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  • Gayle Baker

Summer Meadow Musings Under the Apple Trees: Policing, Housing, Improvement Districts, and Health

August 6

After a meaningful Territorial Acknowledgement, our special guest, MLA Adam Olsen, began by speaking briefly of his busy days in the Legislature and his constituency office. In August, though, the pace in the constituency office slows to allow for summer holidays and time to get caught up.

Adam spoke of his bright, brand new, street-level office at 9828 Fourth Street in Sidney. It is located mid-block between Tanner’s Books and the Town of Sidney municipal office. He invited us all to an open house the afternoon of September 14, but also welcomed us anytime after September 7 when he hopes the office will be open again for walk-in visitors. The new space has a spacious boardroom available for community groups. It is well-equipped with conferencing technology to allow for in-person and online meetings.

He also welcomed us to contact his new constituency advocate, Jake Rees. Jake is taking over from Kate O’Connor who will be missed as she heads off to university.

While always conscious of the devastating effects of the pandemic, Adam spoke of some of the technological innovations from our enforced isolation that are likely to become part of our new normal. He cited the efficiency of having nearly back-to-back virtual meetings with widely-dispersed groups from the comfort of his home or office - as well as the climate advantages of not driving from meeting to meeting. He spoke of the benefits to his family life that meeting from home offers, partly alleviating the challenges to family relationships imposed by the demands of the role. In his opinion, some of the efficiencies of the smart use of technology that came as a result of the many months of isolation will become a welcome part of our new work habits.

The first question from the group of participants that eventually totalled 22 asked for Adam’s opinion about seeking a new reasonable rather than seeking that more familiar habit-based normal. Adam agreed that blindly trying to return to the habits we had before the pandemic without consideration of other options would be a tragic lost opportunity.

Adam cited the decision to implement a four-day work week for his staff. He spoke of the stress they experience helping those who have virtually slipped through every safety net, left with only few options. It is his belief that giving his staff more time and space will allow them to balance those stresses with personal and family needs.

Adam heard how impressed many are with our new RCMP Sergeant, Clive Seabrook. He was asked what could be done to change Salt Spring’s designation as a Limited Duration Post, normally reserved for remote, hardship postings. Adam was asked what it would take to make it possible for effective RCMP officers, especially those who had successfully found housing in our challenging market, to stay longer than four years.

Adam understands our need for a relationship with our RCMP and related an effort in Saanich to keep an effective officer who had built the trust of the community.

This need for a relationship with those policing us is shared throughout the province. A consistent message to the Police Act Review Committee (https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/committees/41stParliament-5thSession-rpa) on which Adam participates is that all communities, especially Indigenous ones, need to have a relationship with their police/RCMP officers if community safety is to be achieved.

Adam spoke with enthusiasm of the important, non-partisan, work being done by this Committee. Tasked with reviewing the Police Act and making recommendations, this group is, in Adam's opinion, a model of how legislators can work together to make a difference, checking party politics at the door.

This Committee has been working together for nearly a year, spending the last eight months listening to testimony from government agencies, ministries, social service organizations, and a wide variety of community members including BIPOC, indigenous Chiefs and Councillors, and over 300 written submissions from individuals, many of whom were also asked to testify.

This feedback has been invaluable, and Adam has high hopes that the recommendations from this Committee will map out the changes needed to the Police Act to address public safety across the province. In his opinion, this inclusive approach is gathering a base of information that is solid enough to allay politicians’ fear of losing votes by proceeding.

In addition to deep appreciation of the good work of this Committee, Adam lauded the model, hopeful that similar committees are established to delve into outdated legislation. Instead of hiring expensive consultants to write seldom-read reports recommending legislative improvements, this committee approach is a promising solution: MLAs are not only saving the taxpayers a great deal of money but are also becoming experts, far better prepared to craft and support the needed new legislation.

Adam is aware of the challenges of policing when Salt Spring’s population balloons with visitors. Would a Cadet Program help? While other communities have Community Consultation Committees (https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/gdlns-cmmnt-cnslttv-grp/index-en.aspx), the Southern Gulf Islands do not have one. Would this be useful?

Adam believes there is space for the responses to emergency calls to be more nuanced. Too often, in his opinion, an armed response is not the appropriate solution to a mental health issue. Currently, there are only three choices when one calls 9-1-1: If it is not a fire or a call to transport someone to Lady Minto, the RCMP are called - often arriving fully-armed for a criminal event when a very different response may be needed. Too often, we expect our RCMP to do tasks that others may be better-prepared to handle. In Adam’s opinion, we cannot expect our RCMP to continue to address many of the mental health needs of our communities. Should we be discussing de-tasking and/or re-tasking?

Switching gears, a participant asked Adam to explain the logic of the province’s refusal to allow Improvement Districts to apply for its lucrative infrastructure grants. Adam told us that the province has been consistent in its strong desire for services to be delivered by either regional or local governments, not Improvement Districts. Salt Spring has two of the largest Improvement Districts in the province, Fire Rescue and the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD).

