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Citizens' assembly to examine amalgamation inches forward

48 members will be randomly selected, 27 from Saanich and 21 from Victoria.

A citizens’ assembly that will consider the prospect of amalgamating Victoria and Saanich inched forward Thursday after Victoria’s city council gave the green light to its staff to start the process of hiring a ­consultant.

That consultant will ­initiate a civic lottery to select the 48 members of the assembly — 27 from Saanich and 21 from Victoria. “I look forward to them doing their work and I wish them the best in the process,” said Coun. Chris Coleman.

The 48 residents will look at options ranging from total amalgamation to partial ­amalgamation and better ­service co-ordination between the municipalities.

In 2018, voters in both ­municipalities agreed to explore the costs, benefits and ­disadvantages of the amalgamation of Victoria and Saanich. But after the municipalities settled on terms of reference in 2019 and 2020, the initiative stalled during the pandemic. It got new life last spring when Victoria, Saanich and the province agreed to evenly split the $750,000 cost of establishing it.

The 48 members are expected to reflect the populations of the two municipalities, with an equal proportion of men and women and proportionate numbers of renters and homeowners, urban and rural residents, and ­members of First Nations. The assembly’s ­recommendations will not be binding for the councils, and could include anything from the status quo to full amalgamation, or harmonizing services such as police and fire.

The province hopes the assembly process will be ­completed by the 2026 municipal election, though that does not mean there will be an amalgamation question on the ballot that year. The province is requiring a progress report before the end of this year that confirms the recruitment process and a preliminary work plan.

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