area. I feel it is important to hear from all local governments so I can understand how to support a conversation in governance and service integration in the Capital area.” Oakes also says that ” . . . given the complexity of this issue and the diversity of perspectives, I would like to hear directly from you and Council members about your interests and thoughts on service and governance integration in the Capital area.” The word “amalgamation” is not mentioned.

The Esquimalt and Saanich meetings will involve mayors and council. And for Saanich, the meeting will also include interim Chief Administrative Officer Andy Laidlaw. The View Royal meeting will be attended by Mayor David Screech and Chief Administrative Officer Kim Anema, and attending from North Saanich will be Mayor Alice Finall, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan and two councillors.

Mayor Screech commented on Saturday (July 11): “I will go back to what I have asked all along: ‘What is it exactly that we are trying to ‘fix’? I think that question has to be answered before we can decide on any course of action. There are so many areas where we do need to cooperate, regional crime units and a regional transportation authority for example, but simple amalgamation is not the answer. On the Westshore we all share our recreation services, our policing, our library, etc, etc. Our fire departments are composite forces that work seamlessly together. In View Royal we have a comparatively small staff and contract a lot of our work out to local business, hence providing good employment opportunities across the region. We do many things so well in the CRD already and it is really important to remember that.”

UPDATES:

July 15, 2015 – Esquimalt and View Royal provide comments

Mayors and Councillors from Central Saanich, North Saanich, Sidney and Esquimalt met separately with Community Minister Coralee Oakes on Tuesday (July 14).

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins posted these comments on Facebook on July 15: “Great conversation with Minister Oakes yesterday regarding governance study. Your council were out in full (regrets M. Brame) to speak to Esquimalt referendum questions and to our proposed townhall meeting to come. All agreed it is important to understand what it is that is being asked for. Thanks Minister Oakes and Council for your great interest and discussion.”

Esquimalt Coun. Beth Burton-Krahn told Saanich Voice Online: “I was very impressed with the minister’s understanding of this issue and her tremendous respect for the complexity of the file. She was very generous with her time – a very positive and fruitful discussion between all of us. I can say, on the record, that the minister is committed to an open and ongoing dialogue with municipalities as she continues to make sense of all the various referenda results.”

Also attending the Esquimalt meeting were Couns. Olga Liberchuk, Tim Morrison, Susan Low and Lynda Hundleby. Coun. Meagan Brame was unable to attend because of work commitment.

View Royal Mayor David Screech had these comments after his meeting today (July 15) with Minister Oakes, “I had an extremely worthwhile meeting with Minister Oakes this morning to discuss regional governance issues. I was impressed with how she and her staff are tackling this issue. They see it as a real opportunity to explore how we can make our region even better. They clearly realize this is a very complex issue and that there are no easy solutions. The minister is interested in discussing governance issues in general as opposed to doing an amalgamation study. She will be working with all the councils across the region in the coming months as we identify a process to involve the public in a regional discussion. I look forward to working with the province, the public and our regional partners as we identify ways and means of collectively moving our region forward.”

July 16. 2015 – comments from Saanich

Mayor Richard Atwell of Saanich, every councillor, and interim Chief Administrative Officer, Andy Laidlaw,  met Minister Oakes today (July 16). Coun. Fred Haynes said afterwards that council met Oakes, “to discuss the province’s ideas for a regional study on governance and services. This was part of a dialogue involving all 13 municipalities that the minister intends will evolve towards a collective ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ in late September.

“An important observation I had was that the word ‘amalgamation’ did not appear in any process the minister described, or in the outcomes. Instead the emphasis was on the need for very good data, a very good and transparent process of public education such that the data can be understood, and that this leads to the opportunity for the people of the region to eventually have their say through a referendum.”

Coun. Colin Plant commented that, “the meeting was called in order for Saanich council to share its thoughts with the minister about a proposed governance study for the CRD. Each member of Council had a brief opportunity to share their perspectives. Minister Oakes is very aware that this is an incredibly complex issue and one what requires a clear, inclusive and transparent path forward in order for the process to maintain integrity.

“Overall, I was very pleased with the meeting. Here are several comments Ms. Oakes made at the meeting that I noted: – This is about modernizing local governance – What are we trying to solve? - That there is no pre-determined outcome – That whatever the results, residents will have a chance to vote on any proposals – The next step will be calling a meeting in September or October to try and determine the next steps of beginning a study – Improved governance, and not amalgamation, is the goal.

“I believe that as a result of this meeting, Saanich will likely no longer be sending the minister a letter indicating our interest in participating in a regional study. The minister’s comments seemed to assuage my colleagues concerns about the intent of the study.

“The only downside to today is that the public was not able to hear the comments of each individual member of Saanich council to the Minister.” He invited the public to contact him.

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Asked by SVO if he meant Saanich not be included in the study or that there is no longer any need to send the letter to the minister because it has been supplanted by the current/ongoing ‘conversation’ with the minister, Plant replied, “Definitely the latter. People’s concerns were allayed by the Minister’s comments.”

