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  • Gayle Baker

Beginning 2024 with MLA Adam Olsen

January 5

Nineteen came to the first 2024 gathering to welcome MLA Adam Olsen and his Constituency Advocate, Jerram Gawley. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Adam began by reflecting on his break over the holiday season, savouring a time to relax and prepare for a very busy 2024. Concerning pace, he has observed that, while politics move quickly, democracy needs to proceed slowly. Reflecting on the quick passage of time since he first ran as MLA in 2013 and was elected in 2017, he noted the difference in the pace of politics and governance; a functioning democracy requires a much more thoughtful, intentional, and deliberate pace.


The first question for Adam was about the electric bike rebate program (https://bcebikerebates.ca/) which was fully subscribed within a few days of it being announced last spring. While a waiting list has been created, this participant asked why she had not heard anything about reinstating and expanding this popular program since it was first announced. Adam did not have specific details about the program but hopes that the upcoming February budget will see the program funded again. He shared his concerns that the provincial government is governing by announcements and less concerned with the actual policy and regulations needed.


Adam cited another example of governing by announcement rather than advancing good public policy by banning the public use of illicit substances. Forced by a BC Supreme Court injunction to delay implementation three days before it was set to be enacted (https://bc.ctvnews.ca/b-c-s-ban-on-drug-use-in-public-spaces-is-unconstitutional-lawsuit-claims-1.6642349), the government has not yet responded to the court ruling with a plan. During the debate, Adam and his colleague Sonia Furstenau raised substantial questions about the potential for court action, especially since the provincial government has failed to deliver safe consumption sites. Both Adam and Sonia believe in a harm reduction approach to the extremely dangerous poisoned illicit drug supply at the centre of the ongoing public health emergency since 2016 that has taken the lives of more than 10,000 British Columbians. In his opinion, about which the BC Chief Coroner has consistently warned, pushing people away into the darkness amounts to potential death sentences.


An Early Childcare professional asked Adam about Child Care Resource and Referral (CCRR) centres (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/family-social-supports/caring-for-young-children/how-to-access-child-care/child-care-resource-referral-centre). We learned from Adam that the government initially focused on announcing as many child care spaces as possible with little distinction between for profit and nonprofit providers. It was not until 2021 that limits were placed on how much for profit childcare providers could charge. In Adam’s opinion, the vast majority of public money for child care should fund not-for-profit child care in public spaces. He also expressed concern that Early Childcare Educator salaries were not yet at an appropriate level.


Some unanswered questions remained:

  • Why doesn’t Salt Spring have its own Childcare Referral Centre? 

  • Why doesn’t Salt Spring access the $10 per day childcare funding?

  • And. . .who is responsible for pursuing these opportunities?


The rest of our time together was focused on our pervasive topic of concern: Housing. This conversation began with a question about the apparent lack of progress with the long-promised 28-unit supportive housing on Drake Road. A participant asked what local pressure could be applied to accelerate progress.


Having participated in countless brutally-honest meetings with BC Housing concerning this project, Adam was not convinced that added pressure will accelerate progress. Citing an almost total change in BC Housing staff, Adam also noted that BC Housing’s confidence that progress could be made quickly had been erroneous. Even though paramountcy (https://www.constitutionalstudies.ca/2019/07/doctrine-of-paramountcy/) was declared, exempting the project from local issues such as zoning, harsh realities about the complexities of building on that site with minimal existing infrastructure has created unexpected problems and delays. Additionally, challenges with the contractor providing the engineered housing have further delayed progress. While BC Housing asserts that this project will be complete by an undefined date in 2024, local experts are skeptical.


According to Adam, the issue is not only a scarcity of housing supply; thousands of homes are being built. He cited his commute to the Legislature with dozens of new multi-storey buildings along his route. The challenge is that most of these homes are market priced, too expensive for too many. He is convinced that the government’s belief that the private sector housing market should be responsible for building affordable housing is erroneous. While developers are able to build housing with 10% of it affordably priced, we need a far higher percentage of affordable housing than can be supported by the private sector market. Adam is convinced that the government must both require and help fund an adequate supply of affordable housing.


