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  • Gayle Baker

Huge Provincial Challenges, but Closer to Home, Adam Asks "Is our Local Governance Working for Us?"

September 2

After our Territorial Acknowledgement, a circle of 16 who stayed for all or part of the conversation welcomed our MLA, Adam Olsen, and his staff, Constituent Advocates William Kelly, and Laura Parker, to this ASK Salt Spring gathering. When asked what was on his mind, Adam began by telling us about the mountain of complaints he has received about BC Ferries. After several pandemic-challenged summers when BC Ferries ran below capacity, this summer has overwhelmed the system. Unable to maintain needed staffing levels, this summer was marked by the chaos caused by late and canceled sailings across the Southern Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.


While some of these challenges to BC Ferries were not within their control, Adam is concerned that we are now seeing the impacts of the changes made to the business model by the previous government which shifted the governance perspective from that of a vital component of our public infrastructure to a bottom-line business model.


A question about a passenger-only ferry service was raised. While Adam supports this initiative, it has been shown to be an expensive business to operate privately. In his opinion, it needs to be financially supported by the province as a critical transportation link between communities.


Concern over BC Ferries has made it clear that the provincial government has an important decision to make. The government can ensure that our ferry operation is based on the needs of the public and that employees are fairly compensated with a pathway for advancement in the company or they can support BC Ferries to proceed as is. (Want to learn more and share your opinion with BC Ferries management? They will be our special guests at ASK Salt Spring Friday, September 30, 11-1, in the United Church Meadow.)


In addition to a deluge of complaints about BC Ferries, Adam and his staff have been barraged by concerns about our collapsing healthcare system, a lack of support for people suffering from mental health and addictions, and unresolved issues of homelessness/unavailable housing for too many in our community. With a province reporting a $1.3 billion surplus, Adam was clear that while the government brags about the strength of the British Columbia economy, it begs the question of why it is failing so many of us.


Concerning our healthcare system, Adam, often very good at seeing glimmers of hope, was at a loss to find words of reassurance when so many British Columbians are without a family doctor and not receiving the primary healthcare they need. (https://globalnews.ca/news/8939913/frustration-builds-among-b-c-resident-doctors-over-new-contract-offer/). As many go without primary healthcare and walk-in clinics close for a variety of reasons, emergency rooms in hospitals have been forced to fill in the gaps. They too, however, are affected by the labour shortage in the healthcare system, and many acute care facilities across our province have been intermittently closed this summer.


Dumping more money in the system cannot be the only solution, Adam stressed. The province has been spending more and more money on healthcare. In Adam’s opinion, tinkering around the edges, seeking small solutions, is not enough. He believes that we need a complete rethink about our healthcare system. Without this, the corporate health care providers, in Adam’s words, the “Corporate Hawks”, are circling, ready to step in with a for-profit system that can capitalize on people who have less complex healthcare needs and the money to pay.


Adam was asked to identify the core of our healthcare problem. While reminding us that this complex problem does not have a simple solution, Adam identified one important part of the problem: Bureaucratic Bloating is increasing an already-large bureaucracy rather than focusing on supporting the full range of professionals who are delivering our healthcare services.


Concerning the oft-mentioned doctor shortage, it is Adam’s belief that a part of the problem is a skewed distribution of doctors. Did you know that Salt Spring, as a part of the Capital Regional District, is considered urban rather than rural, a detriment when recruiting doctors?


Clearly, our doctors are not being sufficiently supported by our healthcare system: The fee-for-service for each visit is approximately $30, while their costs for staff, facilities, equipment, and insurance have soared due to inflation. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/want-more-family-doctors-change-how-they-work-and-get-paid-says-b-c-researcher-1.5068894).


(For a detailed history of decades of negotiations, see: https://www.doctorsofbc.ca/sites/default/files/bcma_history_v11-i-lr.pdf.)


While the NDP government has been making some recent announcements celebrating help for doctors, it is Adam’s opinion that these victory laps over small successes are simply not enough. Instead, these media announcements indicate a piecemeal approach designed as a communications exercise to gain accolades rather than offering a comprehensive plan to address this serious - and life-threatening - issue.


Adam believes that these piecemeal announcements of successes are masking a disturbing trend toward autocracy in the governing party. In Adam’s opinion, information is being controlled until it is politically convenient rather than honouring that free-flow of information and honest assessment of issues that characterizes a true democracy.


