- Gayle Baker
The Province Comes to Salt Spring - Drawing a Crowd of Islanders
A record-breaking 56 gathered for ASK Salt Spring at our one-time location - the Ganges Firehall. And, what a welcome we had from Fire Trustees, Firefighters, and staff - even including a never-empty pot of coffee and a huge and delicious cake shouting Welcome ASK Salt Spring in its icing. (Thanks, Nancy!) Of course, so many came because not only was MLA Adam Olsen our special guest, but Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General (and Deputy Premier) Mike Farnworth, (jhttps://news.gov.bc.ca/ministries/public-safety-and-solicitor-general/biography) joined us as well.
Participants expressed their opinions and asked for answers on a variety of public safety issues, including policing, illicit drugs, and emergency preparedness. And, yes, there were many, many concerns and questions about our roads and ferries. (As these road and ferry questions could also be addressed by Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, it is hoped that he will also soon join an ASK Salt Spring gathering.)
After our Territorial Acknowledgment, a Fire Trustee told us that plans for the new firehall were proceeding well, reminding us that our location for this ASK Salt Spring gathering - the Ganges Firehall - was already a community asset, leased back to the Fire District until they relocate to their new building. Predictions are that this transfer to the community will occur in fall 2024 or spring 2025.
Minister Farnworth was asked why Improvement Districts, like our Fire Department, were not allowed to apply for provincial infrastructure grants. He reminded us that, in emergencies, fire departments were able to access funding for equipment. Also, certain funding streams, like Community Works (gas tax) allow allocations to Fire Improvement Districts. (It is yet to be determined if the just-announced $1 billion being allocated to communities will allow funding for Improvement Districts.)
But, Adam clarified that, despite the party in power or the minister in charge, our provincial government has been consistent in its efforts to get Improvement Districts to partner with regional districts or municipal governments. The province simply does not want Improvement Districts to continue as established, preferring they reorganise to work within our current local government system. As Salt Spring has the two largest Improvement Districts in the province (the Fire District and North Salt Spring Waterworks District), Adam has asked the provincial government repeatedly and received the same answer as his predecessors: The province is unwilling to change its policy. If our Improvement Districts want infrastructure grants, they must align with CRD.
While Fire Trustees expressed concern over this decision, Adam maintained that the province has offered to work with our Improvement Districts to help them develop a relationship with CRD that could allow them to access Infrastructure funding. Adam reiterated this offer to work with Fire Trustees to help craft a relationship with CRD.
Initial safety-related questions focused upon participants’ concerns about our roads. Despite significant investments in pedestrian pathways, a participant stated that she feels unsafe walking along our roads and even more vulnerable trying to cross them. While lamenting our continuing car-centric culture, she wondered why it was so difficult to make it safer for everyone by simply lowering speed limits.
Minister Farnworth agreed that lowering speed limits was being done throughout the province and promised to speak to Minister Rob Fleming about Salt Spring’s repeated requests for lower speed limits. In response to the concern of miserable, unprotected waits for buses at the Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen ferry terminals, Adam told us that he had already spoken with Minister Fleming about better protection for bus travellers at our ferry terminals.
A participant asked about the disputed section of Beddis Road. While some feel strongly that this road, a vital connection for over 50 families, should be provincially-owned and -maintained,, Adam told us that it continues to be a complex legal question.
A participant spoke of our ferry system, crucial for our public safety. Minister Farnworth agreed, stating that our ferry system is our lifeline, and decisions about this critical service need to be made by analysing a number of factors, not simply bottom line considerations. He noted some promising changes on the BC Ferries Board (https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/new-directors-appointed-to-bc-ferries-board-890325231.html).
A participant lauded the province’s allocation of $500 million to lessen ferry fare increases (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-ferries-funding-500-million-1.6761155). But, this participant also lobbied for finally solving the safety concerns at Fulford as well as bringing back (with possible revisions) Bill 7:(https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/legislation-debates-proceedings/42nd-parliament/3rd-session/bills/first-reading/gov07-1).
