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  • Gayle Baker

All Five of Our Elected Officials Speak Out Together!

April 16

Twenty-three gathered via Zoom to welcome all of our elected officials: MP Elizabeth May, MLA Adam Olsen, CRD’s Gary Holman, and Islands Trust Local Trustees Laura Patrick and Peter Grove. After Laura’s heartfelt Territorial Acknowledgment, we began by asking each of our guests what was on their minds and the issues that they hoped would be explored in our two hours together. (Elizabeth had to leave us at about noon.)

Elizabeth began by expressing her frustration at not being able to get to Ottawa sooner due to COVID but also her anticipation of soon reading the federal budget. She shared her joy at getting her vaccination soon. She has high hopes for President Joe Biden’s upcoming Earth Day Summit: https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/biden-earth-day-climate-summit-what-to-expect. Her optimism is tempered slightly by the disappointment that this year’s expected allocations for the climate emergency are expected to be less than fossil fuel subsidies.

Elizabeth also expressed her delight at seeing so many of her friends virtually at ASK Salt Spring.

Adam postponed his opportunity to share what he hoped to discuss in our time together, answering Elizabeth’s questions about the BC vaccination program instead. We learned that there are three parallel programs running simultaneously:

  1. Age-based,

  2. Astrazeneca, and

  3. Indigenous communities and rural and remote communities (including islands) with populations of 4,000 or less. (Salt Spring is the only location of the Southern Gulf Islands that does not qualify for this program due to its population.) Laura spoke of the challenges of coming together to solve community issues like the climate emergency and housing crisis. She shared an inspirational April 10, 2021 New York Times article: Opinion | They Overcame Mutual Loathing, and Saved a Town.

Peter and Gary expressed appreciation that all our elected officials had the opportunity to be together to discuss the issues that mean most to Salt Springers. All spoke during this ASK Salt Spring gathering of their mutual appreciation of each other and the great working relationship that has evolved. . .even including their ability to tease one another!

Questions began with a request from a participant that we begin calling our crisis a Climate Emergency rather than Climate Action. The question asked what level of government is responsible for monitoring and controlling pervasive noise pollution. We were reminded that noise is everywhere, largely from vehicles (operating noise as well as annoyances like car alarms) and planes but also from noise-creators such as the highly-polluting, fossil-fuel-consuming, small engines like those on leaf blowers.

While it was generally-agreed that noise is a health risk and that all of our elected officials receive numerous noise complaints, it was unclear which level of government is responsible. Elizabeth’s assessment was that Transport Canada may be the responsible agency, but she promised to provide an answer after further research.

On a local level, Gary told us that CRD has a bylaw prohibiting residential noise at night and early morning, but traffic noise is not included in this bylaw. Laura reminded us of the Ganges Village Plan and her hopes for an active transportation plan that results in less noise and a more pedestrian friendly village core.

Elizabeth was asked whether the rumours about childcare in the federal budget were true. Elizabeth replied Yes, - there are high hopes that this year’s budget will include a national early learning and child care system:

Provincially, Adam told us that there is a commitment for affordable child care offered through a range of options including, public, non-profit, and corporate models. Recognizing that families have different childcare needs and abilities to pay, he is hopeful of increasing options for $10 a day childcare.

Adam reminded us that the province has already spent $11 million in Saanich North and the Islands for childcare and training for Early Childhood Educators. Locally, PARC has been awarded over $1 million for two new childcare centres at the Rainbow Road Pool - one a modular unit and the other a permanent building with other community uses permitted when it is not being used for childcare.

Before leaving the topic of childcare, Adam shared his enthusiasm that during the election the BC NDP committed to move childcare into the Ministry of Education, leaving the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Having spoken often of this need at previous ASK Salt Spring gatherings, he is delighted that it has finally happened. The reasoning for this change is that early childhood education is not only about care for pre-school children but about the continuum of lifelong learning that begins in infancy. By moving childcare initiatives into the Ministry of Education, a seamless lifelong-learning system, spanning from infancy to adulthood, will finally be possible.

Adam was asked whether the establishment of the Southern Gulf Island Forum that he discussed at ASK Salt Spring last summer was progressing. Modeled on the successful Howe Sound Forum, elected and First Nations representatives of all communities in Adam’s riding would collaborate on advocacy initiatives. We learned that the initial meeting of this group has recently been held virtually and that half of the elected officials attended, with Salt Spring represented by all levels of government.

Intended to be a monthly gathering, this initial four-hour meeting was rich with valuable conversations. It was a promising beginning for an inter-community alliance to address our common issues. Islands Trust funded this first meeting, well-facilitated by Corrina Keeling, author of Love Letters for Everybody. Adam enthusiastically spoke of her artistry taking the words spoken and creating graphics of shared visions. (Adam hopes to share the minutes of this promising first meeting soon.) Adam feels that if this group can accomplish collaborative momentum - especially including a true partnership with our indigenous governments - this group, now formally called the Southern Gulf Islands Forum (SGI Forum), will be well on its way to achieving its potential.

The next question was a more philosophical one with a concrete example: Does the provincial power to override local decision-making render local government largely dysfunctional? Specifically, should local government have the right to supersede provincial COVID protocols for the health of their communities?

