A total of 16 came for all or part of this ASK Salt Spring gathering that welcomed our two declared candidates in the October 15, 2022 local election for CRD Electoral Director, current Director, Gary Holman, and Kylie Coates. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, each candidate began by telling us a bit about themselves.
We learned that Kylie is a fourth generation Gulf Islander and third generation Salt Springer, with great-grandparents who arrived on Mayne Island in 1919. While his roots are deep on Salt Spring, he also continues to have family connections throughout the Gulf Islands and, when speaking of our challenges, he told us that he often brings an all-island perspective to the conversation. Born at Lady Minto Hospital, he spent many years in other communities as well as overseas before returning to live on Salt Spring permanently several years ago.
Employed for a decade as an independent contractor for the Department of Defense with high security clearance, he has left this position to run for CRD Director. Why? Kylie has been returning to Salt Spring all his life and sees the same issues (like housing and water) remaining unresolved. If elected, he is committed to successfully addressing them. Having spent years traveling all around the world, Kylie believes that he can solve these lingering problems so that our next generation will enjoy a Salt Spring that is the best it can be.
A consulting economist, Gary purchased his home here in 1978. He soon learned that trying to make a living as a construction labourer was not for him and, a few year later, he moved off island to work for a consulting firm. Gary moved back to Salt Spring in 1989 and began his community activism. He ran successfully in 2002 as CRD Electoral Director and served two (then 3 year) terms until 2008. He was elected MLA for Saanich North and the Islands from 2013-2017 and was re-elected as our current CRD Electoral Director in 2018.
Gary focused some of his initial comments on the proposed Local Community Commission (LCC). Gary is convinced that an LCC will usher in a new era of CRD governance, offering far greater transparency and democratic representation to oversee our critical CRD services. He asked: Don’t over 11,000 Salt Springers deserve more elected representation than a single Elector Director? He also spoke about the governance benefits of consolidating island-wide commissions, siloed by mandate, into an elected LCC with an island-wide perspective.
An incorporation advocate during the debate five years ago, Kylie agrees that a change is needed. He is open to the possibility that an LCC may be the answer, but he also reminded us that an LCC has never been tested in a larger community, with the largest currently functioning LCC in a community of only 900 residents. While still skeptical about the promise of an LCC, he is convinced that we need to figure out how to work together to address our problems. In his opinion, an LCC could be an answer to this challenge.
When candidates were asked how the LCC will be supported, how many meetings a month will be held, and whether these meetings will be in the evenings so that working families can attend, Kylie repeated his concerns that Salt Spring may be too big for an LCC, but if it helps Salt Spring get control of our roads, he would support it. He strongly supports once a month, evening public meetings. He cited his frustration with daytime Island Trust meetings, requiring him to take a full day off work, and then, often not even being allowed to speak. If an LCC is approved, Kylie is committed to ensure that meetings are open, conveniently-scheduled, and welcoming of public participation.
Kylie sees this proposed LCC as a promising stepping stone toward eventual incorporation. He admonished us - if it is approved, we need to get it right!
Gary stated that the elected Local Commissioners will make administrative decisions, but he would support exploring evening meetings, despite the added staff costs they would require. While the bylaw states that the LCC will meet once a month, Gary believes the meetings would have to be longer than Commission meetings, with bigger agenda packages In Gary’s opinion, if once a month meetings were not enough, that bylaw requirement could be easily changed.
Concerning Kylie’s suggestion that the LCC take over our roads, Gary does not support the multi-million dollar liability of taking over road maintenance - as well as the even higher costs of upgrades and unforeseen emergencies, like our recent floods and landslides. Gary sees the LCC as an elected body of representatives that would more effectively amplify local concerns and negotiate from a stronger position with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure concerning Salt Spring’s roads and increasing our active transportation options.
Candidates were asked how informed they were about North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) issues and, more specifically, the recent history of the Water Optimization Report, (https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/salt-spring-island-ea-pdf/salt-spring-island-water-optimization-report-final.pdf?sfvrsn=7c676fcd_2), the ensuing debate about joining CRD (primarily to access infrastructure grants), and the ultimate failure of these discussions.
