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Gulf Islands Unique Governance Model The Islands Trust Under Threat

Island(s): 

Date: 
Saturday, March 11, 2017 - 5:15pm

by Vera Robinson

A push is under way to incorporate Saltspring - the largest of the Gulf
Islands after Bowen Island became a municipality in 1999. This move will
impact the effectiveness of ‘The Trust’ governance in the region. With a
clear mandate to preserve & to protect it was gifted to the people of B.C. by
the provincial government (NDP) in the mid 1970s. Politicians feared the
unique islands ecology would be vulnerable to the pressures of rapid and
uncontrolled development since it is situated between the 2 major urban
centers of Vancouver and Victoria.
In recent years some large business & industrial applications had been turned
down which in turn sparked a call to incorporate and adopt a municipal
government for Saltspring Island.
The Islands Trust's role is to speak or advocate for the environment while
gathering in-put from all stakeholders, listening to the community members at
large and consulting with advisors before arriving at a final decision - this
'due process' is often lengthy and appears inefficient. It has one clear
mandate: to preserve & protect; guided by an OCP put together, supported and
periodically revised by the people of the islands it represents. It’s
constant and provides little room for lobby by interest groups. This form of
governance is fool proof in that elected officials have shown integrity and
lacked self interest. Granted a municipality will function with greater
efficiency. Run like a business I think it would likely speed up 'due
process' resulting in less consultation and public input. Our governance is a
social experiment whereas humans exist in harmony as part of the natural
environment – intimate knowledge of nature gives us the power to control
rather than decimate it. That is the function of the Islands Trust gifted to
us by some visionary politicians 40+ years ago. Incorporation proponents
claim that this system has failed us. We are told to trust our fellow
islanders to always choose the right leadership after having voted YES to a
model potentially vulnerable to giving in to human desires, needs and greed
(emphasis on potentially). I beg to differ.
I moved to the Gulf Islands 38 years ago charmed by the physical beauty and a
very welcoming community of 'old timers' and newcomers (mainly
back-to-the-land hippies & some U.S. draft dodgers). My then partner and I,
borrowed funds and had the Hummingbird Pub built. From the time we applied
for re-zoning, building & opening day it took less than a year. This was
possible since the majority of islanders REALLY wanted a pub and the acre we
chose fit into the neighbourhood as well as the environment. Through the
years I watched Saltspring morph into a thriving versatile and safe community
attracting creative, innovative folks, young families, retirees,
entrepreneurs, those wanting to escape the urban rat race and yes also been
discovered by some of the rich & the famous. The love for this place inspires
an exceptional number of competent volunteers to serve their community and
make things happen. With a growing aging population this trend can only get
better.
However there is room for reform as exposed by the Incorporation Study
conducted by "Urban Systems". For starters the local governance head office
needs to be relocated to Saltspring and staff increased to be able to
effectively handle the tasks. It should be housed together with CRD (as a
constant reminder to each other that they exist) and encourage closer
cooperation between them. More transparency is made possible through a new
awesome tool called social media & Skype. It should be used extensively by
elected officials to keep the public in the loop and encourage public input.
One of the biggest disadvantages to our community as identified in the
Incorporation Study Report is the access to funds (grants) which for some
reason would only be granted to us if we were willing to switch to a
municipality. Why? This stipulation along with the ‘offer’ to fix
stretches of our road if we incorporate seems like Liberal blackmail to me.
Isn’t road maintenance their obligation no matter what? Have you wondered
why the Christy Clark’s government demanded and funded a path to
incorporation while requiring all 26 Trustees, staff and consultants for the
past 2 years to spend precious resources planning for the departure of our
island from the centre of the Islands Trust? Are we prepared to risk the
integrity and future of our remarkable Saltspring community so that
development and tax collection become more efficient?
An oft-quoted phrase, “Saltspring is an argument surrounded by water” is
seen by some in a negative light. Au contraire I say rather it reflects that
we are a bunch of free critical thinkers willing to think ‘out of the
box’ – let’s say YES to the ‘Nation of Gulf Islanders’ and keep our
unique governance alive.

Interesting link: Bowen Island Incorporation Survey Responses -
Incorporation Study