July 17 – Comment from Saanich

Saanich Coun. Susan Brice told SVO today that council’s meeting with Minister Oakes on July 16 “was of an introductory nature with the minister laying out to council her desire for the ministry to assist municipalities examine best practices to see if there is a better way to deliver services. She emphasized that this was not an amalgamation study and that she was going to involve representatives of the municipalities in establishing a terms of reference. She expressed her goal in establishing a Memorandum of Understanding and comment was made from our council that we would need to approve any terms of reference. “It was a very pleasant meeting and the minister gave all council members an opportunity to speak. A first good step I’d say. It was encouraging to hear Minister Oakes say on several occasions that she wants to hear what is working well.”

UPDATE  July 27 – Comments from North Saanich

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall gave this statement to SVO after peninsula municipal representatives met Minister Oakes:

“Along with Mayors Price and Windsor, our respective CAOs, Councillors King and Cormier from Central Saanich and Councillor Gartshore from North Saanich, I met with Minister Oakes on Tuesday July 14 in the late afternoon.

At the commencement of the meeting I stated our purpose, which was to reinforce our request for provincial funding so that our municipality could respond to the mandate from our residents.  That is to conduct a study on the costs, feasibility and implications of amalgamation of the three peninsula municipalities.  Mayor Price reinforced the mandate from Sidney, as did Councillor King regarding Central Saanich.

“The Minister did not pursue a discussion on this point even when raised again near the end of the meeting.  She spoke of modernization of municipal government and ultimately suggested quarterly meetings and further discussions.  Further points were raised by municipal attendees about the extensive level of joint endeavours among the three peninsula municipalities.  The Minister did not pursue these points.

“From the perspective of obtaining provincial funding for the study mandated by our residents, we did not achieve any certainty.”

UPDATE  July 27 – Comments from Central Saanich

Mayor Ryan Windsor sent this statement to SVO:

As has been reported already, the three Peninsula Mayors and their respective CAO’s were joined by Councillors Heather Gartshore from North Saanich as well as Councillors Cormier, Jensen, King and Paltiel from Central Saanich at a meeting on July 14th with Minister Oakes regarding the issue of funding for a cost benefit analysis on the amalgamation of the Saanich Peninsula municipalities.

Ryan Windsor, Mayor, Central Saanich. Image courtesy LinkedIn

Ryan Windsor, Mayor, Central Saanich. Image courtesy LinkedIn

The meeting was convened as a response to letters sent to the minister following the results of the ballot question last November in each of the three municipalities, which saw majorities greater than 60% of voters who cast ballots, in Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich interested in seeing an analysis done. The Minister acknowledged the request for funding in the initial invitation sent by email addressed to Mayors and Councillors of all three municipalities. Articulated clearly in the invitation was the intent of the Minister to seek the feedback of representatives from each of the three municipalities.

In response to questions by the group Minister Oakes did identify that no funding model had yet been concluded, though it was clearly communicated that this was a result of the differing nature of the questions posed by eight of the 13 municipalities in the Capital Region and the lack of any ballot question in the remaining five.

It should be noted that the Minister did state that direct community conversations with residents are an important next step and that they would observe such a process. Finally, it was concluded that quarterly meetings be conducted between representatives of the three peninsula municipalities and the Minister. ” 

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SVO will continue to post mayor and council responses as they become available.

For previous SVO news stories about amalgamation/governance - go HERE

You’ll find an ongoing conversation (discussion and information) on amalgamation and civic governance on Facebook at Local Governance Talks 2.0.

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Oakes Speaks of her Blue-Sky Vision of Amalgamating the Capital Region

by Michele Murphy
Photos: feature image: “Victoria, British Columbia Skyline at Twilight” by Brandon Godfrey, others - Facebook

BC Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes met this week with some of the councils from around the Capital Region, after having invited all to separate 30-minute meetings. Many of the Capital Region’s mayors and councillors emerged hopeful of seeing a robust and unbiased investigation into local governance.

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Minister Coralee Oaks meets with Saanich mayor and council

Saanich mayor and council’s meeting was held on Thursday, July 15. After the meeting, Councillor Fred Haynes commented, “An important observation I had was that the word ‘amalgamation’ did not appear in any process the minister described, or in the outcomes. Instead the emphasis was on the need for very good data, a very good and transparent process of public education such that the data can be understood, and that this leads to the opportunity for the people of the region to eventually have their say through a referendum.”

Saanich Councillor Colin Plant repeated comments made by the minister including her saying that “there is no pre-determined outcome,” and that “improved governance, and not amalgamation, is the goal.” Plant felt that, “People’s concerns were allayed by the Minister’s comments.”

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View Royal Mayor David Screech and B.C. Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Coralee Oakes

View Royal’s outspoken Mayor David Screech said, “The minister is interested in discussing governance issues in general as opposed to doing an amalgamation study.”

