Greater Victoria amalgamation question could be included on 2014 ballot

Victoria councillors are considering whether to put a non-binding question about amalgamation on the municipal election ballot next November, and to encourage other municipalities to do the same.

Coun. Marianne Alto is seeking council’s support to put on the ballot: “Are you in favour of reducing the number of municipalities in Greater Victoria through amalgamation?”

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Alto’s motion also seeks to have the city ask the Capital Regional District to consider asking each of its municipal members to put a similar question on the ballot and to advise the province of the city’s intent.

Coun. Lisa Helps called Alto’s proposal “a very moderate way to start.”

“I think it really doesn’t hurt to ask. Then it becomes a political choice. If there’s an overwhelming no from the region, then we just drop it,” Helps said.

“We have a responsibility to ask people and either move this question forward or let it die once and for all. My hope would be that all municipalities in the region have a similar question on the 2014 ballot so we can at least do a temperature check,” Helps said.

It’s difficult to say how many municipalities might hop on board, she said.

The effort was welcomed by Amalgamation Yes — a non-profit citizens group that has been advancing the case for amalgamation

“My take on the question is the fact that it’s really to take the temperature of the populace in terms of whether or not people are in favour of a reduction in the level of regional governance,” said Amalgamation Yes vice-chairman John Vickers.

“Then beyond the next election, if it looks like the appetite is there, we can then move forward and really have a broader community discussion.”

Alto’s resolution likely will pass easily at Victoria council, which often complains of core-city syndrome. The familiar refrain is that although a small core city of about 80,000, it is bearing many costs associated with the larger metropolitan area of 363,000.

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon said she will support putting the question on next year’s ballot. “I support working together for the future of our region and I believe passionately this should be a non-partisan discussion,” Gudgeon said.

If approved, Victoria would be the second municipality in the CRD planning to have some sort of question on amalgamation on the ballot. In July, Colwood councillors endorsed including a question on the ballot asking residents whether they’d like their city to participate in the process of amalgamation or integration of services should the opportunity present itself.

Mayor Dean Fortin said it’s a matter of democracy.

“For me, it’s less about whether or not you are for amalgamation and more about whether you support democracy. Let’s give a chance for the people to have a say.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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