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Community News

PROVINCIAL DEMOCRATIC REFORM

Community Meeting to be held in Brentwood Bay & Sidney

Gary Holman, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands will host two town halls on the Saanich Peninsula this month to discuss ways to make elections fairer and give citizens’ greater influence in how government operates.

The town halls are part of a public consultation process that Holman has undertaken in his role of Official Opposition Spokesperson for Democracy Reform. He’ll be travelling throughout the province meeting with the public and stakeholders to get feedback on the process and the type of proportional representation the province should use, should the BC NDP take government in 2017 and make changes to the province’s voting systems.

“The NDP will campaign for a YES vote and ensure the public gets all the information they need to make an informed decision,” said Holman from his community office in Sidney.

“Over the next year, my job is to consult with the public and stakeholders to get feedback on the process and the type of PR we should use.”

Wendy Bergerud, President of the Victoria local of Fair Vote Canada will be in attendance at the events. “We need a proportional voting system provincially as well as federally,” says Bergerud. She adds, “I am pleased to see that the BC NDP are taking a serious look at this and have now started public forums to discuss possible changes with citizens.”

Holman said that electoral reform is just part of a larger governance reform package the BC NDP will be putting forward in the upcoming spring session of the legislature. “Our intention is to both empower citizens and create greater accountability in the provincial government, an element that has been in decay for some years now,” says Holman.

The town halls will be held in Sidney at the Mary Winspear Centre, Activity Room 2 on February 3rd, and in Brentwood Bay at the Central Saanich Senior Citizens’ Centre on February 5th. Both events run from 6:30pm – 8:00pm, and will include representatives from Fair Vote Canada and Fair Voting BC.

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Cordova Bay Plaza – Strip Mall in a Time Warp

by Roger Stonebanks

Now that the 26-acre Trio property has sold for $6.1 million to Aragon Properties (a Vancouver land development company with ideas for a major residential project plus a commercial component) attention has turned to sometimes-forgotten Cordova Bay Plaza, just over two kilometres to the south.

The plaza is a 1960 strip mall that became trapped in a neighbour’s underground gasoline pollution problem.  The public was well aware that there was a pollution problem at the nearby site of a Payless (owned by Shell Products Canada) gas station, which closed in 1997. According to the Cordova Bay’s newsletter, The Cordovan, Payless officials admitted at a general meeting of the Cordova Bay Association for Community Affairs on Jan. 21, 1998 that “the gas station site is contaminated and is now being remediated. Off-site contamination has not yet been tackled.”

It was in the summer of 1997 that the plaza informed tenants that it intended “very soon” to seek a Development Permit for a new shopping centre. In 1999 Saanich council, after public input,  approved a new and much larger shopping centre as well as shops and 16 apartments in one three-storey building and a separate bank building. But council withheld issuance of the development permit pending two conditions being met: consolidation of the two lots that comprise the plaza property; and, importantly, confirmation from the Ministry of the Environment that no site remediation was required. There was no such confirmation. The plaza pollution saga was under way.

There were years of pollution remediation by Shell Products Canada as well as regular test

drilling nearby to monitor the spread of underground gasoline. A lawsuit and counter-suit in BC Supreme Court, started in 2003, and was settled out of court in 2010, with agreement that all details be kept confidential.

Scotiabank, which had intentions to build on the site, had to make do for a number of years in a double-wide trailer in the plaza parking lot, until it eventually moved into the south end of the mall.

Finally, on May 18, 2012, a Certificate of Compliance for the plaza property was issued by the BC Ministry of the Environment “regarding remediation of petroleum hydrocarbon and dissolved metal contamination” that migrated to the plaza from the Payless property at 5146 Cordova Bay Road. The certificate states that the plaza property has been “satisfactorily remediated to meet Contamination Sites Regulation Standards for commercial land soil use and marine aquatic water use and Hazardous Waste Regulation standards.”

But, the ministry cautioned that it made no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the information received by the ministry on which the certificate was based. “This Certificate of Compliance should not be construed as an assurance that there are no hazards present on the site described above,” said the ministry.

