Twenty-two attended this initial discussion about the possibilities and challenges of a Local Community Commission (LCC). After our Territorial Acknowledgement, CRD Director, Gary Holman, one of our three special guests, began this gathering by offering some basic information about what an LCC could and could not accomplish. During our two hours together, our other special guests, Linda Adams and Brian Webster, also fielded a number of questions, and the three of them led an interesting conversation about the possibilities of improving our local governance.
We learned that the provincial legislation is permissive, allowing local communities a high degree of latitude defining their LCC. Gary began by assuring us that an LCC would not result in any jurisdictional changes: As a CRD-only governance model, an LCC would not impact Island Trust nor would we assume liability for our roads and policing as incorporation would have required.
Having made a campaign promise to explore an LCC when he ran for election in 2018, Gary is committed to explore this concept with Salt Springers. His reasoning for support of this option is his strong opinion that our elected representation needs to be broadened and CRD decisions need to be more transparent. As a community of approximately 12,000, Gary feels that we deserve broader representation and transparency for CRD services than a single Electoral Area Director can offer. While Gary believes that our current system of governance has served us well, he maintains that increases in both our population and the range of CRD services strains the capacity of a single elected official.
An LCC could only be created if the community agrees. Gary is proposing to have a referendum on the topic at the same time as local elections in October this year.
The Process: Brian Webster, Linda Adams, and Richard Kerr, members of the Governance Working Group who recommended an LCC four years ago, (https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org/governance-options-on-salt-spring), have been working hard to draft a discussion paper detailing the governance challenges an LCC could address, its limitations, options, and its expected responsibilities. As soon as a few details have been resolved, Gary will share this draft discussion paper with the province and CRD for their review to make sure that nothing in it contradicts legislation or CRD requirements. As soon as this review has been completed, this paper will be shared with the community for input.
Gary’s intention is to establish an LCC Advisory Group to consult with the community and further define community preferences about a potential LCC. Gary is proposing that most of the positions on this advisory group will be filled by representatives of the four island-wide CRD Commissions as well as the seven area-specific CRD Water and Sewer Commissions. The elected Trustees of our two large Improvement Districts, Fire and North Salt Spring Waterworks, will also be invited to participate in this advisory committee. An advantage of this approach is that these Committee members will all be familiar with how CRD and other important services are delivered on Salt Spring. However, applications from the community for at-large representation on this group will also soon also be available.
While Gary will not further pursue this LCC initiative if opposition from Salt Springers is overwhelming, he expects community response to be mixed. If he is correct, voters would make the final decision on the proposal in a referendum held during the October 15, 2022 local election. Voters would be asked to approve a bylaw to establish an LCC that will be drafted by CRD staff and approved by CRD Board. They will also be asked to approve a second bylaw that outlines its delegated responsibilities. These delegated responsibilities will be determined by the recommendations of the LCC Advisory Committee in consultation with CRD staff.
While the details about the powers delegated to an LCC have not yet been determined, some feel that incremental increases is the wisest step while others feel that boldness is needed. However extensive those initial powers, it was agreed that an LCC needs to begin with enough power to make an appreciable improvement in our local governance. Stay tuned. . . .
If this proposed LCC were supported by voters, a separate election for Local Commissioners would be held, perhaps in early spring, to give candidates time to prepare and undertake their campaigns. While legislation allows between four and six commissioners, Gary is proposing four Local Commissioners. That number could be increased if recommended by the LCC Advisory Committee and public consultation.
Gary believes that, in addition to broadening representation, an LCC would also improve transparency and accountability since decisions and advocacy positions would have to be made in regularly-scheduled public meetings. Gary used the large amount of Community Works (Gas Tax) funding that we receive every year, estimated at $600,000, as an example of needed-transparency. Currently, the CRD Director effectively makes these decisions; with a Local Community Commission, these important decisions would be made in public meetings.
The extent of consolidation resulting from an LCC is still up for discussion. Some of the island-wide CRD Commissions could be consolidated under an LCC which would reduce the number of service delivery silos and the number of Commissions and meetings requiring CRD staff support. Gary believes that CRD area-specific commissions, which now effectively elect residents of these areas to represent their interests, should continue. While details about possible consolidation of commissions still need to be determined, there appears to be consensus at this point that some consolidation of commissions would simplify our governance, improve coordination of services, and reduce staff costs.
Elected-at-large, these Commissioners would have the similar responsibilities and mandate as our Electoral Area Director. While legislation requires that the Electoral Area Director continue to represent the community at the CRD Board, all LCC decisions would be made by a majority vote of Local Commissioners and the Electoral Area Director. We were reminded that democracy can be messy and that - while the Electoral Director currently only has to agree with him/herself - seldom a problem :) - debate among five elected Salt Springers could generate heated discussions as well as conflict before reaching decisions.While more elected representatives has clear advantages, democracy does have its roots in conflict and compromise.