Adam also cited some disturbing autocratic tendencies in our legislature. In Adam’s experience, an unhealthy amount of power is concentrated with the Premier’s Office and staff, with MLAs forced to do as directed. MLAs cannot debate on Private Member Bills because the legislative agenda is controlled by the governing party. With so much control resting in the hands of the Premier and his office, Adam also places responsibility on MLAs who have been too complacent, trading comfort and expediency for the independence needed to fulfill their responsibility as our elected representatives.


Adam believes that the prevalent structure that makes it far easier to toe the line of party politics must be changed if we want to bring democracy back to our legislature. In his new position as Third Party House Leader, Adam is in the position to do just that. It will be his job to work with the other two House Leaders to look at how the House systems operate and implement needed changes.


Determined to bring democracy back to House procedure, Adam is committed to make sure that the power and authority now wrestled away by the Premier’s office is more evenly distributed. He will work hard to encourage MLAs to submit Private Members Bills and ensure there is a fair and equitable process for them to be debated. He will use his role as Third Party House Leader to advocate for every MLA to regain their lost power to suggest reforms and make our government accountable.


Adam spoke about how easy it is for MLAs in the governing party to give up their power. With no manual for parliamentary procedures, many MLAs take the safe and expected route of compliance to party edicts rather than taking full control of the power and authority that their elected seat affords them. Adam is - and always has been - one of the brave ones who has learned by experimenting to discover the limits of our system. He has hope that his experience and commitment to the free flow of information necessary for democracy will serve him well as he combats the disturbing autocracy he sees in legislative politics in British Columbia.


When asked about our breaking news concerning SeaBreeze Inne, Drake Road, and Kings Lane affordable housing steps and missteps this summer, Adam believes that BC Housing administrators failed to listen to Salt Spring. Instead, they have been intent upon telling us what we need. Not heeding warnings from locals leaders, BC Housing’s blithe assertion that they could quickly complete the supportive housing units on Drake Road has been disproven; neighbourhoods have been upended, and residents most in need of our support are being moved from place-to-place.


After more than a dozen meetings coordinated by Adam’s office with BC Housing and other organizations, Adam is clear that the process to deliver supportive housing on Salt Spring is not serving the community and has required far too many resources from his office. Increasingly, his two-person office staff are being relied on to fill in the administrative gaps left by Salt Spring’s fragmented governance structure.


While Islands with a smaller population are more manageable, Adam’s budgets and staffing are not sufficient to provide the coordination and facilitation between governments, government agencies, and non-governmental groups needed to address the complex social challenges facing Salt Spring Island. Adam noted that all of those issues require a level of analysis, planning, and coordination normally undertaken by government bodies that have access to the appropriate level of resources to actually solve the issues. He asked the question of participants: Are the current governance systems working? Are they working for those with the most need and often with the weakest voices? Is the community getting the outcomes we need on roads? On healthcare? First responders and policing?


If the answers to any of these is negative, Adam suggests we lobby the province to convene a community discussion. He has been raising these concerns with the provincial government and three (two former, one current) Ministers of Municipal Affairs, asking for a process that could honestly look at what is working on Salt Spring, what is not, and what governance solutions are possible. Adam believes that creative solutions must be pursued, leaving out the political divisions that have torn at the fibre of our community in past Incorporation debates. Focusing, instead, on figuring out how Salt Spring’s needs and values can be addressed. An outcome for Adam would be a structure in which Salt Springers align on values and priorities and have the local resources to implement many of them. While a potentially divisive conversation, Adam believes that an honest conversation about our fragmented governance systems is necessary.


With 1:00 upon us, we thanked Adam, Laura, and Will for being with us every month (despite their overwhelming weight of other issues to address), sharing their opinions with courage and honesty, and bringing wisdom along with that sometimes alarming looking glass to magnify issues we may have been ignoring. (Thanks, Adam, Laura, and Will!)


Please join us this Friday, September 9, 11-1 in the United Church Meadow to welcome all declared CRD candidates. So far, this is Kylie Coates and Gary Holman, but stay tuned, as candidates have until September 9 to declare.


What would you like to ask those who want our vote to become our next CRD Electoral Director?


  • How would you proceed to address them?

  • What do you see as the top two priorities that must be accomplished in the next four years?

  • Are you happy with the CRD Provisional 2023 budget? What do you like best about it? What would you like to change?

  • What would you do to get HarbourWalk back on the priority list?

  • There has been talk of joining a regional district with communities more like ours - like Cowichan Valley. What would be loose by doing this? What would we gain?

  • If a Local Community Commission is approved, what would you do before the election of Local Commissioners to make sure it is structured to be successful?

  • And?

Please join us Friday, September 9, 11-1, in the United Church Meadow to welcome our CRD candidates

Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com

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

asksaltspring.com

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