If an open, honest investigation into local governance in the Capital Region is what you’re looking for, this all sounds hopeful. But a recording of a private March 10, 2015 breakfast meeting where Minister Oakes spoke to a gathering organized by the BC Liberal Victoria-Swan Lake Riding Association tells a different story.

A link to a recording of the meeting is found on the Amalgamation Yes website.  The recording has Oakes addressing the amalgamation-friendly crowd candidly and openly, making references to her long-time dream of amalgamating Victoria.

Oakes opened the presentation recalling a “blue-sky” Liberal caucus event where the premier [Clark] asks her caucus to put on the table something that they really, really want to do. Oakes picks the amalgamation of Victoria as her “blue-sky” vision, saying that she thinks that it’s time. She says that she spent 14 years working with the BC Chamber of Commerce. She explained that the Chamber has a key policy around the amalgamation of Victoria communities.

Oakes, a self-proclaimed process-person, lays out the path ahead. Directly after what she refers to as a successful referendum result, she says,  “The first step is that local governments have to ask us to do a governance study.” And for the municipalities that won’t come forward Oakes says that the Province can, “do supportive work, reminding the local governments what the citizens have asked for.” Oakes cautions that, “amalgamation is going to be a long process, and we might need to look at phased-in approach.”

A member of the audience suggests that it would be wise to call the mayors together for a conversation. In response Oakes says that she “runs into this little challenge around respecting local government’s autonomy. That’s the one challenge that I always have, because if we didn’t have that one little piece, man what I could do.”

Oakes suggests that no one wants to be left out of conversations. If they can get two or three local mayors, the other communities will follow. “What I am saying is I have a letter from the city of Victoria saying they want to have a meeting with the minister. We are going to send that letter out, which is going to drive the conversation, “ says Oakes, adding, “I guarantee you, if I say that I’m going to sit down with Victoria to talk about this, other people are going to want to come and be part of that conversation.”

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Minister Oakes and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps

Oakes went on to say that she wants to look at what type of grassroots processes they use, citing pros and cons on the size of the grassroots movement. Is it a citizen-lead conversation, and if it is, the conversation would then need to invite the Province into the conversation.

The minister assures the audience that resources are available. The money has been put aside for the governance study.

So why the disconnect? Why is Oakes now speaking of improved governance, and not amalgamation? Could it be that Oakes has changed her blue-sky vision? Or is it something else?

The probable answer to the language softening is found just 18 minutes into her presentation to the breakfast group when Oakes says, “As we come forward I think you’re going to see us use different language. You’re going to see us use language like restructuring. You’re going to see shared services. I didn’t want to come into the room and have that language and then you think that I’m trying to steer us away from what was on the ballot.”

Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps, met with the minister on July 14th, but has been rather reluctant to use any language at all around the meeting. Helps met with Oakes in private, without her council, and except for a re-tweet of Oakes’ Twitter comment, “Great meeting with @lisahelps. Lots of optimism and ideas!,” Mayor Helps has yet to respond to SVO’s request for comment.

While Oakes may have changed the language, it seems that Premier Clark didn’t get the memo. In the Premier’s June 12 annual mandate letter to Oakes she stated that the minister was to, “Develop and present options to Cabinet on potential processes under which local governments could either amalgamate or integrate service delivery by June 30, 2016.”

Mayors and Councillors from Central Saanich, North Saanich, and Sidney met separately with Community Minister Coralee Oakes on Tuesday, July 14, but have yet to provide comment for SVO.

One thing Oakes has said that all can agree on, democracy is difficult.

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For more info:

Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport & Cultural Development on Amalgamation at March 10, 2015 or on DropBox

Coralee Oakes Annual Mandate Letter, June 12, 2015

More stories on amalgamation and governance on SVO – HERE.

 

 

If there’s a Will …

Will Malloff – an open source inventor

by Ed Johnson, citizen journalist

“I used an old Windsor grinder on a chainsaw chain. The side of the tooth is the critical part on a cross-cutting chain, and should be ground no more than a five degree hook, I was told.

“So, of course I put in ten, and, whoa, didn’t have to push the saw through the wood very much at all. Then I put in fifteen, well this really pulled the wood, but still pretty rough, so I put in twenty and broke the chain.

“So I thought, what the hell, I will go for the maximum this grinder will do, 40 degrees.  Then my god, this IMG_3285puppy was feeding herself. This was an effective tool. So then I wrote the book.”

So says Will Malloff, the inventor of the Alaska Chain Sawmill in the 1960s, and author of Chainsaw
Lumbermaking. First printed in 1982 and reprinted in 2014, selling over 250,000 copies, it has been
acclaimed by many as the best book on chainsaws and milling, according to comments on Amazon.

His earlier experience with patenting and assigning rights to a manufacturer for the Alaska Sawmill was not a happy experience. “Too soon I learned that a patent is not really protection but a licence for litigation.”

