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  • Gayle Baker

MLA Adam Olsen: His Wisdom, Vision, and Optimism

February 7:

Our MLA, Adam Olsen, was the guest this week. The 16 Salt Springers who came had plenty of time to ask questions on a wide variety of issues as he arrived 45 minutes before scheduled (10:15) and stayed until slightly after 1:00. The conversation began with BC’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax, and, interestingly, as some left and others came, this issue was brought up three different times during this ASK Salt Spring session.

According to a Provincial definition:

The Speculation and Vacancy Tax is an annual tax paid by some owners of residential properties in designated taxable regions of BC. The tax is designed to discourage housing speculation and people from leaving homes vacant in BC’s major urban centres.

The Gulf Islands are exempt from this tax. Some wondered if this was a wise decision. Adam told us that when the law was proposed, there were not enough details for him to be willing to include the Gulf Islands. He also worried that, historically, our island economy has been fueled by those who own summer homes. This law could affect these long-time summer residents significantly as well as having an unintended negative consequence on the economy of our island.

Now that the law has been implemented and details are available, if the Gulf Islands were to speak with one voice requesting this tax, Adam would welcome this conversation. A key element to his support of our inclusion in this tax would be to mandate that funds go directly to the communities in which they were generated. (Currently, all funds revert to the Province.) He noted that a number of municipalities would support a change in the law that would allow funds to go directly to them. It is Adam’s hope that the funds generated would be used to support local affordable housing initiatives.

It appears that a number of the folks in the room would support re-opening this discussion and, potentially, including Salt Spring in this tax. Their reasoning was:

- Now that other surrounding areas are being taxed, speculators seem to be investing in Salt Spring to avoid this tax. Their investments could be contributing to our fast-rising housing prices, squeezing so many out of the market.

- It was also expressed that excluding ourselves from a tax to simply maintain our long history of vacant homes for much of the year may not be good given the realities of our serious housing crisis. If sentiments were to protect our long-time summer home owners, some wondered if there could be an exception for these grandfathered part-time Salt Spring residents.

The conclusion concerning this speculation and vacancy tax was that it may be time for Salt Springers to begin the conversation about being included in this tax. If there were strong support for inclusion in this tax throughout the Gulf Islands, Adam promised to work with us to seek those changes.

The fact that Salt Spring is clearly rural but cannot access any of the funding for rural communities was discussed. Why can’t Salt Spring get any Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) funding?

According to Adam, ICET, although recognizing that the Gulf Islands have finally been designated as rural, is not willing to divide the pie even more to fund us until they have assurances of their future funding and the levels of this funding.

The conversation turned to logging on Salt Spring. Adam’s concern was for the serious impacts logging on private land can have on adjacent properties, especially severe drainage problems and an increased fire hazard. He suggested that it would only require an Islands Trust bylaw to require a permit process for all logging. This permit process would require those wishing to log on their land to meet certain specific criteria. He warned that while this bylaw would not stop all logging on Salt Spring (some projects will meet all designated criteria,) it would stop some. It would also require a public conversation in which all can express their opinions and can be heard.

One suggested we clearcut around our villages and create a fire break by reforesting with less-combustable trees. He then asked why he, who is ecologically-maintaining his forest, is being threatened with extra taxes for having spent a significant amount of his money to create ponds on his property. Another replied that, in the past, million-gallon ponds and dams were created (often interfering with creeks) and that there is some concern about unintended impacts on adjacent land when owners dig their own ponds and create dams without permits and regulation.

Concerning logging on Crown Lands, efforts by the Province to review the forest industry are, in Adam’s opinion, not going well. He reminded us that these forests belong to us - not the logging companies. Some wondered why our logs are going to China. Adam explained the law of Appurtancy to us: It required that the only logs that could be exported were those that exceeded the capacity of our mills. When this law was repealed by the Liberals in 2003, mills closed. Now, even though the law of Appurtancy is back on the books, our capacity to process our logs has been so diminished that almost all output is over our capacity and, therefore, legal to export.

Adam was very discouraged about the failure to limit logging on Crown land. He spoke with emotion about a just-released NDP position paper basically stating that logging brings $14 billion to the BC economy and, as an important industry, should be allowed to continue as it has in the past.

ICBC was on the minds of many as a result of some breaking news about significantly-increased insurance rates. Adam told us that the new ceiling for payouts without legal action has been raised from $300,000 to $7.5 million. He strongly supported this increase, saying that we pay to be protected and should not have to hire lawyers to actually get this protection. It was noted that this change effectively cuts out the “middle men” - lawyers - who win large sums each time their client wins a suit against ICBC to get the protection for which they have already paid.

Adam went on to explain ICBC’s serious problem. According to him, the Liberals decimated ICBC, hoping that this crown corporation would be forced to privatize. What few know is that ICBC is extremely important. In addition to insurance, ICBC also maintains many essential vehicle-related databases for the Province. Unfortunately, it has fallen woefully behind in this task due, in part, to its need for updated technology. Acquiring this essential technology is expensive, and this enormous expenditure has become especially challenging as ICBC has a serious debt: $1.3 million.

Adam said - and most seemed to agree - if it is to survive and thrive, we have to find a way folks can begin to trust ICBC again.

When one guest spoke of the problems she and her family were having with ICBC to transition their insurance and licenses from Alberta to British Columbia, Adam offered a personal solution: Salt Springers are invited to contact Devon, Adam’s advocacy specialist to ask for personalized help finding solutions to problems such as these.