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Since then, no action has been taken by Your Family Food Mart Ltd., the plaza owner, to develop or sell the property. There are seven shops at the plaza, which is anchored by Tru-Value Foods. Currently, two shops are vacant.

Saanich Voice Online asked the plaza’s spokesperson, Brenda Ferguson, for an update.

“Most leases in the plaza run until Spring 2017 with Tru Value Foods being the largest tenant,” she said. “We have a vacancy in the old bakery [Euphorium Bakery] and since we have been trying to offer a lease that does not go beyond Spring 2017; it has proven very difficult to lease the vacant space.”

The plaza has “no immediate plans” for redevelopment given that the leases run until 2017 “but there has been lots of interest from buyers who would like to develop the site with no commitment from the owners to sell.” She added, “We seem to be in limbo. Now would certainly be a good time to think about redevelopment with the Trio site now sold.”

Whatever commercial-residential development plan for the plaza eventually goes ahead, it will have a significantly bigger building imprint on the property than the current strip mall. To give a sense of that change – the plan approved in 1999 was for 3,586 square metres of commercial floor space or 38,599 square feet. This was to include a supermarket three times bigger than the present 7,500 square foot grocery and extending west into open space behind the mall. Shops with apartments above them would be in a three-storey building on the south side of the property which now is green space. Scotiabank would be in a separate building in the northeast corner.

In the meantime, redevelopment is still “On Hold.” And despite the mall’s age, the plaza and its tenants have worked well to renovate and improve the appearance of the mall and grounds, including significant internal improvements to the supermarket when Tru Value Foods became the tenant in 2012.

Roger Stonebanks was a reporter for the Island’s daily when it was called the Victoria Daily Times and from 1980 the Victoria Times Colonist. He’s published two books and loves living in Cordova Bay with his wife, Helen.

The Greatest Conversation – but what’s it about?

by Roger Stonebanks

A new lobby group will hold a public meeting in February aimed at taking the municipal amalgamation issue to what it sees as the
next stage – a study.

Greater Victoria Conversation is the group and the meeting organizer is Susan Jones, the former president of Amalgamation Yes. The meeting will be held on Tuesday Feb. 24 at 
SJ Willis Education Centre, 923 Topaz Avenue, from 5:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.

The group says on its website that the meeting “is an event intended to provide an opportunity for Greater Victorians to come together and discuss what they want to see in the governance study to be carried out by the Province.” The group also said, “The study about governance and amalgamation will be underway in the near future.”

However, the BC government has not said (as of Saanich Voice Online’s deadline) that it will carry out a study of governance or amalgamation. Community Minister Coralee Oakes did say last November, after the variously-worded referendums, that “I remain committed to provide the support and resources required by the newly-elected local governments, once they have had an opportunity to discuss and review the results in greater detail.”

The GVC described its upcoming meeting as “an opportunity for the 60,000 (75 per cent of 80,000) who voted Yes to some form of regional governance study in the last municipal election to discuss the terms of reference that they’d like included in a study.”

Only two municipalities, North Saanich and Sidney, voted, specifically, for an amalgamation “study.” 
Central Saanich voted for something similar – a “cost/benefit analysis.” All three Saanich Peninsula municipalities voted to ask the provincial government to fund the “study” or “cost/benefit analysis” – but not for the province to do it. The next step will be the tri-municipal meeting on Feb. 11 at the North Saanich municipal hall. North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall said there will be an agenda item “regarding obtaining provincial financing for a municipally-conducted study.”

The word “study” did not appear on the successful amalgamation ballots in Langford, Esquimalt and Victoria – though Esquimalt did vote for “exploring” service sharing and reduction of municipalities. Oak Bay voted against amalgamation. Five municipalities

- View Royal, Colwood, Metchosin, Sooke and Highlands – did not vote on the amalgamation/governance subject.

Saanich voted for a “governance review” (avoiding the word “amalgamation”) – specifically, the ballot read “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region.” Council is awaiting a staff report before starting its review.

The GVC website identifies more than 30 supporters. Some of them were/are active in Amalgamation Yes which campaigned to have the question to be put on the ballot at the last municipal election. Amalgamation Yes, on its Home Page, encourages readers to join GVC.