But Will did not stop there.  He developed a series of ultra light micro sawmills that are capable of harvesting  trees of any diameter at the stump with minimal ecological impact. His general approach is to make things affordable and available to indigenous peoples with no income.

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But not all people were appreciative of his efforts.

“After I successfully completed inventing, building and test-proving the micro sawmill, I made them public for all to share only to learn that it was illegal to mill lumber in almost every country. I was advised that the chain sawmills were illegal in five Central and South American countries.”

IMG_3286He found that even though surplus logs were often left to rot in the field, large companies and complicit governments called it poaching if they were removed.  Even Macmillan-Bloedel in Canada refused to use his technology fearing wide-spread use of his portable mills by people taking unusable logs from the timber licences and actually making use of it.

In Western Somoa, Will was struck by the extreme poverty of the local inhabitants and vowed to do something about it.

Enter his latest invention, the human-powered sawmill.  “That’s right, no motor, easily obtainable spare parts, and it will cut up to a 12-inch slab, producing precision lumber.”  Using a wear-resistant complex carbide stellite alloy for the two blades that cut both sides of the slab at once, the reciprocal cutting action is handled by two persons similar to a railroad handcar for maximum efficiency.
“It is actually quite complex.  The logs are lifted into place by a chain action and then dogged between two channels.” So far Will’s invention only exists on paper, but with his track record he hopes to see proper drawings lead to funding for a prototype in short order.

He has created many unique examples of fine furniture which can be seen on his website. “I was able to efficiently mill wide thick slabs for my dream that was to be able to build fine single slab art furniture.IMG_3284

Since then I have overcome most of the problems such as warping and checking in using wide slabs. These are some of the reasons for using veneer, small boards and laminates in most furniture seen today.”

His long time friend, Central Saanich Councillor Zeb King, says, “I’ve known Will for most of my life… As a kid he was always impressive as the genius inventor who lived just a few houses away in Alert Bay. When I was a kid Will brought my brother and me our first dog, Pebbles, and he got us making wood gifts for mom on mother’s day. Good friends such as Will are like family and his unpretentious and practical approach to helping societies has always inspired me. Oh and if you ever get a chance to hear him play some good old bluegrass music then you’re in for a treat!”

IMG_3283“Will Malloff is one of Canada’s unique great men,” adds Mike Hicks, Regional Director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area. “A tremendous inventor, wood butcher, philosopher and mentor. He taught me to always over build and never say it can’t be done.”

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Find out more at: www.earthmissionone.org

Saanich Calling the Shots

by Roger Stonebanks, citizen journalist

Saanich’s own voter-approved governance review is, slowly, getting ready to roll.

It was last Nov. 15 that voters approved 21,437 to 2,780 (from an eligible 80,986 voters) this question in a non-binding referendum – “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?”

After some deliberation, and many distractions, council tasked Saanich’s new interim Chief Administrative Officer Andy Laidlaw to move forward with the voter-requested community based internal review.

On June 15th Council received a draft Communications and Engagement  Roadmap-Governance Review Initiative from CitySpaces Consulting and a recommendation from Laidlaw that council provide staff with feedback and direction. After much discussion (see the Minutes of the June 15 Council/Committee of the Whole meetings posted on the District of Saanich website), council voted:

“That the Proposed Communications and Engagement Roadmap be referred back to CitySpaces Consulting Ltd. with the purpose of determining how the process could be constructed as a citizen-led initiative and that CitySpaces Consulting Ltd. engage with residents to get feedback on how a citizen-led committee could be structured.”

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The vote passed 7-to-2 with Mayor Richard Atwell and Coun. Colin Plant wanting a Standing Committee of council.

Atwell said a Governance and Cooperation Standing Committee will be struck to make recommendations to council and once this committee has been struck, items will have to be coordinated between the Standing Committee and the citizen-led committee. He asked members of council
to email him if they are interested in serving on the Standing Committee.

Council then agreed without dissent “That Council set aside time at a future open meeting to discuss the nature of Standing Committees.” Coun. Fred Haynes said council needs to understand more clearly how Standing Committees may be formed. (The District of Saanich website describes Standing Committees this way – “Standing Committees are those established by the Mayor for matters considered to be better regulated and managed by means of such committees. The Mayor appoints all members of a standing committee. At least one-half the members must be Council members. The Finance Audit and Personnel Committee is the only existing standing committee.”

Meanwhile, council heard from seven residents with divided opinions on a potential Capital Region governance study by the BC government. Council had agreed on May 25 to this motion:

“1. Saanich write a letter to [Community, Sport and Cultural Development] Minister Coralee Oakes indicating our willingness, in principle, to participate in a study of governance in the region, dependent upon the Terms of Reference and nature of the study proposed. The letter will be developed by Mayor and Council with the assistance of staff; and

“2. Prior to drafting a letter to Minister Coralee Oakes, residents will be invited to a public meeting, to be scheduled at the earliest opportunity, to provide feedback for Mayor and Council as to what should be included in the letter.”

