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  • Gayle Baker

The Power of a Ravenous Bureaucracy

Beginning with a touching and gentle Territorial Acknowledgement, this ASK Salt Spring gathering of nineteen welcomed our Adam Olsen and his new constituency advocate, Jake Rees, to a conversation under the apple trees at the United Church Meadow.

There was joy to see Adam in person again after so many months of virtual gatherings, but this joy was tempered by the reality of the serious health/mental health, social, economic, and environmental crises buffeting us.

Clear indication of the multiple crises looming over us all is that six British Columbians continue to die of an overdose each and every day. In addition, Adam pointed out that 700 British Columbians died during the recent heat wave while the government was celebrating the re-opening from the lockdowns that were a result of the global pandemic.

Adam was clear - our government needs to focus on being better prepared rather than bouncing from one crisis to another.

Adam spoke of his nine-year old daughter who has now experienced smoke filled summers for a majority of her life. And, BC is not in this alone: floods, fire, and drought are disrupting lives in communities across the globe.

One result of the environmental, social, health, and economic crises impacting us simultaneously is the anxiety and frustration expressed by British Columbians: Our government is simply not addressing the chaos touching all of our lives.

Adam spoke of the challenge for politicians addressing the growing anxiety and frustration. He expressed concern about the future of our democracy if too many politicians become disenchanted and choose not to take responsibility for finding the solutions. Bold and courageous actions are needed to create the institutions we need to address challenges head on.

In Adam’s opinion, business as usual is simply not working. Adam explained that our provincial bureaucracy is necessarily a slow-moving machine that has difficulty making the dramatic changes needed to deal with the multiple crises. Largely powered by inertia, the bureaucracy is adept at plodding doggedly forward.

Adam recalled an experience from his orientation as a new municipal councillor. He called it a heeling process that consisted of hours-long training identifying roles, responsibilities, and being told what is possible and what is not.

Governments have increased responsibility for projects and programs that were once provided by volunteers or community service groups. Bureaucratic risk aversion, often justified by a highly-litigious society with far more prescriptive standards, lead decision-makers to overlook the contribution made through volunteerism. Bureaucracies also seek to grow; the more work they wrest from volunteer groups, the more responsibility they manage.


In the past, a community would partner with volunteers on projects requiring joint fundraising, collaborative designs, and even a portion of the work. Now, governments simply raise taxes and retain all control of these projects.

While Adam clearly sees the valuable stability offered by our bureaucracies, he is also concerned that this slow-moving monolith is replacing the leadership (both political and volunteer) necessary to implement change.

Adam was asked, What can we do? How can we empower our citizenry to be partners in change?

Community Cohesion: In Adam’s opinion, governments thrive, and even upon occasion, encourage community divisiveness. A community divided against itself is vulnerable with power consolidated in the bureaucracy and political institutions. Also, too many of us transfer our power to the government, stating something like: I pay my taxes to you - It is your job. Communities with strong and cohesive community associations nurture the authority of an organized community to understand and articulate what they want. Adam strongly admonished: Don’t give up the power of your community!

Vote: (Salt Spring does!) and support your politicians to make the needed changes.

Write: and continue to express your opinions to your elected officials. While each politician is different, we know that Adam does listen. We learned that while it is possible that someone taking the time to write a handwritten letter may not get what he/she requests, this letter is likely to receive that same courtesy of a return hand-written letter. Individual emails will also get a response; even bulk emails will eventually get a response, often outlining Adam’s stance on that particular issue.

Beyond the delivery method, the topic is of great interest to Adam, helping him to assess the issues upon which to expend his energy. Some letters are in areas in which Adam has limited impact (like BC Ferries), often only requiring a forwarded message with a personal note from him. Many other letters and emails spur Adam’s to do a deep dive on the topic, often resulting in a position and action.

Adam’s strong advice to us:

Keep those letters and emails coming; they do make a difference!

When Adam was asked how Salt Spring can solve its serious lack of worker housing, he began by telling us that he did not have any simple solutions. Instead, he offered a big picture response: Many of our housing problems began decades ago when the housing market became a dominant force in our economy, including building materials, construction, real estate, banking, and even the plethora of home furnishings that were suddenly essential. Very quickly, a major economic indicator was the number of housing starts, and the dream transformed from a safe place to create a home and foundation for life to a financial investment in home ownership. One example we see today is the stigmatization of adult children who live with their parents.

In Adam’s opinion, we need to re-analyze this by placing a greater value on houses as homes creating stability for people rather than houses as economic units. Adam warned us that reassessing this dream is not a simple exercise, instead involving a complex set of issues such as the investment value of real estate for millions of Canadians who were simply following the government policy, water, zoning, waste, and infrastructure. And, while we can engineer ourselves out of almost any problem, the answers should be found in community values and a shared vision of what is right for our land and its inhabitants.

The housing challenges facing Salt Spring, and many other communities in British Columbia, are a result of many issues. These include:

  • federal and provincial policy,

  • a heavy reliance of the provincial treasury for real estate transfer taxes,

  • a heavy reliance on ever-increasing property value assessments for local government tax formulas,

  • past zoning decisions,

  • current zoning regulations,

  • a proliferation of certain types of housing (like large lot single family dwellings), and

  • a lack of other forms of housing (like multi-family and middle-income seniors housing).


So, until both aspects of housing supply and demand are more directly addressed by the provincial and federal governments, we will unfortunately continue to see Salt Spring’s workforce being forced to be transient, severely impacting the stability of our community, replacing it with chaos.

When asked why our government appears to be doing nothing to address our climate emergency, Adam responded that many new MLAs were elected in the recent elections and that they should stand up to speak for change. And, he reported that he is hearing more talk about sustainable practices in recent weeks than in the past. But, change is difficult. He has not observed the Premier taking the huge opportunity to make difference, seemingly preferring to adhere to the status quo, possibly listening only to his seasoned advisors rather than to his community.

Too soon, it was 1:00, and we all bid Adam a fond farewell, thrilled to learn from him as well as confident that he listens to us. And, pleased that he will be visiting us again soon - Friday, August 6!

But, this Friday, please join us to welcome our RCMP Sergeant, Clive Seabrook, 11-1, July 30, United Church Meadow.

Would you like to learn about:

- A new Speed Watch initiative?

- Abandoned vehicles?

- Community Policing on Salt Spring?

- Can I safely hang out in our village parks?

- And?

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

Bring your favorite 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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