Kylie responded that he had attended the recent NSSWD meeting. He left the meeting with a clearer understanding of the extreme complexity of 14 different Salt Spring water systems. He is convinced that a key solution to our water challenge is a treatment plant at Mt. Maxwell so that the resources of the two reservoirs (Mt. Maxwell and St. Mary) could be combined. He also concluded that we need to focus on infrastructure to meet our water needs for the next century as well as regulations that require catchment and storage.
In Kylie’s opinion moving forward toward clearly-defined goals is extremely difficult for Salt Springers who seldom agree on anything, often expressing seven different opinion in a room of only five.
Gary stated that he and NSSWD Trustees agreed to disagree about the CRD governance issues. Neither Gary nor CRD supported the Optimization Report recommendation that NSSWD report directly to the CRD Board, excluding CRD staff from any input. Gary reminded us that the Board routinely relies upon CRD staff for advice. His perspective, and that of the Province which funded the report, is that NSSWD should have applied for the large (now closed) infrastructure grant opportunity and taken the lengthy waiting period before announcement of the award to resolve how NSSWD and CRD could work together.
Gary continues to believe that, given the managerial and operating capacity of NSSWD (which CRD is utilizing to operate some of its water utilities), a delegated governance model like that in place for the CRD Water Supply Commission, (https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/board-committees/board-committees-and-commissions/regional-water-supply-commission)would have allowed NSSWD to maintain virtual autonomy over operations. Gary described the conversion of NSSWD to a CRD utility as more of a merger than a takeover.
Just before we switched gears away from water, Gary reminded us that, in a recent NSSWD survey, the majority of the ratepayers were willing to consider joining CRD. Gary agreed that there have been some management issues with the smaller CRD water districts, but he reminded us that their ratepayers have also received millions in grants. In his opinion, the biggest issue facing CRD water districts is diseconomies of scale - a small number of ratepayers facing a very costly infrastructure deficit.
Candidates were asked how they were going to involve less represented members of our community. Kylie responded that, while a record numbers of Salt Springers voted in provincial elections, local turnout was traditionally very small. He suggested a high school candidates’ debate to involve our next generation in solving the issues.
Kylie went on the say that our last major infrastructure project was our pool, completed in 2008. In his opinion, we have to do better. A way to accomplish this is to get more provincial and federal infrastructure funding. He believes that one of our problems is that we elect amazing, competent Green Party candidates that, while hardworking and committed, are largely ignored by the parties in power. Kylie believes that if we want the funding to complete needed projects, we have to find a way to be heard by those in power at both the provincial and federal levels.
Gary agreed that high school debates may be good, but reminded us that local election turnout is low everywhere. He then contradicted Kylie’s assertion that no infrastructure projects have been completed, citing a $10 million BC Housing investment for the Supportive Housing on Drake Road (to be completed March 2023) as well as the completion of Salt Spring Commons, phases two and three of Croftonbrook, and millions of dollars-worth of pathways and sidewalks.
Kylie, a board member of the Wagon Wheel Society (https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Community-Service/Wagon-Wheel-Housing-Society-1690729874275058/), stated that, in his opinion, the proposed 28 units of supported housing on CRD's Drake Road property is simply a bandaid, not addressing the needs of an estimated 300+ inadequately-housed Salt Springers on land and boats. He proposed that we need to buy a property in central Ganges and build a large apartment building to adequately address Salt Spring's affordable housing problem.
When asked where this apartment building could be built, Kylie suggested the Murakami property currently on the market as well as the former metal recycling facility on Ganges Hill, both Agricultural Land Reserve properties.
Gary countered that we will have created 120 units of affordable housing this term, including Croftonbrook, Drake Road, Seabreeze Inne, and Salt Spring Commons. While affordable housing and homelessness is a concern all across the country, Gary believes we have done more than bandaid the problem. In his opinion, the new housing being built (all of which are multi-family developments in Ganges) and the legalization of suites and cottages on ALR land, near villages and transit, but outside drinking watersheds, are positive strides in the right direction direction.
With the additional development potential on Drake Road (for which additional wells are being drilled), the promising addition of Dragonfly Commons purchased housing (https://dragonflycommons.com), (for which a CRD water utility is being discussed), and the possibilities of revitalizing the three Land Bank properties, Gary believes that significant additional progress is entirely possible.
When asked, both candidates agreed that while there is general consensus on the need for more affordable housing on Salt Spring, there remain concerns about the carrying capacity and environmental impacts on our island. Both Kylie and Gary agreed that housing projects must be environmentally sensitive as well as centralized, or at least serviced by transit, to avoid the impacts of more of the density sprawl and automobile dependency we have already created, resulting in an over 265 kilometer road network.