 

Banish Winter!

It’s time to plant

by Ed Johnson, photos by Ed Johnson

By the end of January when Saanich Voice Online hits the newsstands there will have already been four Seedy Saturdays on Vancouver Island, two of which were on the peninsula.  The biggest one comes up on February 21st at the Convention Centre in Victoria.  Seed collectors and growers converge in large numbers at these events to sell and trade the seeds they have grown.

Some may be businesses, like Mary Alice Johnson’s Full Circle Seeds, while others will be backyard gardeners with a bent for the unusual.

The first off the block was Saanich’s Haliburton Farm’s Seedy Saturday on January 10th, complete with farm tours and an 
informational lecture.  It is a good time to check out the farm as the tours are free, unlike the rest of the year when an $8.00 charge fills the need for infrastructure demands – even if rubber boots, heavy coats and maybe rain-gear are the 
order of the day.

After slogging through the 
fields with fellow Haliburton 
farmer, Dr. Peter Liddell, 
retired UVic professor, learning of the where- and why-fores of organic farming, and showing off their new cold storage building and wetland restoration, the ‘tourees’ retreated to the warmth of the house to hear Christina Nikolic of The 
Organic Pantry speak.

“Dirt, Chocolate Cheesecake and You – a closer look at our soil,” was the title of Nikolic’s talk.

If pastries and coffee weren’t tempting enough, there were several seed sellers as well as books, seedlings, garden necessities and even a few winter squash to fill your knapsack with.

And, if you really wanted to get your hands dirty, Dr. Liddell assured that, “There is an opportunity to join a volunteer work-party on the first Saturday of every month.” Haliburton, now in its fourteenth year even has a food box program, delivering seasonal fresh produce to the door of ‘Greater Saanich’ residents.

The history of the farm is rich. In 2001 it was saved from development by a group of concerned citizens and the District of Saanich, which purchased the land.  The non-profit charitable organization, Haliburton Community Farm Society, as it is now known, is being developed as a community and educational certified organic farm.

For income, plots are leased to farmers, memberships in the Society are sold, but the majority of their income is derived from grants.  The farmers themselves are able to earn an income through the box program, farmer’s market sales, and direct sales to restaurants.

www.haliburtonfarm.org.

The next seed event attended by this reporter is technically not a Seedy Saturday because it falls on a Sunday – always has (the last three times), and always will, says the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers (GTUF). GTUF distinguishes itself in another ways as well.  For example, their Seedy Sunday event is for members and those on a ‘friends’ list; the members donate their excess seeds in a sharing event; and all transactions are free.

The ‘give-what-you-have-more-of-
and-take-what-you-need’ yearly event 
brings out 30-40 members from the 120+ household membership.

A loose-knit organization with no hierarchy, the group came about in 2008 because of shared concerns about food security in the neighbourhood.  Members have since established a Community Seed Bank, lobbied for a bylaw change allowing chickens to be kept in Saanich, and created a very helpful ‘Critter Encounters’ and Weed Identification section on their website, www.gtuf.ca.

Julie Graham, speaking from the membership table, is enthusiastic to say the least.  “Because my 
neighbour has an excellent 
compost system, I take my 
compostables around the corner to his place, and then when I need finished compost in the spring, it is available. We are a small 
community of like minds and like to keep it that way, that is why our membership is restricted to those who live and work in the area.”

Gabe Epstein, one of the founders, describes the group as more “conversational than presentational” in their meeting format.

“Acting as individuals rather than members some of us may be found in other gardening projects in the area, such as the Gorge Park Community Garden or donating food to Saanich Neighbourhood Place.”

This makes for a relaxed atmosphere, there are no AGMs, no elections, and no expectations placed on anyone, he adds.  A coordinating group, open to all, decides on meeting dates and other activities as the need arises.

Watch for upcoming videos of a few members of this group on the Saanich Voice Online Youtube channel.

Accompanying this article online is a short video of Bill Morgan demonstrating planting onions from seed.  Bill is a top contender for the largest onion in the Saanich Fall Fair, so he must know what he’s doing!