Despite some Improvement Districts that function effectively, the province’s stance to move away from Improvement Districts delivering services is consistent across the province despite their individual performance. Adam states the province has provided three choices for Improvement Districts:

  1. They can continue to function as usual with infrastructure costs entirely the burden of their ratepayers,

  2. They can merge with a municipal or regional government to gain access to provincial and federal grants, or

  3. They can enter into an agreement with a municipal or regional government.

While it appears that talks between CRD and NSSWD concerning Option 3 may have stalled, come to ASK Salt Spring next Friday, August 13, 11-1 to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman for more information.

A participant reminded us that Salt Spring has plenty of water; it does not have enough catchment. This participant cited Melbourne regulations requiring every home to have potable catchment, wondering why Islands Trust doesn’t implement similar requirements. According to this participant, our potable catchment systems cost more than double that of similar ones in New Zealand, possibly due to the Building Inspections engineering requirements of this relatively new field in BC.

Adam has been advocating for a provincial government and health authority policy allowing for rainwater catchment for multifamily housing units, seeking clear regulations matched with granting programs to help with the added expenses of these systems.

Adam was asked about housing for working families, this participant theorizing that we have projects in the works for those qualifying for affordable housing but that our working poor fall through the cracks. We were reminded that Murakami Gardens, completed two decades ago, serves exactly that purpose and also told the good news about the newly-revitalized Dragonfly, designed to provide purchased worker housing.

Adam added that while the province has the responsibility to provide affordable housing, it is essentially in a conflict of interest by gaining financially from a vibrant real estate market. Gains come from the revenue generated from property transfer taxes. High property values also result in increased yields to local and regional governments that depend upon them to fund operations. In Adam’s opinion, the province has come to rely on increasing real estate values, rendering it uninterested in slowing the market to make it possible for the less affluent to obtain housing.

Salt Spring faces a complex variety of problems concerning housing. One cannot fix just one thing, like water or zoning, and expect the problem to disappear. Instead, we need a multi-jurisdictional approach. Following the ASK Salt Spring gathering, Adam met with the Island Trust Housing Task Force. (Want to learn more? Come to ASK Salt Spring Friday, August 20, 11-1, when you can ask Trustee Peter Grove for details.) Adam is committed to convening and participating in these discussions to find practical solutions to the housing challenges across the riding.

As we discussed at ASK Salt Spring last time Adam was with us, July 23 (https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org/post/the-power-of-a-ravenous-bureaucracy), since World War II, our government has encouraged us to see housing as an investment rather than as a place to live with dignity.

Adam shared with us his experience and understanding growing up on an Indian Reserve. The federal government created two systems. One for Indigenous people and one for everyone else. On Indian Reserves, land carries limited value as it can only be acquired by other members of the band. One outcome is that homes are not reduced to economic units like they are off-Reserve.

While Adam is not advocating the implementation of a similar Reserve structure, he used this example to illustrate how different ownership models impact affordability and availability.

Switching gears, a participant unsuccessfully seeking a home here on Salt Spring also related her surprise and frustration that she could not find a doctor. Adam replied that Salt Spring is not alone with this problem: Saanich Peninsula has over 14,000 residents without a doctor.

Doctors in British Columbia operate private businesses, so they are burdened with high costs of equipment, insurance, and offices and staff. To run viable businesses, doctors must continue to be able to provide a range of quicker and simpler services that could be done by other health care professionals, like injections and renewing prescriptions, to balance out the time that more complex care requires.Unless a different model is adopted. . . .

Adam highlighted the work the Ministry of Health has invested in developing Primary Care Networks (https://gpscbc.ca/what-we-do/system-change/primary-care-networks) and agrees that it is the correct approach to take. This team-based approach addresses all the health care needs of an individual, each providing the appropriate type of care they need. Good progress was being made but reforming established systems is difficult. Unfortunately, the province refocused its attention away from these Primary Care Networks into Urgent and Primary Care Centres, effectively creating a series of mega-clinics addressing emergencies but not the holistic needs of each individual. Adam continues to lobby with Minister Adrian Dix to re-invigorate the promise of these Primary Care Networks - (https://adamolsen.ca/?s=Primary+Care+Networks).

Significantly after 1:00, folks began to break up into small groups to continue to discuss issues. But only after a participant’s acknowledgement of the great support received from Adam’s office. This was followed by a round of applause from all of us for Adam’s enthusiasm, thoughtful perspective on so many issues, tenacity, hard work, . . .and our appreciation that he seems to so enjoy being with us the first Friday of every month.

Please join us Friday, August 13, 11-1 at the United Church Meadow to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman.

Would you like Gary to tell us. . . .

  • What is happening to address the Booth Canal-Central safety concerns?

  • Are talks with North Salt Spring Waterworks District over?

  • When will the Middle School be available for community use?

  • What is happening with the HarbourWalk Plans?

  • How is the composting project progressing?

  • Have the Burgoyne Wastewater Treatment ponds been decommissioned yet so that we can finally begin to move forward? If not, what is happening?

  • And. . . .?

Come to the Meadow to ask your questions, listen to those of others, and participate in rich, respectful conversations.

Bring your favorite hot beverage and a smile.

Chairs and chocolate chip cookies provided.

See you at the Meadow!

Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


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

asksaltspring.com


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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