Concerning COVID, both Adam and Gary believe that this health emergency was better-addressed on a province-wide basis. (Vancouver was allowed to make its own protocols due to different charter.) We learned from Adam that during the first two weeks of the pandemic, many communities began to take their own actions. Without the resources for the level of public health action needed, Adam believed that this was unworkable and that the provincial mandate for COVID action was the best decision. Adam asked us to consider the dysfunction in Ontario due to the vaccination rollout by health areas.

Gary agreed with Adam’s support of the province’s role in the pandemic, but also reminded us that areas that we own - mostly under the auspices of PARC - can impose its own rules as long as it also meets provincial protocols.

On the larger question of local dysfunctional government, Adam believes that we can lament legislative dysfunction or we can work together to function more effectively. The newly-established Southern Gulf Islands Forum is an example of this collaboration replacing silos and dysfunction. Gary agreed and cited the increased funding for our Community Services shelter as an example of a community breaking down silos and working together.

Another example of working together is the just-announced $2 billion extension of the Housing Hub project: $2B announcement for housing hub. This project financing program, oversubscribed almost immediately when first announced, offers capital financing for affordable housing projects for governments and nonprofits. The perfect recycling of provincial money, loans are paid back to be again used for subsequent affordable housing projects. Locally, we were assured that many organizations in the Southern Gulf Islands have already submitted applications, including Salt Spring.

Laura reminded us that the Island Trust has been extremely-supportive of affordable housing projects, processing applications as fast as possible.

Concluding this conversation about local government dysfunction/successes, Gary believes that the accomplishments of Salt Spring Island exceed those of other similarly-sized communities, whether municipalities or unincorporated areas. Laura reminded us that we have the power and tools at our disposal to work effectively together to address many of the challenges we face. Most seemed to agree that blaming the government for being dysfunctional is not nearly as effective as people working together to effect change.

When asked about Fairy Creek, Adam replied that he is working hard to pressure the BC NDP to follow through on its promise to protect old growth forests. While Fairy Creek is an extraordinarily complex issue, Adam stands firmly in his advocacy of the protection of old growth forests. He recently spoke out on this issue: https://adamolsen.ca/2021/04/you-look-after-your-relatives/.

As Adam pointed out, the complexity largely relates to agreements that directly link the extraction of natural resources with economic benefit agreements with First Nations. They are not comprehensive agreements addressing the significant governance issues that have grown out of more than a century of Indian Act policy - with broad inclusion of Indigenous people and communities in the local, regional and provincial economy - but they are, instead, hyper-focused on specific resource extraction.

Laura told us that the Islands Trust Federation is seeking to find values for our old growth forests that do not require logging them. Beyond the environmental and spiritual value of these forests, with careful management, they could also generate tourism dollars from those who simply want to visit and view them. Gary stated that unless the Province brings resources to the table that would support conservation and just transition from old growth logging, discussions between the Pacheedat and the logging company would be tilted in favour of resource extraction. He thanked Adam for his advocacy on the issue. He also reminded us of Great Bear Rainforest successes as well as the possibility of allotting carbon credits to owners who protect their old growth forests.

Adam concluded by stating: I stand with the old growth. These forests are our oldest living creatures. If anyone was harvesting our beloved local killer whale pods, the uproar would be deafening. Instead, we have found a way to both protect them and generate well-managed tourism opportunities at the same time. Why can’t we use these lessons to protect our old growth forests?

Switching gears, Adam was asked about his work on the Police Act Review Committee. We learned that deliberations have been extended and that the report will not be released until next spring. This is due to the enormous volume of information being presented to this committee, currently from organizations and individuals interacting with the police and justice system. For a recent article by Adam on this issue, please see: https://www.vicnews.com/opinion/mla-report-committee-tackles-systemic-bias-in-policing/

While still receiving and analyzing reams of information, Adam told us that certain themes seem to be emerging:

  • There is systematic racism by policing bodies.

  • There is a need for improved quality and quantity of data.

  • Indigenous nations want policing, but they do not want to be excluded from policing decisions.

  • Police officers need continuous training throughout their careers, especially exploring cultural sensitivity issues.

  • Is the RCMP correct in its policy of moving officers before they get to fully-understand their community?

Adam has spoken out in a series of tweets: https://twitter.com/AdamPOlsen/status/1381293467708493824, He shared enthusiasm for his Police Act Review Committee work and the non-partisan commitment of its members to work together to address these important issues.

As 1:00 came upon us suddenly, we shared our deep appreciation for all of our special guests - and for their honesty, wisdom, vision and simply teaching us a whole lot! As we prepared to press our Leave Meeting button, we had one last question - with no answers: How can I be buried green on the property I select? Adam’s office promised to get us some answers about designating local options. As a start, we got these links: https://memorialsocietybc.org/faqs/ and https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/00_04035_01 a law that speaks to the creation of cemeteries in BC. Stay tuned. . . .

Please join us next Friday, April 23, 11-1, to welcome our BC and local transit managers to answer all those things you never got to ask about our bus system:

  • When will our fleet get electrified?

  • Why doesn’t a bus come to my street?

  • How can we increase the frequency of our buses?

  • How does the financing of our bus system work?

Bring your questions, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm to participate in a discussion of the issues that matter most to us.

To join:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83173679715?pwd=QnU0dFBJbkEwMkY5T2VYUXFiSmxuZz09

Passcode (if needed): 186259

Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

asksaltspring.com

Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We would love your receipts! Remember: #15


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