A participant lamented that, after struggling for years to get rural status, (Thanks, Francine!), a major source of rural funding, the Island Coastal Economic Trust -ICET- (https://islandcoastaltrust.ca/), appears to have lost its funding. While Salt Spring only had access to this funding for a short time, this participant told us that the murals brightening up our village were the result of this ICET funding. . . as well as a great deal of work on the part of our Chamber, in collaboration with the Arts Council. Adam has hopes that this important funding source can be recapitalized. He asked two questions in Question Period about the funding.
Clock Ticking for ICET: Will BC NDP Government Prioritize Support for Rural Communities on Vancouver Island and Coast?
Does the BC NDP see the exciting economic engine of a re-capitalized Island Coastal Economic Trust?
A Pod leader expressed his concerns about our vulnerability in emergencies. He described a scenario in which Salt Spring would lose the cables connecting us to power and communications, crippling our ferry docks, phone towers, and the list goes on. He suggested preparing for such emergencies by putting solar panels on all public buildings, powering these buildings throughout the year but also offering that emergency power so critical in unforeseen events. Is the roof of our new hospital going to be full of solar panels? How about our new firehall? Why not?
Minister Farnworth told us about Minister Bowinn Ma, new Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness (https://news.gov.bc.ca/ministries/emergency-management-and-climate-readiness/biography). He also told us a bit about the UBCM Emergency Preparedness Program and some amazing lidar (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html) mapping being done all over the province, including Salt Spring, to better understand the geological seismic susceptibility of various neighbourhoods.
While Minister Farnworth spoke briefly about some new legislation to fund critical infrastructure of both public and private buildings, he did not specifically address the possibility of adding solar panels to our new hospital and firehall. (Suggestions anyone? The clock is ticking on making alterations to these two buildings. . . .)
Minister Farnworth was asked about the delayed implementation of the Fire Safety Act. (http://www.lorenastaples.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Fire-Safety-Act-June2016.pdf). Apparently, this act, designed to modernise fire safety legislation, has not yet been implemented, and the Fire Services Act remains in effect. Before implementing this Fire Safety Act, amendments are needed to achieve the province’s goal of a single fire safety standard throughout the province.
A firefighter asked whether our Fire District would be included in this safety act. Minister Farnworth is familiar with this issue and told us that some smaller interior districts were in opposition to this law’s required building inspections. In his opinion, all fire buildings - even ones in small rural communities - need to adhere to the law and be inspected for safety.
Concerning illicit drugs, a participant asked about Health Canada’s (alleged) approval to produce cocaine, (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/justin-trudeau-on-b-c-firm-s-cocaine-claim-1.6767257). We learned from Minister Farnworth that there was much confusion about this announcement. While he still has a lot of questions, he can report that Health Canada had given a licence for research but not for cocaine production.
Minister Farnworth told us that BC was the first province to apply for decriminalisation of drug possession of 2.5 gm or less, meaning that these small amounts would not be confiscated. Adam reminded us that safe supply and harm reduction is supported by all political parties. There is agreement across party lines that keeping people alive, ramping up access to regulated treatment, and reducing the supply of bad drugs are top priorities.
When a participant asked why there were three black market cannabis stores in Salt Spring and only one legal one, Minister Farnworth was well versed in this issue, preparing to take this issue to Ottawa. We learned that the latest statistics show that about 50% of cannabis sales use the legal market. Minister Farnworth believes that this is because excise taxes are too high, making it impossible for legal, tax-paying stores to effectively compete. Intended to be approximately 10%, this excise tax is actually closer to 38%.
Minister Farnworth reminded us that the promise behind the legalisation of cannabis was twofold:
There would not be two streams, medical and non-medical.
Cannabis sales should not be a revenue-generator.
He believes that this high excise tax breaks this promise and makes it very difficult for legal outlets to successfully compete. He hopes to address this unfairness when he is next in Ottawa.