A participant, long concerned about affordable housing, reminded us that, while we may have made progress with affordable housing, worker housing seems to have been forgotten. Why?
Kylie told us about a CRD apartment building designed to accommodate workers in Victoria, asking why Salt Spring couldn’t have a similar large apartment building to address worker housing.
While Gary agrees with the desperate need for worker housing, he reminded us that funding - CRD, provincial, and federal - supports affordable housing that is tied to income, not job status. However, Gary pointed out that this distinction between worker and affordable housing is somewhat overstated since many people living in affordable, and even supported housing, are working. For example, he understands that roughly half of the residents of the affordable housing units at Croftonbrook Phase 3 are working. Gary also reminded us of the Trust's previous and proposed rezoning of thousands of properties, including ALR lands, allowing long term rentals of suites and cottages.
Without the funding base offered to affordable housing, building worker housing is challenging. Despite these challenges, Gary pointed to the Hospital Foundation acquisition and renovation of the Seabreeze Inne for health workers, the 30 for-purchase workforce houses proposed at Dragonfly Commons, and employers, like Country Grocer, who are also investing in worker housing, as promising trends.
While decisions have not yet been made, we were also reminded that the Drake Road property was originally donated by the School District for family housing, While a portion of that property is now committed for BC Housing's 28 unit supported housing, the CRD is discussing the development of another 50 densities on the property with possible partners. It is possible that this housing could be more family and worker oriented, depending on the objectives of the proponents and available funding and financing.
A ferries advocate spoke about his efforts to get better service for Salt Spring and the importance of maintaining the pressure on BC Ferries to serve us better. He spoke with appreciation of the recent visit of BC Ferries Board and staff to Salt Spring, delighted that they appear to want to listen to us, hopeful that this signals a new relationship between Salt Spring and BC Ferries. (BC Ferries Management and Advisory Committee members will also come to ASK Salt Spring Friday, September 30, 11-1, in the United Church Meadow.)
This participant spoke of the daunting challenges of getting waiting cars off the road at Fulford. Despite advocacy by the Salt Spring Ferry Advisory Committee (SSI FAC) it appears that BC Ferries management is not considering a two ferry service at Fulford, (and significantly-reducing our need for vehicle waiting space) despite their decision to do just that on the Vesuvius-Crofton route.
This participant has concluded that the only option is to create 140 more parking spaces by expanding the current parking (originally created by fill), by filling in another portion of Fulford Harbour. He asked CRD candidates whether they would support this solution.
Kylie, a former member of the SSI FAC, understands the difficulty of addressing this clear danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles in Fulford. But, given the daunting environmental implications, would not commit to supporting this Harbour-fill option until further investigation. He would like to first explore some options to reconfigure roads and redirect vehicle traffic, possibly including a loop around Fulford to reduce the bottleneck.
Gary, who has served on the SSI FAC for three terms agreed with Kylie that a solution of this magnitude cannot be supported without more due diligence regarding environmental and First Nations issues. Clearly aware of the dangers of the current road configuration in Fulford, he still believes BC Ferries might consider a two ferry model for Fulford. He reminded us, once again, that, with the approval of an LCC, Salt Spring would have five elected representatives to advocate solutions with BC Ferries, improving Salt Spring's influence on such important issues as our ferry service
As it was already slightly past 1:00, we reluctantly concluded this ASK Salt Spring gathering, some packing up chairs and many others continuing the conversation with either Kylie or Gary. We all thanked both Gary and Kylie for taking their time to be with us, answering our questions with honesty and perception, and each taking on that daunting task of running for our next CRD Electoral Director. (Thanks, Kylie and Gary!)
Please join us Friday, August 19, 11-1, in the United Church Meadow to welcome Islands Trustee Laura Patrick.
What do you want to ask her?
What are the 2022-23 Trust Council initiatives?
What are some of the issues before our Local Trust Committee?
What progress has been made on the engagement process for the Trust Policy Statement and the recently-released Islands Trust Governance report (https://islandstrust.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/TC_2022-03-08_GNMC-MarchPresentatin_PowerPoint_FINAL.pdf)?
And. . . .?
See you Friday, August 19, 11-1, at the United Church Meadow to welcome Laura!
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