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  • Gayle Baker

Is it Time to Better Understand the Role of Citizens’ Lobbying Groups in our Government?

October 8

After our Territorial Acknowledgement, 15 welcomed our MLA, Adam Olsen, to an ASK Salt Spring gathering in a great location - the Dome in front of the Rainbow Road Elementary School. (Thanks to the school and district for their permission and to the parents who made this lovely space a reality!)

Adam began by telling us that he had spent the September 30 National Day of Truth and Reconciliation golfing. . .and proud of it! He had participated in a Tsawout fundraiser to replace their longhouse: impressive $80,000 was raised by this golf event, including $30,000 donated by the Catholic diocese.

We learned that the 2020–21 legislative session has resumed. Two of the bills under consideration concern childcare. The province has invested billions of dollars in the past few years to get closer to achieving the goal of $10/day childcare for all. One of the challenges faced by government in scaling up the service is staffing these facilities with qualified Early Childcare Education (ECE) educators. A natural next step is to professionalize ECE with standards, regulation, and a registry. This is not to suggest that there are not professionals working in the industry but that creating standards will, hopefully, result in attracting more people into the field and better wages..

Despite clear progress addressing childcare, Adam sees the Fairy Creek mess as one of many examples of our provincial government dodging their responsibility. In Adam’s opinion, our government is not seeking solutions, content, instead, to shift the responsibility of their failed forestry policy on the local First Nations and federally-managed RCMP. Adam believes that our provincial government has too often sidestepped its responsibility, preferring to take no action.

Adam sees housing as another example of our government failing to make the sweeping changes needed. Instead, housing is still viewed as a dominant profit model rather than a place to live. As a result of the Canadian dream of home ownership that became prevalent after World War II, our houses have become the measure of our financial success rather than as structures that provide homes for people to develop a safe and secure base around which to build their lives.

Why can’t we make multi-family cohabitation more accessible? How do we better utilize large single-family homes? Is the single-family home going to remain the Canadian dream, or is there a better dream? Specifically, why couldn’t large, underutilized houses be repurposed to provide homes for multiple individuals and families?

When asked about pressure multiple families on a single property could add to our water and septic systems, Adam reminded us of the promise of water catchment, but agreed that waste issues must be addressed with higher density development.

According to Adam, our government focuses on managing “fence lines” - laws to help owners know the rules they must follow as well as giving them expectations about the rules their neighbours are expected to follow. And, even in this narrow scope of responsibility, our government too often fails: Consider logging. . . .While we currently have no law prohibiting an owner from clear cutting their entire property, impacts to neighbours, like drainage issues, are not even addressed.

As Islands Trust is responsible for our land use, Adam was asked why Islands Trust was not solving our housing crisis. We were reminded that the Islands Trust Act places the Islands Trust in a very specific box with clearly-defined powers. Addressing anything outside that box is difficult without legislative changes.

Is it time for a review of this 50-year old Islands Trust Act? When a participant reminded us that the Island Trustees are currently embarked on an internal review, Adam responded that, while this self-evaluation is laudable, the province established the Islands Trust, and it is their job to review it. Instead, the province appears to be uninterested, following its habit of only evaluating organizations when asked to do so by that organization.

Adam believes that it is the province’s responsibility to stop dodging its responsibility and to step up to do its job by reviewing the 50-year old Islands Trust Act, much like it is currently reviewing the Police Act.

It was asked: How can we as citizens get our province to be accountable? Should something like a Citizens’ Assembly be established to evaluate our government? Adam’s response was No. In his opinion, it is our government’s job to evaluate - a job the province is taxing us to perform.

Adam reminded us that we do have power: It was largely the uproar stemming from the death of George Floyd that spurred our government to establish the Police Act Review Committee. He also reminded us of the Islands Trust Policy Statement, its first reading delayed due to widespread citizen demand for more engagement before proceeding.

He suggested citizen lobbyists as a way to get the government to stop dodging its responsibility. He cautioned us not to see lobbyists as only advocating for big business but to understand that lobbyists are organized to get the attention of those who need to listen. He offered his team’s support to make those connections to get our voices heard.

Citizens’ Assemblies are established by the government with specific responsibilities as well as a defined timeline, disbanded when their task has been completed. A lobbying group, on the other hand, can be an organic community body designed to put pressure on the government to make needed changes. In Adam’s opinion, lobbying groups can be very effective in bringing a community together to amplify an issue to the level that the province can no longer ignore.

Adam believes that good democracy demands that our province put resources aside for regular reviews. As this does not seem to be happening on a regular basis, is it time to better understand the role of citizens’ lobbying groups in our government?

As 1:00 had come and passed, we bid Adam a grateful farewell, thanking him for his knowledge, perspective, and - every month - challenging us with new ways to look at solutions to those issues that matter most to us. Thank-you, Adam!

Please join us - virtually - next Friday, October 15, 11-1, to welcome our Islands Trustee Laura Patrick to answer your questions, listen to your concerns, and work with us to find solutions.

See you - virtually - this Friday, October 15, on Zoom:

Please join us to welcome our Islands Trustee Laura Patrick.

Any question, anytime:

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

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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