Ed Johnson lives and writes on his hobby farm in the Mt Newton Valley. 
His latest life goal is to one day grow enough asparagus to feed he and Lynne year-round.

Saanich, under investigation for spying?

 Spyware story beginning to take shape.

January 20, 2015, the BC Privacy Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, announced that she is launching an investigation into whether the 
District of Saanich’s use of employee monitoring software complies with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The events that preceded that announcement have been both interesting and confusing.

The story began in December when newly-elected Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell discovered that employee monitoring software had been placed on his new Saanich office computer, although, he at that time, chose not to involve the public in the matter. It wasn’t until January 12, 2015, that the mayor called a news conference where he made several stunning allegations involving both the Saanich administration and police.

The Mayor read a prepared statement alleging that someone in the Saanich administration, without his knowledge or consent, was planning to spy on everything that he did on his computer using a program called Spector 360. The mayor went on to say that he had been informed by legal counsel that these actions may amount to the criminal interception of private communications under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Atwell said that his legal counsel “wrote to Saanich Police Chief Bob Downie asking him to request an external police entity to investigate the allegations as we believe oversight of the investigation places Saanich Police in a clear conflict of interest.” The Saanich Police would have been investigating their own employer, the District of Saanich, including the wife of the police chief, who works as an administration assistant in the chief administrative officer (CAO) and mayor’s office.

Spector 360 Employee Monitoring Software is made by American software company, Spectorsoft. 
According to the company’s website the software is meant to detect and detail harmful employee computer activity. It “reviews individual and aggregate employee actions, as if you were sitting there with video-style screen playback.”

Spectrosoft says that their software is capable of capturing all user activity including website activity, personal web-mail, instant messaging, social media activity and private messages, file transfers, all keystrokes typed including passwords and banking information, and is completely undetectable by the employee.

Saanich council confirmed the use of Spector 360 on Tuesday, January 13, when they responded to Atwell’s allegations with a media release of their own titled, “Software Installed to Protect Integrity of Saanich Computer System.” 
The release explained that the installation was in response to recommendations made some six months earlier in a May, 2014 independent external audit of the District of Saanich computer systems. The audit apparently recommended the installation of security software, and as a result Spector 360 was purchased on Nov. 21 and installed on an initial group of key computers, including the mayor’s office computer, the following month.

The council’s release also stated that a review of the Saanich administration staff ‘s actions had been initiated by the district’s own police force and that, “they determined that there was no basis for recommending charges against Saanich employees.”

The following day the District of Saanich released a Backgrounder document to be used by staff to help answer media questions. It names Wordsworth & Associates as the firm that conducted the audit but it does not say that the security firm specifically recommended Spector 360. 
The document said that the mayor was given a Network Access Terms and Condition form at the time that his new computer was installed, although they have not received a signed form back from him.

The Backgrounder also states that in the interest of protecting municipal and public information, no additional details related to Saanich’s security measures or audit would be released. Saanich’s Network Access Terms and Condition form is attached to the end of the document.

It seems that the Office of BC’s Privacy Commissioner didn’t find Saanich’s monitoring of the new mayor’s communications quite so benign. The Office issued a news release on January 13th (and an update on January 14th), outlining privacy law around the overt and covert use of employee monitoring software. The release stated that, “…in the case of covert use of software there have been no cases brought before this Office where covert monitoring was found to be justified under privacy law.”

Six days later the Commissioner decided to ‘act on her own motion’ and take a step further initiating an investigation into whether the District of Saanich’s use of employee monitoring software complies with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“We need the facts concerning implementation of the software, including what methods of data capture have been enabled and the extent to which personal information is being collected from employees,” said Denham. The investigation is expected to be complete before the end of March and will be released to the public.

The days following the Commissioner’s announcement saw the media (finally) jump to attention. The Times Colonist’s (TC) January 23rd headline read “‘Spyware’ on Saanich mayor’s computer rare in B.C.’s large local governments.” TC reporter Cindy Harnett surveyed 25 of BC’s largest municipalities and found that not one uses surveillance software that can covertly capture keystrokes and screen images. She went on to report that BC’s provincial government also said it does not use software that covertly monitors workers, and the Capital Regional District says that they have only used it as a tool where employee conduct was being questioned, but currently does not have it on anyone’s computer.

