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Amalgamation revived as topic of conversation

Feb 05 2012

One of Greater Victoria's political newcomers resurrected the contentious subject of amalgamation and will help host a public forum to discuss the issue this week.

Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon was surprised so few politicians were talking about amalgamation after the November election, considering the topic was often mentioned by voters during the campaign.

Other people noticed, too. Gudgeon found a stream of people discussing the topic on Twitter, so she contacted them and set up a lunch date. At that meeting, they decided to hold a public forum to collect and share ideas.

Dubbed the Greater Victoria Amalgamation Conversation, organizers expect about 200 people to attend Tuesday's event.

The forum will explore ideas beyond a full amalgamation of every municipality. Regionalizing specific services, such as police and transportation, could be alternatives, which will likely be discussed as well, said Mat Wright, a communications consultant who helped to plan the event.

"A lot of people already have set opinions on amalgamation," Wright said.

"Generally speaking, people in Victoria are very much for it, whereas people in Oak Bay, Saanich or the West Shore are a little bit more concerned about what it might mean for them."

Finding speakers who were not biased one way or the other was difficult because of people's hardened stances, Gudgeon said.

"It's always been a very polarized discussion," she said. "We want it to be a conversation and we don't want to start off with tempers flaring."

Gudgeon made clear that setting up the forum has nothing to do with her role on Victoria city council.

She and Wright are joined by Rod Phillips, Tamara Hernandez and Susan Jones in the ad hoc group.

Each member will give a brief presentation on Tuesday and then divide the crowd into groups to discuss a variety of issues. The ideas will be documented and presented in a report that will later be posted to www.victoriawave.ca.

Understanding the region's governance system is not an easy task with 126 elected councillors and mayors in the 13 municipalities. The forum will help generate ideas and perhaps lead to an even larger discussion, Wright said.

A 2003 poll conducted for CHEK News and the Times Colonist found that 53 per cent of residents supported municipal amalgamation.

The poll found that 70 per cent of respondents would support a regional police force, which was a hot topic during the election in November.

The forum will be held on Tuesday at S. J. Willis School, 923 Topaz Ave., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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