When asked whether an LCC would change CRD’s relationship with the Islands Trust, the initial answer was No as each of their roles are clearly-defined in legislation. Gary and our two local Trustees talk often and routinely work together. With more elected representatives, this relationship could be deepened. For example, a Community Commissioner could attend all Local Trust Committee (LTC) meetings in their entirety. This relationship might also get more complicated. For example, challenges could arise if Local Community Commissioners sought to influence LTC decisions on matters of joint interest.
Although the issue of a stipend has not yet been decided, Gary believes that a modest stipend should be provided to Local Commissioners taking on responsibility for a wide range of CRD services, hopefully generated from savings from the consolidation of existing CRD commissions. Such a stipend, also typical of remuneration for municipal councillors, could make it easier for younger working islanders to run for election.
A participant brought up a potential benefit of an LCC: In her experience, while women are often uninterested in running for a single elected position, they are more likely to seek to serve on collaborative teams. This participant suggested that an LCC could result in more women in our elected positions. An interesting theory, Gary reminded us that all four chairs of our island-wide CRD Commissions are already women.
While an LCC cannot address all our governance challenges, most agree that it is a far simpler option than incorporation. Our team of experts reminded us that it could offer some real benefits without changing Island Trust responsibilities, taking over our roads, or paying for our policing. Many believe that it was the fear of taking over the liabilities of our poorly-constructed and maintained roads, vulnerable to increasingly-severe climate-related storms, that caused many to vote against incorporation. (Did you know that our 25.1 metres of roads per capita is 2.3 times the BC average and that we have the same number of kilometres as Victoria without the tax base of over 85,000 to support them?)
If this proposed LCC is a good idea, why are LCCs only in very small communities? We learned that Salt Spring is unique as it is quite large to be an unincorporated rural community. In fact, Salt Spring is probably the largest unincorporated community in BC. One reason for this might be that other communities approaching the size of Salt Spring may have felt that the incentives offered by the province to compensate for the additional costs of incorporation were adequate as they are not burdened by our unique challenge of so many kilometres of vulnerable and expensive roads.
It is also possible that, if Salt Spring were to establish an LCC designed to meets its unique needs, other unincorporated communities would also see the potential of an LCC and begin the process of defining one that met their needs.
While our special guests believe that an LCC is a relatively low risk, beneficial change in governance, a participant asked why there seemed to be some opposition to an LCC. While the answer to this question can only be determined by far more extensive community outreach, it was suggested that some of those who favour incorporation will see an LCC as an inadequate half measure. Some pro-incorporation Salt Springers may also believe it would dissipate some of the pressure for another incorporation attempt.
How likely is another incorporation referendum in the near future? While no one knows for sure, based on the 15 year interval between referenda on Salt Spring, it was suggested that the province was unlikely to be willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars again so soon in the face of another decisive defeat of incorporation in 2017. However, we did learn that there is nothing in the establishment of an LCC that would preclude another incorporation initiative.
We learned that, while Gary believes that the province probably would prefer Salt Spring to incorporate in order to download the costs of roads and policing, provincial legislation (Local Government Act) allows regional districts to implement LCCs. So while the province will carefully review the establishment bylaw for a Salt Spring LCC to ensure it is sound from a legal and financial perspective, it will not oppose or interfere with the proposal.
As 1:00 had already arrived, we agreed that the conversation about establishment of an LCC had only just begun. Stay tuned if you want to add your voice to this discussion. . . . With enthusiastic thanks to Linda Adams, Richard Kerr, Brian Webster, and Gary Holman for hours and hours of hard work solidifying LCC options so that this discussion can be brought to our community, we pressed our Leave Meeting button. (Thanks, Linda, Brian, Richard, and Gary!)
Sadly, MLA Adam Olsen is unable to join us this Friday, March 4 for his regular monthly visit with us due to an all-day legislative commitment in Vancouver.
But, we are pleased to welcome the Chair of the Islands Trust Ganges Village Plan Task Force, Jenny MacClean. We have talked many times about this task force at numerous ASK Salt Spring gatherings. Now you have the opportunity to ask your questions to one who is right there at the table the plan unfolds.
Please join us on Zoom 11-1 March 4 via Zoom:
(In case you need it, the passcode is 947504)
What would you like to learn?
Why do we need yet another plan?
What have you accomplished so far?
What do you see this plan accomplishing?
Can you share some things that you think will recommended in this plan?
How can I tell you what I think should be included in this plan for Ganges’ future?
And. . . .?
See you Friday, March 4, 11-1 on Zoom to learn all you ever wanted to know about our Ganges Village Plan.
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
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