The Globe & Mail, in its article, “Tracking software installed on Saanich mayor’s computer ‘atypical’,” spoke with Steven Schnider, principal consultant at Vancouver-based Procyon Security Group. He remarked that the security software on Atwell’s computer belongs in “hacker territory.” “It’s usually used by the black hat, not the white-hat security people,” he said.

The Vancouver Province’s Michael Smyth, in his column, “Embattled Saanich mayor could have the last laugh,” quotes Victoria political consultant, Mike Geoghegan, who worked on Atwell’s campaign. Geoghegan brought the story back to December when three Saanich insiders allegedly alerted the new mayor that spyware had been installed on his municipal hall computer. Apparently Atwell questioned the three insiders, tape-recorded their testimony and turned their statements into sworn affidavits now in the hands of his lawyer. Geoghegan said that he listened to the recordings, and is calling for a full 
investigation.

The media response to the issue has by-and-large been to call the allegations explosive, bombshell, and to describe Atwell as paranoid. But 12 days into the story and it’s now starting to look as though the narrative is shifting; apparently it may be the municipality that’s paranoid and not the district’s new mayor.

The mainstream media’s curiosity is finally beginning to pique. And there’s still plenty to be curious about.

Questions: Who is authorized to spy on whom? Where did the now-let-go Saanich CAO believe that his authority came from to carry out this monitoring? Who was he planning to report out to on his findings? Were his actions legal? Were they grounds for dismissal? Would enough rope have been a better choice than $480,000? 
If Saanich council is okay with the use of spyware in the workplace, then what other rights to privacy are they okay with weakening, and why?

For answers we look to the Privacy Commissioner’s report and the 
District of Saanich

Michele Murphy is a 30-year resident of Saanich, a bit of a political junky, has asked too many questions her entire life, and wishes SVO were a weekly.

SHOULD ELECTIONS BE FAIR – or just easy to understand?

by Michele Murphy

“…it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
~ Winston Churchill

Canadians have, at the very least, agreed to settle with democracy. But are all democracies created equal? Does how we execute our democracy determine the fairness of it?

Canada’s last federal election in 2011 saw the Conservative Party of Canada become the ruling party of Canada–with just 39.6% of the vote. To be more specific, that’s the confidence of 39.6% of the only 61% of eligible voters who actually voted. So in reality, our government is the declared first choice of less than 25% of the Canadian electorate. 

What can a party with the confidence of only 25% of eligible Canadian voters do with that little support? As it turns out – pretty much anything they want.

Under Canada’s current voting system, known as First-Past-the-Post (FPTP), the Conservatives, with 39.6% of the vote were granted 54% of the seats in the House of Commons, a majority. As a voting block, the Conservatives can pass any vote or over-rule any vote in the lower house that they see fit. And they do. 

Wendy Bergerud, local president of the Greater Victoria branch of Fair Vote Canada, has long been saying enough is enough, and now she is being joined by an increasing number of Canadians and elected officials from across party lines. ”Fair Vote Canada has been working for more than 10 years to get electoral reform on the political agenda and it is a great step forward to now have the support of the federal NDP as well as the Green Party”, says Bergerud.

First-past-the-post-voting originated in the 12th century and was adopted from Westminster. Now, some 900 years later, most major democracies have tossed it out in favour of some form of proportional voting. 

The idea of democratic reform is nothing new in Canada. In BC a change to the system got as far as creating a Citizens’ Assembly to determine what type of proportional voting system the province might replace FPTP with, and then held two referenda. 

The Assembly determined that the most suitable form of proportional representation for BC would be Single Transferable Vote (STV). The province then took that to the people and while more voters than not wanted the change in the 2005 referendum – the vote came in just 2% shy of the demanding 60% support that then-BC government required – a later referendum saw less support.

What happened? According to political strategist and communications specialist, and then president of the NO STV campaign, Bill Tieleman, “In brief: the giant STV ridings scared off voters, as did the incomprehensible STV voting system.”  