The Residential Tenancy Act was brought up by a participant who had been both a renter and a landlord. She stated that the law was now extremely out of balance, giving all power to renters and none to landlords. While she understood the need for protection for renters - especially in large urban areas with ghettos and slumlords - she maintained that its imbalance is severely-impacting the availability of rentals on our island. She contends that too many with living spaces to spare are afraid to rent. Instead, they leave these spaces empty or rent only to holidayers. Adam agreed that the law needs to be reviewed and revised.

A local solution that is working in other communities is a Mediation Centre where renters and landlords can try to work out their issues before resorting to the 1-800 BC advocacy line and lawyers. There was widespread agreement in the room that this service could decrease landlords’ fear thus increasing our available rental units. Anyone want to move forward with this??

The question Why can’t band and hereditary chiefs agree on issues? sparked both an emotional response from Adam as well as a fascinating discussion on complex indigenous issues. Adam spoke from his heart and warned us that his comments would not be political. On this subject, he believes that everyone must speak honestly, never tempering it by what others would like to hear.

Adam used the example: What if the (mythical) Salt Spring Drilling Company wanted to build a pipeline? To get permission, they asked (and gave money to) all sorts of municipalities, many of whom were not even on the route of the pipeline but never contacting the Province where the construction was to occur. They then concluded that they had obtained all the permission needed to proceed.

Not surprisingly, this simply would not work.

Why, then, does our government speak only with the elected band chiefs (created by the Indian Act to govern the reserves,) ignoring the hereditary chiefs that have led their people for centuries? Why should we be surprised that the hereditary chiefs do not always agree with the band chiefs?

There are now five indigenous MLA’s. While it is unfortunate there are so few, it is a record high number. And - two are liberals, two are NDP, and one is Green, seldom seeing eye-to-eye on issues. Did you know that there are 34 different language dialects in British Columbia? British Columbians do not speak with one voice - why should we expect our First Nations to do so?

While in 2012, indigenous nations made a commitment to understand “settlers” better, understanding on both sides will take generations to achieve. The adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in British Columbia will create a new foundation for understanding as well as allowing for different conversations. Compromise and consensus are difficult to achieve. It will take openness, constant work, patience, and understanding to take even those first steps toward moving forward together.

In response to the question: What should be done about the Indian Act? Adam replied - Shouldn’t we ask our First Nations instead of trying to figure it out for them?

Switching gears, one guest asked why is was so hard to get cell service on Salt Spring. While the technology is problematic (to get some coverage on our east side, we must have towers on Galliano,) it seems to be the social conversation about microwave towers that is creating many of Salt Spring’s “no cell zones.”

One hope is for Connected Coast, projected to: . . . empower rural and remote communities to decide how, when, and what matters to them when connecting to high-speed internet capability. It allows communities and residents to tailor the connection to the needs of the region and the people. Plans are to lay 3,400 km of cable projected to provide service to 175,000 British Columbians in 90,000 households. Budgeted at $45.4 million, cable will circle Vancouver Island and the southern coastal islands. It is due to be completed by 2021. Has anyone heard about this project?

One guest said that Ganges is Dirty, Derelict, and Drab. He and others wanted to brighten up our village and asked for some ownership information. That information was promised to him as soon as the Transportation Commission’s Jurisdictional Mapping Project is complete.

One guest spoke with emotion about how hard it is for her family to survive financially. Not eligible for any low income support, they spend over 60% of their income on housing. She asked whether Adam could consider some help for the many lower middle class residents of the Province who cannot get any help. She suggested allocating some of the funding from the Speculation and Vacancy Tax for the many on Salt Spring who are falling between the cracks.

Another new Salt Springer spoke of how difficult it was to get a family doctor. This is a very serious problem throughout the Province: Due to a variety of circumstances, thousands in BC are without a family doctor to manage their care. In Saanich alone, 14,000 of a total population of 30,000 do not have a primary care doctor.

Adam spoke of a once-promising plan to fund Primary Care Networks (PCNs) to address this shortage. Expected to enhance patient care by a team-based approach using a network of local primary care service providers, this plan has, so far, been unsuccessful: too few doctors have been contracted to join. It was Adam’s conclusion that the powerful, older, politically-savvy doctors who have been in the system for many decades simply do not want the change this team approach would bring.

Unfortunately, from Adam’s perspective, Urgent Care Clinics seem to be making headway instead - at the expense of Primary Care Networks. While he agrees that urgent care is needed, he supports the system in which a patient can have a consistent medical team rather than having to rely on the emergency care offered in an Urgent Care Clinic. Adam spoke with deep appreciation of the integrated clinic his sister manages in which doctors, nurses, caregivers, and physicians’ assistants all work together to provide the whole range of care. It is working for her community but, because she is on a reserve, other communities who are bound by Provincial restrictions may have difficulty replicating it.

What can we do? asked one Salt Springer. Adam replied that he does not know.

In follow-up for an issue that was brought to Adam on his last visit to ASK Salt Spring, he and all the others who share jurisdiction over live aboard communities are meeting this week to learn from each other and develop some solutions for our large live aboard population.

Shortly after 1:00, folks reluctantly left, many expressing how much they had learned and how they appreciated Adam for his honesty, intelligence, hard work, and passion. . . and for making the journey to ASK Salt Spring every month to be with us.

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