Coun. Haynes clarified that the nature of the letter is about governance, not amalgamation. Coun. Vic Derman noted that there are a number of issues to be dealt with before participation in the study takes place and the letter is not a commitment to participate. Council then agreed “That the letter to the Province, to be developed by Mayor and Council, be endorsed by Council at a future Council meeting, prior to it being send to Minister Oakes.” Council also agreed, “That Mayor Atwell, in consultation with Council, draft the letter to Minister Oakes.”

Oakes told Saanich Voice Online last April that her ministry, “is in the process of considering how best to proceed regarding the results of the referenda in the Capital Region.”

“The Ministry sees an opportunity to support a conversation on governance and service integration and has heard from some Mayors and Councils but needs to hear from others to gauge interest and better understand how to collaborate on this goal,” said Oakes, adding, “Decisions about potential next steps will come out of the Province’s considerations and future discussions between local governments and the provincial government.”

Prior to last November’s municipal elections, Oakes said in a statement, “For those communities who are interested in continuing to examine governance structures, following the election results I will make ministry staff available to provide necessary resources and support.”

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For articles on Saanich, amalgamation and or governance – use the Search feature on the SVO Home Page.

 

Who’s Behind the Push for Amalgamation?

by Marsha Henderson, citizen reporter

Amalgamation has been an on-again, off-again subject in the Capital Regional District (CRD) for more than 100 years. Over the last few years there has been a significant amount of organization added to the pro-amalgamation side of the quiet debate, culminating in a variety of referendum questions on governance being added to the 2014 municipal election ballots. The addition of the questions was the result of concerted, organized and funded efforts of a small group called Capital Region Amalgamation Society, or Amalgamation Yes, as it’s commonly known.

The results of the referendum varied, as did the questions asked, with both pro- and against amalgamation people claiming victory. The only thing that seems to be certain is that nothing is clear.

Past proponents of amalgamations have been land developers and the business community. Urban Development Institute suggested a three-municipality arrangement in the 90’s and the Victoria Chamber of Commerce holds a policy position recommending forced amalgamation in the region. The current push is from a more diverse group that are well organized and funded.

The two main groups are Amalgamation Yes (AY) and Pro-Amalgamation (Pro-Am). Smaller groups of proponents have united to form the two organizations, each with the same goal but differing functions, operating complementary to their shared objectives.

Amalgamation Yes is now the main organization working to move amalgamation forward in the CRD. It is registered as a provincial non-profit; and also as a registered political entity, a Third Party Sponsor under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA).

Amalgamation Yes was founded in 2011 by Times Colonist sales rep Susan Jones and then Victoria City Councillor and restaurateur Shellie Gudgeon. Gudgeon funded an amalgamation information event in Victoria that attracted enough interested people to produce a working group. Gudgeon and Jones continued to organize and connect discussion groups. A strategy emerged and Jones eventually took on the lead in fundraising and communications.

Pro-Amalgamation was registered by Amalgamation Yes director James Legh as an Elector Organization (a civic political party) under LECFA.

Amalgamation Yes and Pro-Am are supported through sponsorships and donations from business and private citizens. Last year, Amalgamation Yes initially reported more than $22,000 in donations. Knappett Projects Inc., Harbour Air, Il Terrazzo, Vibrant Victoria (marketing) and the Vandekerkhove family are all listed as donors and/or sponsors.

Pro-Am collected almost $14,000 to finance three unsuccessful election campaigns of pro-amalgamation candidates running in View Royal, Colwood and Sooke 2014 municipal elections.

Amalgamation Yes held its 2015 AGM on June 20 with 21 members in attendance and one non-member. At press-time the proposed Directors for the 2015 elections were John Vickers, Shellie Gudgeon, Earle Anthony, James Legh, Lesley Ewing, Marg Gardiner, Colin Nielson, John Weaver, James Anderson, Marg Gardiner, Sandi Menzies, Aaron Hall, with Tony Heemskerk, as for president (since confirmed).  These are names that have been associated with Amalgamation Yes and Pro-Am for sometime.

These 20 or so members of Amalgamation Yes’ names are regularly seen in letters to the editor, are frequent flyers on social media, are regular guests on local radio talk shows and as such are the ones that are actively framing the conversation around amalgamation.

Other efforts to move the amalgamation debate forward are the Greater Victoria Conversation (GVC) and The Victoria Salon.

The GVC hosts a moderated Facebook Page and Twitter account with Susan Jones as one of the moderators. The group has also organized two community forums on amalgamation with attendance less than 125 people each. Their Facebook page has about 75 followers while the Twitter account has just over 500 (for Twitter perspective – Susan Jones herself has over 8,000 followers). The Victoria Salon has hosted two debates, the second one on amalgamation with a suggested reading list taken primarily from the AY website offerings, and absent of some local well-known university-based research that is not pro amalgamation.