According to members of the Citizen Assembly, there were many factors that contributed to the lack of public support for STV, not the least of which was the communication strategy of the YES campaign and its failure to meet the challenge of explaining the benefits of the new, somewhat complicated, voting system.

Fast-forward to 2014 where a national conversation on proportional representation (PR) is emerging leading up to the 2015 federal election. This past December NDP MP Craig Scott put forth the following motion in the House of Commons: 

That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the next federal election should be the last conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system, which has repeatedly delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any other winner-take-all electoral system; and (b) a form of mixed-member proportional representation [MMP] would be the best electoral system for Canada.

While the motion was predictably defeated – with no Conservative support, and only 16 of 31 Liberal MPs in favour of the change – it was supported by all NDP and Green MPs and it has reignited the conversations about having fairer representation in our governments. 

Along with the motion has come a commitment from Canada’s Official Opposition that they will, should they have the power as a result of the 2015 election, make 2015 the last unfair federal election in Canada.

How does the average voter make sense of all this? 

“Voters simply need to understand that what we have does not serve them well. The majority of Canadian voters do not have the government that they voted for. And Canada is one of the few major democracies left that is hanging onto this archaic 12th century system that serves only those that are in power. Countries all over the world are enjoying democracies that actually reflect the values and choices of their electorate. We can do better.”

And, if you’re thinking that this is a political ploy that will work well for the parties proposing it, Victoria MP Murray Rankin explained, “No. In fact, had the last federal election used proportional representation, despite our momentous electoral gains, New Democrats would have had slightly fewer seats in Parliament today.”

This article is the first in a series of SVO articles on proportional representation. As SVO is at its best when its content is written by the Saanich/Peninsula/Sidney community, we encourage you to contribute to this series. Please consider adding your voice to the conversation.

You’ll find our submission criteria HERE

For more info:

Why Proportional Representation?

Council of Canadians Supports Fair Vote Canada’s Declaration of Voters’ Rights

MacLeans – The Case for MMP 

Vancouver 24hrs – NDP Backs Loser in Prop Rep  (the comments are worth reading)

 

Saving the Planet Over Cocktails & Appies

by Francisco Canjura 

Green Drinks-Saanich Peninsula is a gathering for environmentally-conscious people to meet, network and share ideas in informal sessions over appetizers and beverages.

Green Drinks began in 1989 in London and has since expanded to a variety of countries.

Green Drinks have been taking place in Victoria for years and it was in Victoria where Alicia Cormier, Green Drinks-Saanich Peninsula organizer, developed a taste for the monthly meetings. 

Cormier lived in the Saanich Peninsula and worked in Victoria at the time. However, a few years ago she made a conscious decision to reduce her carbon footprint. She decided to get a job in the Saanich Peninsula close to home. 

Her decision meant that she would now attend Green Drinks-Victoria on rare occasions rather than monthly, but she missed Green Drinks and in May 2013 she decided to start a chapter in the Saanich Peninsula.

Green Drinks-Saanich Peninsula has been a success, “we get about 30 people a meeting and people range from landscapers to academics,” said Cormier. “Everyone is welcome and the great thing is that about one-third of the people that come are always new to the event.”

The meetings sometimes have guest speakers, or involve tours of local businesses or organizations, but the focus of Green Drinks is for like minded-environmentally conscious people to network and share ideas, says Cormier.

The first part of the meeting gives people a chance to interact and usually they last 20 minutes are reserved for the guest speaker. 

Past speakers have included local climate change experts, green-business leaders, businesses that have made significant changes to their operations to operate in a more sustainable way, and companies that have been recognized for their environmental and ethical leadership.

Green Drinks-Saanich Peninsula’s next meeting takes place on January 27 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Zanzibar Café, 1164 Stelly’s X Road. Cost to attend is $10 and includes appetizers. 

For more information on Green Drinks-Saanich Peninsula check out their Facebook page GreenDrinksSaanichPeninsula or visit www.greendrinks.org to learn more about the Green Drinks movement.

Moving Amalgamation Forward, or Not

 

Bringing the ballot questions back to the council chambersweb_map

by Roger Stonebanks

Voters spoke at the Nov. 15 municipal election in non-binding plebiscites on amalgamation and governance – and now councils are moving to act on the results.

