- Gayle Baker
Is MLA Adam Olsen Right - Is the Province Ignoring Salt Spring?
While 11:00 came with very few gathered in our new location - the Lobby of the Middle School - to welcome MLA Adam Olsen and his able staff, Laura Parker and Emily Bishop, soon 17 had arrived to ask Adam questions and discuss the issues most important to them.
When we began by asking Adam to tell us what excites and delights him, we learned about the joy of his reconnection to the sea. He spoke with pleasure of his Day of Truth and Reconciliation spent with his father fishing and rekindling that long tradition of a deep connection to the Saanich Inlet. He told us that, unlike relatives in the Washington State area where 50% of the commercial salmon fishing is Indigenous, Canada’s history forced Indigenous peoples off the water by ignoring fishing rights and making it illegal.
Adam has recognized his disconnection with the water has created an imbalance - a feeling of living backwards, losing that perspective only available from the water.
Until recently Adam feared that the tradition of fishing and connection to the sea would end with his generation. He asked his father, Why don’t we have a boat? Embracing the challenge, his father soon acquired a boat, and Adam, his father, children, and nephews are reconnecting to the sea, regaining that needed balance and perspective.
Adam’s first question concerned the proposed Speculation and Vacancy Tax: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/18046). Opting to exclude the Gulf Islands in 2018 because this tax had, in his opinion, not yet been clearly defined, Adam is now supportive of further exploration of this tax for Salt Spring. After four years of experience with this tax, Adam has observed that areas that have opted not to impose it are feeling pressure from speculators who prefer to purchase in areas without this tax.
When Adam and our local elected officials met with Minister Selena Robinson to advocate for Salt Spring’s inclusion in this tax, they learned that it was designed primarily for urban areas. For this reason, Salt Spring was not in the recent list of communities included in this tax. It was clear from listening to differing perspectives about this tax expressed at this ASK Salt Spring gathering, that the community is not in consensus on this issue. No stranger to differences of opinion, following the October 15 local election, Adam will meet with our CRD Director and Islands Trustees to discuss the tax and coordinate next steps..
When asked if the money generated from this tax was being spent correctly, Adam replied that it was being spent as well as other provincial spending. Initial hope for this money was that it would be spent by the region generating it; the province’s reply has been that it is spending billions on housing and that all regions are benefiting. Many communities have argued that returning the funds generated directly to that community would be optimal. The province has rebuffed those requests.
When a participant asked Adam what he would do to create housing for our well-paid workforce unsuccessfully seeking a home, Adam replied that the province has the power to compel communities to do what needs to be done. He discussed the housing platform that former Housing Minister David Eby has proposed, questioning whether he would use this provincial power to compel communities to build housing.
Adam used the temporary housing at King’s Lane as an example of the province’s responsibility to take the lead in compelling housing projects. Unfortunately, this SeaBreeze/King’s Lane/Drake Road muddle is also an example of BC Housing’s lack of understanding of how things get done here, blithely promising that the Drake Road Supportive Housing project would be completed by this summer. (It is now likely to be ready for occupation a full year later than promised.) When asked for a running total of the cost to taxpayers, Adam promised to try to get this information.
The challenges surrounding this issue have required Adam to coordinate regular meetings with a revolving door of BC Housing employees. Despite the reality that neither the Islands Trust nor CRD have the sole authority, nor the responsibility, for housing in our community Adam is very clear that no MLA’s office has has the administrative capacity for such intervention. With only two constituency advocates and more than 50,000 constituents to support, the MLA’s office is far from the robust administration needed.
We learned that Adam believes that BC Housing’s single approach - purpose-built housing - is nearsighted, especially for Salt Spring Island. He wonders why BC Housing seems unwilling to buy existing homes and convert them to multi-family homes with shared living spaces. We learned that the province is requiring a housing needs assessment. It is Adam’s hope that the province will require communities to implement the solutions identified in this needs assessment by also allocating needed funding.
Switching gears, Adam was asked to comment on the provincial refusal to allow Salt Spring’s large Improvement Districts, North Salt Spring Waterworks and Fire Rescue, to apply for infrastructure grants. While there are many good reasons to allow these large Improvement Districts access to the funding they need, the province has been adamant: Improvement Districts must join, or partner, with local government to access grant funding. While the province, under both the Liberals as well as the NDP, has been consistent in their denial of this infrastructure funding, Adam is happy to amplify continued requests for Improvement District inclusion in these grant opportunities.
When asked if he supported the Local Community Commission (LCC) (lccsaltspring.com), a referendum item on the October 15 local election ballot, Adam told us that he sees the LCC as a small step, not addressing our governance split between CRD and the Islands Trust. While there are differing opinions, many advocating the wisdom of the separation of land use decisions from services, Adam is hearing broad agreement from community members that something should be done. He holds the province responsible for its lack of attention to Salt Spring’s governance issues despite his regular requests for provincial help. The Minister appears unwilling to work with the community to find a solution.
From Adam’s perspective, this provincial failure to respond is causing unnecessary turmoil in Salt Spring, unable to create an effective administrative body that can plan, coordinate, and execute the needed responses. While Salt Spring has been able to achieve some things - and Adam can point to examples - the community has been exceptionally challenged in delivering solutions to its expressed priorities.
While participants advocating support for an LCC spoke, encouraging Adam to see the wisdom of an LCC, Adam was clear that an LCC is a local discussion. His role, instead, is to get the province to take responsibility for Salt Spring’s governing laws, review them, and work with the community to ensure that they are working.
Adam was asked about discouraging statistics about seniors in need and those living rough in our community as well as our nearly invisible live aboard community. While we are not alone in this enormous challenge, it was another discouraging reminder that accessible housing for a balanced community is sorely lacking on Salt Spring.
As 1:00 approached, Adam was asked if he would support filling in a portion of Fulford Harbour to address the clear and present road safety hazards. While Adam agreed that Fulford ferry terminal is a mess, he is also aware of the daunting environmental and Indigenous challenges of such action. He was clear that it was not his responsibility to engineer a solution; it was his responsibility to advocate for the ferry corporation and the provincial government to find a solution that works for the Island
As it was time for us to say goodbye to Adam, Laura, and Emily until next month, we gave them an enthusiastic round of applause, so appreciative of Adam’s wisdom, honesty, consistent ability to stretch our thinking on those important issues, and the simple fact that they take time from their busy days to come here every month to be with us. (Thanks, Adam, Laura, and Emily!)
Please join us Friday, October 14, 11-1 at our NEW LOCATION - the *Lobby of the Middle School to welcome all three of our candidates for CRD Director, Jesse Brown, Kylie Coates, and Gary Holman.
*From Rainbow Road, turn right just after the School Board building and drive up the hill where you can park. Enter the building on the left as you look at it, and you will see the Lobby to the right as soon as you enter.
See you Friday, October 14, 11-1 in the Middle School Lobby to welcome our CRD candidates!
What would you like to ask them?
If you are elected, what would you accomplish in the first 12 months?
To what Salt Spring priority will your devote a significant portion of your energy?
Each of you hold different opinions about a Local Community Commission. If you are elected, and it is approved, what will be your first steps to implement it?
Pretend it is 2026, and you have been Electoral Director for four years. What can you realistically promise will be different, and how will you accomplish these improvements?
And. . . ?
Please join us this Friday, October 14 for a rich conversation with our CRD candidates. And remember: the Middle School Lobby!
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