Amalgamation Yes director James Legh runs the Amalgamate Greater Victoria blog, on which can be found a detailed strategy for the process of obtaining a referendum on the issue during a municipal election.  New Amalgamation Yes director Jaclyn Casler is the main blogger and Twitter voice behind blog Victorian Analysis, the self-proclaimed new voice on local government here in the Greater Victoria region.

Amalgamation Yes has funded and disseminated the results of one Angus Reid study, and are apparently preparing for another.

Where are the community associations in this discussion? Where are our community leaders?

It’s critical that our citizens are able to get information needed to decide if this is even worth considering, and that information must be from reliable and unbiased sources. Is a decision to proceed with a study in fact a decision to proceed with some form of amalgamation?  In Saanich at least, that fact has never been made clear and has never been voted on. Community support for an amalgamation study has never been asked for, or given.

The replacement of our municipalities and regional governance structures with one, three or five larger cities is a huge decision. Understanding the significance of the consequences is essential to making a decision as large as potentially deleting Saanich from the mapbooks.

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For more citizen journalist-offered articles on this topic, simply pop amalgamation or governance into the search bar on the top left of the home page of SVO.

Municipal Governance: Saanich has Questions for BC Government

by Roger Stonebanks, citizen journalist

Saanich council will press the BC government for answers about any “study of governance in the region” after reworking a motion from two councillors that had used the term “amalgamation study.”

 At its meeting on May 25, 2015, Coun. Colin Plant moved and Coun. Fred Haynes seconded a motion “That:

” a) Saanich write a letter to [Community, Sport and Cultural Development] Minister Coralee Oakes indicating our willingness to participate in a provincially funded amalgamation study. The letter will be developed by Mayor and Council with the assistance of staff; and

“b) Prior to drafting the letter, residents will be invited to a public meeting to provide feedback for Mayor and Council as to what should be included in the letter.”

After three amendments, two of which were successful, the following motion was approved without dissent:

“Motion as Amended:

“1. Saanich write a letter to Minister Coralee Oakes indicating our willingness, in principle, to participate in a study of governance in the region, dependent upon the Terms of Reference and nature of the study proposed. The letter will be developed by Mayor and Council with the assistance of staff; and

“2. Prior to drafting a letter to Minister Coralee Oakes, residents will be invited to a public meeting, to be scheduled at the earliest opportunity, to provide feedback for Mayor and Council as to what should be included in the letter.”

The minutes of the council meeting can be found on the Saanich website - Public input is on

pages 6 and 7 and council’s debate is on pages 9 to 12.

 In a statement to Saanich Voice Online on April 24, 2015, Oakes also did not use the word “amalgamation.” She said:

“The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development is in the process of considering how best to proceed regarding the results of the referenda in the Capital Region.

“The Ministry sees an opportunity to support a conversation on governance and service integration and has heard from some Mayors and Councils but needs to hear from others to gauge interest and better understand how to collaborate on this goal.

“Decisions about potential next steps will come out of the Province’s considerations and future discussions between local governments and the provincial government.”

Oakes elaborated at the BC legislature on May 6, 2015. She referred to “this conversation on governance and services” and stated: “That conversation can’t solely be focused on amalgamation as a solution. It needs, instead, to have a broader dialogue about governance and service integration so that all municipalities can be involved.”

She repeated previous comments including that the BC government is “considering how best to proceed.” She was quite clear on this: “The province will not impose a particular approach or a solution to the capital region.”

 Last November, Saanich voters approved a non-binding referendum, which avoided the word “amalgamation.” It asked: “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?” The referendum carried 21,437 votes to 2,780 from an eligible 80,986 voters.

Council is waiting for a staff report before commencing the Saanich governance review.

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For more on this subject please enter ‘amalgamation’ and/or ‘governance’ in the SVO search function.

Media Democracy Days Victoria June 6-13

The first annual Media Democracy Days (MDD) in Victoria will begin on Saturday June 6th. The week-long event: Media, Democracy, and You: How To Find the News that Feeds Us offers a variety of free, open to the public events intended to provoke discussion and debate about how our media choices affect our democratic interests.

The event is organized by independent media producer and media/communications educator Darren Alexander. “Given Vancouver’s launch of the MDD platform, and Adbuster’s role provoking the Occupy movement, the Canadian Pacific Northwest region is growing a serious movement that is challenging the status-quo messaging that is so prevalent in our media landscape. We’re thrilled to bring all this talent onto one stage. It promises to be a truly illuminating day,” says Alexander.

Saturday’s line-up includes David Black, communications scholar, Royal Roads, Andrew MacLeod, Tyee and author, Janine Bancroft, CFUV host and former publisher of StreetNewz, and Jack Elkin, Shaw Community TV, among others.