“The amalgamation question response is quite clear – people are interested in information about costs and feasibility of amalgamation,” said North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall, where voters supported this question: “Are you in favour of a study, provincially funded, to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula of Sidney, Central Saanich and North Saanich?”

Central Saanich voters supported this question, “Should the District of Central Saanich petition the Province to fund a cost/benefit analysis of an amalgamation of Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney?” Sidney voters said “Yes” to this question, “Are you in favour of a provincially funded study to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the three municipalities of the Saanich peninsula?”

Mayor Finall told Saanich Voice Online that her council will spend two days in early January considering its priorities for the coming year.

“I anticipate that this will be one matter that they will discuss,” she said. “For the District to conduct the study, as stated in the referendum question, we will need to receive the necessary funding from the province. This will require us to make an application to the province. Council will need to decide whether we make this application in conjunction with the other peninsula municipalities. I am working to organize an early tri-municipal meeting which North Saanich will host.”

The District of Saanich, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with a “governance review” as a result of voter support for this question which avoided the “amalgamation” word – “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?”

In two motions specifically referenced to the voter-approved governance question, council approved unanimously on Dec. 8, “That a governance review, in accordance with the motion on the ballot, be initiated as soon as possible, within a 90-day period.” Council also requested municipal staff “to prepare a report, as soon as possible within a 90-day period, indicating how such a review might be structured and carried out in accordance with the motion on the ballot.”

The two motions were initiated by Coun. Vic Derman who predicted at council that the governance review process will be lengthy and complex with a variety of venues available to allow the public the chance to express ideas. Webcasting council meetings could be started before the end of the review. It was important, he said, to provide the public with as much information as possible to make informed decisions.

Mayor Richard Atwell noted that in his inaugural address to council on Dec. 1 when he announced the formation of a Governance and Cooperation Review Select Committee. How this and other initiatives roll into Coun. Derman’s motion was a question, he said. Coun. Derman responded that the question put to voters did not include the formation of a Governance Committee but it will become part of the discussion once the staff report is received.

 

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The Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Coralee Oakes, made the following official statement regarding amalgamation /governance following the Nov. 15 municipal elections:

“In the Capital Region, a number of municipalities asked ballot questions about governance structures at the local level, and results indicate many citizens in the region are open to examining changes to the local government structure and/or service delivery.

“There is always value in dialogue about whether current governance structures are meeting local community needs. There is only one taxpayer, and it is the responsibility of all levels of government to ensure the most efficient and effective delivery of public services.

“The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development is now in the process of reviewing the referendum results related to this highly complex matter in greater detail, as I am sure the newly-elected councils will wish to do so when they take office. 

“I remain committed to provide the support and resources required by the newly-elected local governments, once they have had an opportunity to discuss and review the results in greater detail.”

Saanich will be looking for a new CAO, as of yesterday

Media Release

For Immediate Release December 17, 2014

Staff Announcement – Mr. Paul Murray

Saanich, BC – The newly elected Mayor and Council of the District of Saanich together with the District’s Chief Administrative Officer have mutually agreed to end their relationship effective December 16, 2014. As this decision involves confidential information regarding personnel, no further comment will be made. The District thanks Mr. Murray for his service, and wishes him every success in his future endeavours.

At the December 8, 2014 in-camera Council Meeting the following motion was supported unanimously by Councillors:

“That Council does not support actions taken by Mayor Richard Atwell, whether as Mayor-elect or Mayor, with respect to the ongoing employment of Paul Murray as Chief Administrative Officer of the District of Saanich.”

This in-camera meeting was the first opportunity for the entire Council to discuss Mayor Atwell’s actions regarding the employment of Mr. Murray. Council through the above motion raised its concern and objection to the activities and the process that was undertaken by the Mayor without knowledge or agreement of Council. The actions taken by Mayor Atwell left Council with no viable options other than to proceed to end the employment relationship with Mr. Murray. Council is also concerned about the financial impact the Mayors’ actions have had on the citizens of Saanich – a total payment of $476,611 (inclusive of accrued vacation of $55,448). This equates to 0.50% of taxation money that cannot be used for other initiatives of the municipality.