According to Adam, we must provide a range of housing so that all can live comfortably. This means that the government needs to step in to provide the housing that the market will not provide. In Adam’s opinion, we are clearly seeing the consequences of the Canadian and BC decisions to get out of social housing in the 1990s.


He believes that our government should also be purchasing existing housing and repurposing it as multiple family homes, both as rooming houses (legal on Salt Spring) and multi-unit suites. To date, BC housing has remained adamant about continuing its focus on purpose-built housing rather than also considering acquiring and renovating currently existing homes.


A participant questioned the wisdom of getting back into social housing, seeing it as a failure. Adam responded that, while some may be critical of the government’s ability to provide a safe, secure home for everyone, it is his belief that this is the government’s responsibility and exactly what our leaders should be working hard to achieve.

While creating affordable housing is difficult throughout BC, our Southern Gulf Islands have additional challenges, including:

  1. Rural area numbers are far smaller than those of urban areas and, as a result, funding often goes to the areas producing the highest and most impressive statistics, leaving our smaller projects unfunded. Although it may be changing with the Rural Housing Program soon to be presented to the CRD Board, rural areas like Salt Spring are too easily ignored when competing with urban areas like Victoria and Vancouver.

  2. While local government has been supportive, the realities of rural building with labour, supply, local regulations, and infrastructure challenges are substantial hurdles, adding complexity to already daunting building projects.

  3. Will Salt Spring get its fair share of the proposed $85 million CRD borrowing (over a period of years) to use as match for federal and provincial affordable housing partnerships? (https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/news/article/2023/06/02/crd-to-increase-borrowing-authority-for-housing)? That may be largely up to Salt Spring’s success proposing strong, viable projects. . . .

Is any community doing it well providing homes for all? There is a movement that is successfully getting folks in homes in areas as different as the Netherlands, Houston, and Manchester. Called Housing First, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_First) - not to be confused with our local Housing First Program - its premise is that getting folks into homes first is the priority. Rather than requiring complicated and time-consuming administrative process before allowing one to be housed, it is becoming clearer that communities that get folks into homes first and then determine the support they need are achieving some pretty amazing results.


More locally, Duncan Village (https://www.mycowichanvalleynow.com/71798/news/the-village-in-duncan-a-model-for-sheltering-homeless-elsewhere/) is making headlines for its success. Given our local struggle to find a secure, safe location for the campers evicted from the Drake Road site, Adam suggested representatives of nonprofits and local government travel to Duncan together to learn more about this impressive local initiative. That tour is being arranged, so, hopefully, local leaders will soon have a roadmap for a possible solution for Salt Spring.

As our conversation concerning affordable housing drew to a close for this gathering, Adam challenged local leaders, encouraging them not to be dissuaded from courageous work supporting homes for all by pushback from the community. Instead, engage residents in open and transparent conversations. According to Adam: It is not acceptable that a wealthy society like ours is not courageous enough to find solutions.

As our time together drew to a close, the upcoming BC election on October 19, 2024 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2024_British_Columbia_general_election) was briefly mentioned. Adam clarified his very different roles:

  • He is our advocate, serving all in his riding.

  • He is an opposition spokesman, a serious responsibility as that essential counterbalance to the immense power that we place in the hands of the government.

  • And, yes, he is likely to also soon be a political campaigner, seeking to convince voters that he can best represent us.

Hold onto your hats - it is bound to be a very exciting political year.


And, too soon, it was 1:00, and time for Adam to leave us. But, not until participants took the opportunity to thank him for his tenacity, hard work, willingness to dive into difficult issues, consistent availability to help, and honesty with which he shares his opinions and commitment to bettering BC. (Thank-you, Adam and Jerram!)



Please join us this Friday, January 12, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome MP Elizabeth May! It has been a while since she has joined us at ASK Salt Spring, so we hope you join us to welcome her.


***Please check the Exchange Events listing this Thursday for a cancellation if the coming snowstorm is heavier than predicted.***


What would you like to ask her?

  • What is your proudest accomplishment for 2023?

  • What is your highest priority for 2024?

  • What bills should we be watching most carefully?

  • How should we address our worker housing crisis?

  • And?


Please join us this Friday to welcome Elizabeth!


Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grant Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!


Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?


Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


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

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


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

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!


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