For the full listing of events: www.mddvictoria.org

Laloca – a Global Local Market

by Carole Pearson

Sidney merchant Chris Downing isn’t really a  “crazy woman.” While the name of her Beacon Avenue shop, Laloca, does mean exactly that in Spanish, it’s only coincidental. Downing says she wanted the name of her store to reflect the the variety of places her products come from. Thus she decided on “La” for Latin America, “lo” for local artisans, and “ca” for Caribbean countries but customers will find there’s merchandise from all over the world.

What makes Laloca different from most is only fair trade products are sold here. “I have a real commitment to fair trade,” Downing says. “The artisans deserve fair pay. We expect it for ourselves and we should expect it for others as well.” 

What is fair trade? The Fair Trade Federation says, “Fair trade supports farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized.” They receive a fair price for their work which allows them to improve their standard of living and money also goes to support vital community education and health projects. It also means every item has a story to it. 

Downing first became interested in fair trade issues through the work of the Artesania Sorata when she was in Bolivia. Artesania Sorata began as a co-operative of villagers and rural artisans and has grown into a business that provides work to over 150 indigenous families. They produce high quality woven wall hangings plus sweaters made from hand-spun wool. 

“I really like the tenacity of the women there,” says Downing. “They’re up in the high Andes and produce this amazing art but face a real challenge to get their works to the international market.” 

On her return to Canada, Downing continued to import items from the Artesania Sorata, storing them away. “I was just holding on to them, trying to figure out what I was going to do. You can only sell to your friends and family so many times.” 

In November 2013, Downing booked a table at the annual Victoria International Development Education Association (VIDEA) Fair Trade Fair.  She discovered there was great interest in her Bolivian crafts. Bolstered by this response, Downing decided to open a store. 

In deciding what products to carry, Downing says, “They either have to be a member of the Fair Trade Federation or can show the things have a fairness attached to it and a good percentage goes back to the community.” 

Downing also carries products made in BC, from fairly traded materials. “There are also struggling artisans in Canada so I believe we can throw the net wide.”

Laloca offers solid fragrance pots made in Kaslo, chocolate from Cumberland, and skincare products produced in Mill Bay using handmade raw shea butter from Ghana. There’s coffee that is imported directly from farmers and roasted and packaged in Central Saanich. 

It’s all about supporting artisans, small businesses, and making a difference in the lives of others by where we spend our consumer dollars.

Find Laloca on Facebook 

Leonard to Champion ALR

BC’s food security faces unprecedented pressures as ex-Saanich mayor takes the reins of the ALC

by Michele Murphy, photo by Ed Johnson

Frank Leonard is back in the news this past May as the BC Liberal government appointed him the new chair and interim CEO of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). The newly-defeated Saanich mayor comes to the new appointment without benefit of an agricultural background, but what he does have is experience juggling opposing priorities. 

Leonard’s appointment comes on the heels of the controversial firing of passionate ALR champion Richard Bullock from the ALC board with just five months left to go on his contract.

The firing of Bullock has brought widespread objections and concerns from across the agricultural community, and many, including Bullock himself, say he was canned for doing the job of standing up for B.C.’s agricultural land too well. 

The response from the agri-community was swift, passionate and critical. BC Agricultural Council chair, Stan Vander Waal, said that the council was sad to see Richard go and that “his knowledge of B.C. agriculture and his commitment to keep farmland for farming is second to none.”

Locally, the CRD’s food-security coalition, CR Fair, asked if Bullock’s firing was a result of him doing his job too well, while the chair of the Opposition Standing Committee for Agriculture and Food, Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, felt that the firing signified the BC Liberal government’s intent to continue the “war of BC’s agricultural land.” 

“You really have to question what’s going on here,” she said. “Richard Bullock was widely respected by farmers across the province. Now he’s suddenly fired, without warning…. They didn’t like that the ALC chair was standing up for B.C.’s agricultural land, so they fired him. It’s that simple.” 

The firing and hiring is part of a larger change-up to the protection and treatment of BC’s farmland. Bullock said in an interview with the Globe and Mail on May 14, 2015 that he was told that the government is headed in a different direction and that they thought they needed new leadership. 

That different direction would be covered in Bill 24, the controversial new ALR legislation that was passed last year. Many, including the outspoken Bullock, feel that there has never been a larger threat to the much-coveted ALR act since the NDP government passed it through the legislature during its short tenure in the 70s.

The ALC act amendment bill sees the creation of regional boards to oversee regional planning as well as changes to the allowable land use of almost 90% of ALR land. It will
divide the ALR into two zones, and the commission will be required to provide more flexibility in land use in the larger zone allowing activities such as food processing and potential oil and gas development, including fracking. (Saanich and the Peninsula’s 16,800+ acres of ALR land all fall within zone one.)

Current Agriculture Minister Norm Letnik said he is comfortable that the new law will preserve farmland and ensure that “we have a strong ALC that is independent of politicians.” Others are not as comfy with it. 

Richmond councillor and former NDP MLA, Harold Steves, considered to be the “Father of the ALR,” said of Bill 24, “It’s a way of gutting the Agricultural Land Reserve and pretending it’s still there.” 