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Saanich News has Mayor Atwell’s response to the events:

“It was a very short conversation done in my office. I invited him in for a discussion about moving on and that started the proess of him thinking about leaving. Council looked at it and decided they would negotiate his departure,” Atwell said.

“Where council has difficulty is I made this initial contact with Mr. Murray as Mayor-elect, and I think they expected that to come to council first,” he said.

Atwell said the $476,000 severance package will be paid out of several funds, but couldn’t immediately provide specifics.

“$55,000 of that is accrued vacation,” Atwell said. “There doesn’t seem to be a limit to how much vacation a senior manager can accrue.”

When asked about the unanimous councillor motion opposing his actions, Atwell said he sees himself in an oversight role within the municipality, and that voters gave him a mandate for change at the ballot box.

“That means getting new ideas into the organization. A new CAO will be able to implement some of those ideas that I campaigned on.

“There will be councillors interested in maintaining the status quo … but change is often difficult and there are costs to moving forward,” he said.

SN’s full article can be found here:

http://www.saanichnews.com/news/286112831.html

AMALGAMATION – where do we go from here?

Michael J. Prince is the Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria. A political scientist, he follows local, provincial and federal politics and governments. 

      

The question of amalgamation in the Capital Region is a contentious and complex topic with no straightforward or guaranteed answers. In Saanich and on the Saanich Peninsula two very different next steps seem likely to play out over the next four years.

In Saanich, the non-binding referendum questions were not directly about amalgamation, as they were in other CRD municipalities; no mention here of asking for a provincial government funded study or on reducing the number of municipalities in Greater Victoria. 

Rather, Saanich voters were asked if they would support their Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and on partnerships within the Region. 

On that question, 88.5 percent of Saanich voters said yes. This can be interpreted in several ways: as widespread support for making the civic governance of Saanich more transparent and open to the public, as expressed by the mayor-elect, Richard Atwell; as modernizing policies; as adopting best practices for service delivery; and, perhaps, examining options for sharing some services through partnerships with other municipalities in the Region. None of these imply amalgamation. As the largest municipality in Greater Victoria, there is little incentive for Saanich leaders or residents to rush into amalgamation. (In Esquimalt, 86.6 percent of voters supported the idea of sharing some services with other municipalities; when asked about reducing the number of municipalities in the region, support was lower, yet still substantial at 67.4 percent.)  

After the November 15th local elections, a different future for civic government seems probable on the Saanich Peninsula. 

In comparison to referendum questions on amalgamation presented to voters in Esquimalt, Langford, Oak Bay, and Victoria, the questions on the Peninsula presented a specific scenario of what amalgamation might mean as regards to the basic process of a study and the actual number of municipalities involved. 

Voters in the District of North Saanich and in the Town of  Sidney were asked a near identical question: are you in favour of a study, provincially funded, to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula? In Central Saanich, the question was quite similar in nature: should the District petition the Province to fund a cost/benefit analysis of an amalgamation of Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney?

In North Saanich, 62.5 percent of voters supported the idea of such a study on assessing the costs and benefits of amalgamating the three municipalities; in Sidney, 67.5 percent of voters expressed agreement; and, in Central Saanich, 70.6 percent of voters on the questions indicated their support.

In all three of these municipalities, it is worth adding, nearly all voters (96 to 99 percent) who cast ballots for mayoral and council candidates, also voted on the referendum question. This suggests that the question of amalgamation was taken seriously by voters and not treated as some frivolous or minor issue.

The similarity of the questions and the evidence of strong support by voters in Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney provide a solid democratic basis for a provincially funded study on the benefits, costs and implications of amalgamating the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula. 

Following a provincially commissioned study, this could mean that at the next local elections in October 2018, there could be a binding referendum question on the Saanich Peninsula. As a result, we could go from 13 to 11 municipalities in the Region by 2020. This appears the most likely political outcome on amalgamation over the medium term; disappointing results for those eager for more drastic and rapid change in the local governance of Greater Victoria.  

Beyond that, the amalgamation issue seems destined to the back burner or to a sewage treatment plant.

 

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