Sixteen joined this ASK Salt Spring conversation, including our special guest MLA Adam Olsen and his team: Laura Parker, William Kelly, and Jake Rees. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Adam shared his grave concerns about the fragility of our democracy. He worries that our democracy needs greater strength, vibrancy, and resiliency. His concerns are supported by the fact that a recent poll found three out of five Canadians have recently reported that they do not trust their government.
Adam believes certain actions by our BC government are simply not working including:
Poor, non-transparent, and conflicting communications about those issues that mean the most to us;
Unwillingness to listen and respond to those expressing concerns;
Inability to admit its errors with humility; and
An adherence to party politics at the expense of working together for the common good.
Combined, these actions have, in Adam’s opinion, created a sad situation in which trust and confidence in our BC government has been eroded.
Despite these concerns, Adam will be back at the Legislature beginning Tuesday doing his best to serve those he represents. He learned soon after being elected as our MLA that the pursuit of political power too often leads to listening only to those who can enhance his power. Instead of seeking power, he seeks to approach issues with the openness and humility needed to do what is best rather than what helps him politically.
A participant asked about the differences (and similarities) of Old Growth and Anti-Vaccination protests. While Adam agreed that there are some similarities, he sees overwhelming differences between blocking logging roads and blocking major urban highways, interrupting access, and overpowering all non-supporters. While clear about our right to assemble and protest, Adam reminded us that blocking major highways is simply and clearly illegal.
Adam believes that the protests over protection of our Old Growth are a clear illustration of a growing lack of trust in our BC government: While they say they are committed to protecting our Old Growth, facts do not support this promise.
When asked whether Salt Spring is prepared for disruptive protests, Adam reminded us that we need to engage in community-building exercises to better prepare for an entire range of emergencies. Later we returned to this topic of preparing for community resilience in the face of chaos. While our governments need to be prepared to address chaos, initially, we must also be prepared to face crisis at the family and community level. (For more detail, please see the January 28, 2022 ASK Salt Spring report about Emergency Preparedness at: asksaltspring.com).
A participant asked about communication problems around COVID. Adam responded that, in defense of our government, clearly communicating is especially challenging when the virus itself - as well as the science to combat it - is constantly-changing. But, these COVID complexities have made it even more imperative that communication is as clear as possible, giving us the answers we demand. This includes the willingness of our government to accept blame for missteps as well as leaving partisan politics out of COVID communications.
Adam recalled that, when COVID began to threaten us, all parties did pull together. Unfortunately, he believes that, after the election, the NDP stopped talking to other parties, relying, instead, on the message: Don’t worry: We have it handled.
This comment about our government's efforts to retain total control shifted the conversation to the role of volunteers in a world increasingly-dominated by government. Adam told us of parent-built baseball diamonds of his youth that have been replaced by taxpayer-funded ones. When a skateboard park was proposed, instead of letting the community take a leadership role funding and planning this park, the local government took over the entirety of the project. Adam sees this as a sad lost opportunity for communities to work together to achieve common goals.
A participant asked what could be done in Salt Spring to strengthen a diminished volunteer role, due, in part, to an initiative-smothering bureaucracy. We were reminded that risk and liability were often the reasons for discouraging volunteer efforts. While Adam agreed that an increasingly-litigious society is very real concern, he also believes that our community can come together to take a leadership role accomplishing priority projects.
A participant asked what local project could be a good test case of a partnership between volunteer groups and our local government. It was suggested that everyone think about this intriguing question and return to ASK Salt Spring next week (Friday, February 11, 11-1) to discuss promising projects with our special guest, CRD Director Gary Holman.
Projects led by volunteer groups have the added benefit of providing an invaluable opportunity to reinvigorate community cohesiveness. Instead, Adam has noticed that we have honed our skills of writing letters to demand things from our government rather than uniting to work together.
Not to dismiss the power of this letter-writing advocacy, later in the conversation we discussed the power of advocacy as a critical component of a well-functioning democracy. In Adam’s opinion, aggressive and angry advocacy is often the result of not getting a response to dearly-held positions. Adam is committed to respond, welcoming letters and emails - although, he ruefully admitted that he already gets many, many communications from his very politically-active riding!
Adam pointed out a problem with local identification of projects: our governments - at both a provincial as well as federal level - fund the projects that will move their agenda forward. If your project does not fit into this box, getting funding will be very difficult. What about letting local governments identify their priorities and providing funding to meet those rather than those of senior governments? In Adam’s opinion, this is yet another illustration of a paternalistic government that believes it knows more about what a community’s needs than its residents.
A participant shared his concern about widening cracks in our healthcare system. Adam agreed that our struggling healthcare system is a major source of the deterioration of confidence in our government. Adam believes that the growing number who are denied access to a family doctor is a major factor in this loss of confidence. Our healthcare system’s failure to prioritize preventative medicine is another factor, in Adam’s opinion.
He fears that our healthcare is edging toward a tiered system in which those with money can pay for better care. He told us of a clinic in his riding that is now requiring patients to pay to be a member before accessing clinic services. And, Telus is now offering virtual walk-in clinics and a premium service for a cost. This creeping privatization is also increasing in senior and childcare sectors. It is Adam’s worry that the promise of universal health care for all Canadians is fading.
As 1:00 approached, Adam was asked about the Police Act Review Committee. We learned that a group of committed MLAs have been working together since the summer of 2020. After months of input from agencies and the community, Adam expects the next few meetings will be in camera to assess the information and develop recommendations concerning police governance, oversight and accountability, training, racism, relationships between police and community, indigenous policing, and mental health issues to name a few of the many issues to be discussed. As Emergency Services will also be reviewed, Adam believes that a more encompassing Public Safety Act may result from these deliberations.
This committee has been a reassuring illustration for Adam that elective representatives can leave their party politics at the door and work together to find solutions.
Time to let Adam move on to his many other responsibilities, we all thanked Adam for his passion, hard work, amazing ability to see the big picture, and willingness to give up his valuable time to be with us at ASK Salt Spring the first Friday of every month. Adam countered by acknowledging ASK Salt Spring for giving him the opportunity to explore deep issues in a safe and respectful conversation with islanders who care. (Thank-you, Adam!)
Please join us 11-1 February 11 to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman
Given COVID concerns, we will be gathering virtually via Zoom:
(In case you need it, the passcode is 947504)
What do you want to ask him?
Are the North Salt Spring Waterworks District discussions about allying with CRD over?
What is CRD currently doing to address our housing crisis?
Can you explain a Local Community Commission and whether it will be a referendum issue?
When do you think HarbourWalk designs will be complete?
What do you think we need to do about decades of deferred road maintenance and increasing volumes on our roads?
See you Friday, February 11, 11-1 on Zoom to welcome Gary!
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?
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What a team!)