Adam told us that, in their defence, the provincial government was given a mere six months to draft these cannabis regulations. It was agreed that regulations for craft cannabis businesses would be addressed later, This has not yet happened. While Minister Farnworth agreed that Health Canada’s regulations about the quality of this cannabis should be clearly-defined, he believes that, after these quality issues have been addressed, cannabis production should be moved from Health Canada to another governmental branch, possibly Agriculture Canada.
When a participant criticised the government for lying to us, giving us COVID vaccinations that are making us sick, Minister Farnworth replied that he had been in elected positions for 40 years and, in all that time, he has worked with people across the political spectrum that, without exception, were committed to doing the right thing. He expressed his conviction that provincial COVID vaccine policies were based on science, also expressing pride in BC’s response to the pandemic.
A participant asked why referrals to Restorative Justice have dropped significantly throughout the province in the last few years. Given the many benefits of this system for victims and perpetrators alike, she was disturbed by this trend. Minister Farnworth agreed that Restorative Justice is a critically-important part of our justice system. He was not aware of this drop in referrals and promised to investigate further. He believes that our Restorative Justice systems should be expanded to all communities, each with a system tailored to the unique needs of that community.
Transitioning to policing issues, a participant asked what it would take to remove Salt Spring’s Limited Duration designation, requiring a RCMP transfer after four years. Contradicting the outdated RCMP policy seeking distance between its officers and community members, clear indications are that RCMP officers who are integrated into the community are far more effective. Quite simply, community policing works and transferring officers after a short time does not. How can we keep RCMP’s Clive and the others on his amazing team?
Minister Farnworth replied that this is an issue shared by many other communities. While it may require reforms to the Police Act, he assured us that the province is at least beginning to acknowledge the problem. He did remind us, though, that challenges getting recruits and filling vacancies were also components in relocation decisions. Adam added that the rationale provided by the RCMP for the limited duration was they felt that it is important to offer police officers experiences in a variety of different communities.
When asked about police/peer support programs, Minister Farnworth spoke briefly about some pilot projects linking mental health professionals and peer councillors with police. While care is needed as incidents can unexpectedly become violent, our police report that there are generally two distinct types of calls: those needing support (often mental health) and others involving a criminal act. A participant asked how Salt Spring could become a pilot community for a deeper collaboration between our RCMP, mental health professionals, and peer support workers. Mike asked this participant to reach out to him.
When a participant asked about police violence, Minister Farnworth responded that extensive police training is in place. But, tragedies do happen. He is concerned that investigations into some of these tragedies stretch for months and even years before resolution.
Adam shared that his work on the Police Act Review committee changed his perspective. Beginning with a mindset leaning toward de-funding, he is now convinced that our answer lies in retasking police, ensuring the appropriate qualified responders are dispatched - a de-siloed, cross-ministry approach. Ministries must work together to assess what our police need. Accessible, effective trauma support systems for our police must be developed and constantly evaluated. It is Adam’s conclusion that our police need career-long trauma support systems to most effectively do the complex job we require of them.
Too soon it was 1:00 and Minister Farnworth and Adam prepared to move on to their next Salt Spring meeting, but not before they both promised to come back soon: Adam on Friday, April 21, 11-1, in the Middle School Lobby. We left, grateful that we had gotten a chance to express our views and ask questions of these two hardworking, collaborative, and caring members of our provincial government who had taken the time out of their busy days to visit with us. (A heartfelt thanks, Minister Farnworth and MLA Olsen!)
Please join us Friday, March 10, 11-1, in the Middle School Lobby, to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman to answer all your CRD questions, especially those about the 2023 budget.
What would you like to ask Gary?
Were you surprised by any of the budget increases we are facing this year?
Can you see ways to save money in 2023 so that some of these increases can be carried over to our next fiscal year?
What would you like to see happen in the 2024 budget so that this year’s increase does total even more next year?
Please join us Friday, March 10, 11-1, to welcome Gary!
ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!
***New fundraising option***
You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings and
monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings?
Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.
We love your receipts! Remember: #15
Our Partners. . . .
Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.
A heartfelt Thank-You!