Bill 24 is not the only perceived threat to BC’s farmland. This spring it has come to light that thousands of hectares of BC farmland are being planted with trees to be used as carbon offsets by off-shore corporations. These carbon sinks include imposing a restrictive 100-year covenant on the ALR land. The ALC’s ability, and now willingness, to fight this or negate the loss of active food-producing land is in serious question. 

To add to the list of ALR issues, the construction of the contentious Site C dam is scheduled to begin this summer amidst growing opposition to the project from several angles, not the least of which is the flooding of over 31,000 acres of agricultural land.

“I think we’ve got all sorts of things coming at us. First of all [is the pressure] to do all sorts of things on agricultural land that have absolutely nothing [to do] with agriculture and a lot to do with everything else…. And up there in the northeast, there’s huge issues with the oil and gas plays going on, on agricultural land,” said Bullock in his recent Globe interview

When asked to comment on the the multitude of pressures that the ALC will face, Leonard said, “I’m excited about the opportunity to do a great job for our province.”

Whether it’s the use of farmland for natural gas fracking, the pressures from industry and development to release ALR land, Site C, second-generation landowners wanting to develop urban farmland, the effects of California and Washington State droughts on BC’s food supply and costs (67 per cent of BC’s vegetables come from the US), or the new world of carbon offsets, Frank Leonard will have his hands full carrying out his mandate of preserving BC’s agricultural land and encouraging farming. 

Juggling may be exactly the skill set that the new ALC chair needs.

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FIND OUT MORE:

Harold Steves the Father of the ALR
Site C Dam: A Waste of Farmland
The BC Liberal Government Is Foolishly Moving To Allow Fracking On Farmland
Wake up Call: California Drought & B.C.’s Food Security
B.C. government fires outspoken chair of Agricultural Land Commission

 

Major Housing Development Planned For Cordova Bay

by Roger Stonebanks, citizen journalist

The first draft of plans for residential development of the former Trio property in Cordova Bay show a mix of housing types with 440 dwelling units including a 12-storey condo.

Aragon Properties disclosed its initial development thoughts to more than 100 people who attended a public input meeting on May 30, 2015, following an earlier input meeting in February. David Roppel (droppel@aragon.ca), the company’s director of planning and development, said Aragon Properties is “open” to a third meeting if requested. Otherwise, he said the next step is to consider public input, formulate revisions and submit a rezoning application to Saanich for the 26-acre property.

The property is currently zoned into three roughly equal parts but only one part (where Gravel Mart used to be) has residential zoning for condos and townhouses to a maximum 110 dwelling units and a six-storey height limit. Roppel said Aragon Properties plans to develop the entire property for residences.

The initial plans show the property divided into three terraces with row houses and single-family houses and high-rises ranging from “low” at two to five storeys, “mid” at six possibly eight storeys and “high” which “could be 10 to 12 storeys,” said Franc D’Ambrosio, project architect who was also the architect for nearby Mattick’s Farm, Mattick’s Green, Mattick’s Wood and the early stages of Sayward Hill residential development.

There could also be a commercial component of offices and retail.

“Community consultation is essential,” D’Ambrosio told the meting. “You have to be included in the planning.”

Roppel said he received 90 slips of paper with comments at the meeting plus comments written on large sheets of paper. It was clear from the comments that the principal concerns of those attending were the density of development (too much), the height of the 12-storey condo (too much) – and the amount of traffic that will be generated and its impact on Cordova Bay Road.

Mitchell Jacobson of Boulevard Transportation Group in Langford said traffic impacts can be quantified once the number of dwelling units and types of accommodation are settled. He was “looking at” the idea of a roundabout at Cordova Bay Road/Fowler Road. Vehicular access to the property will be from Cordova Bay Road.

Roppel said Aragon Properties foresees a diversity of housing in terms of different housing forms, connectivity to open spaces, fitting into the neighbourhood and any commercial use “must build on the success of Mattick’s Farm and not detract from it.” The single-family and row houses would be fee simple ownership and the rest would be strata or rental. Typically, he said, Aragon allocates 10 per cent rental in developments.

He noted the negative comments about the height and location of the 12-storey condo. The meeting heard that adjacent Sayward Hill has an eight-storey building approved but not yet built on Hill Rise Terrace off Cordova Bay Road. The condos behind Mattick’s Farm adjacent to Cordova Bay Golf Course were originally planned for eight storeys but after negative comments, they were divided into the present two four-storey buildings.

He said the company plans to have a website running in a few weeks.

Looking ahead, he estimated it would take up to a year to get rezoning approval from Saanich with the first Development Permit six to eight months after that. “Hopefully we will complete the project in five to eight years,” he said.

While the company initially called the proposed development “Triangle Hill,” it has dropped this name because of negative comments. Until a new name is decided, it will be called “755 Cordova Bay Road’ which is its address.

Please see earlier story on – Engaging the Community Early, and Often.

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