Welcoming MLA Adam Olsen to Discuss Food Security, BC Ferries, Drake Road, and So Much More. . . .
Seventeen came to this first ASK Salt Spring gathering of 2023 to welcome MLA Adam Olsen and his staff, William Kelley and his new Constituent Advocate Jerram Gawley. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we asked Adam to tell us what excites and delights him as our new year begins. He is heartened that Premier Eby appears to be adhering to the scheduled election in October 2024 rather than pursuing an election this spring. With much work to do, Adam is pleased that he - and his colleagues - can focus on their important work rather than launching into yet another campaign period.
We learned that Adam and William created a video for Adam’s social media while he was on the ferry journey here, telling his constituents about his monthly visit to Salt Spring the first Friday of every month. This year, he will also hold regularly-scheduled public circles at other Gulf Islands. As our lives inch toward normal again after our long bout with COVID restrictions, Adam is also planning a town hall series in March.
Next month, Friday, February 3, Adam plans to cycle to ASK Salt Spring with a group of cycling advocates led by Cycling Salt Spring (https://www.islandpathways.ca/committees/cycling-salt-spring-island-committee/). He hopes this ride will be the kickoff of his cycling season as well as the start of his cycling commute to the Legislature for its 2023 session. Adam is looking forward to this session that he hopes will be rich with important conversations, especially concerning housing and police reform. After a regenerating holiday, he is ready to go!
Our first question was about our new Agriculture and Food Minister, Pam Alexis (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/organizational-structure/ministries-organizations/ministries/agriculture). This participant hoped that Minister Alexis will offer the same attentiveness offered by former Minister Popham. Adam shares these hopes. Our conversation expanded to a discussion of our need to shorten our food supply chains to achieve more local and regional food security and resilience. According to Adam, our recent food chain disruptions due to COVID and climate-change generated storms clearly illustrate our vulnerability. He is convinced that we need to be able to not only grow much of what we need but to also process and preserve this locally-grown food to satisfy many of our food requirements.
Rather than allowing grocery store markets to determine what we eat by buying the least expensive grocery store products (often obtained from other countries), Adam believes that our government needs to invest in food security programs to establish and support local production. In response to a participant who reminded us that local products are often significantly more expensive than products from other countries, Adam noted that reestablishing local food security will require a well-designed systemwide approach. He gave us the example of a new condo design proposed when he was a Councillor in Central Saanich that clearly lacked food storage space for residents who wanted to process and preserve local food.
A participant spoke with enthusiasm of Salt Spring’s agricultural production, with many small farms, well-rewarded workers, amazing products like sauerkraut and some of the best breads in the country, and under-utilized land that could allow us to farm even more. Our Root (https://www.ssifarmlandtrust.org/projects) is creating much excitement by its potential to offer that important processing and preserving link to further strengthen our local food chain.
As water is a key element for much of our agricultural production, the conversation also touched briefly on our inadequate stormwater retention systems. Adam remarked that, for decades, engineers have designed systems for hydrologic efficiency, meaning getting stormwater to the ocean as efficiently as possible. While this is changing, we are well behind. We need far better infrastructure design to capture and store the valuable rainwater that falls on our communities through the Fall/Winter/Spring seasons.
To further complicate the development of adequate housing stormwater retention systems for multi-family developments, the administrative reality is that five provincial ministries hot-potato this issue, with no single Ministry clearly responsible for ensuring that we have effective and efficient rainwater harvesting for multi-family projects.
When a participant asked what we should do to improve the British Columbia political system, Adam replied that the major problem is majority governments. They don’t need to collaborate, and it turns the legislative assembly into a theatre for power politics rather than one focused on finding solutions to problems through democratic governance. In hindsight, in 2017 when the Green Party were negotiating the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the BC NDP, Adam suggested they should have fought for one - and only one - change: electoral reform. It would have dramatically impacted all the other issues that were in the agreement as well. In the meantime, Adam is intent upon using his power as Third Party House Leader to work toward democratizing our Legislature.
Adam was asked about the Coastal Ferry Amendment Act, Bill 7 (https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2022TRAN0015-000256), a proposed law allowing the Legislature to impose certain regulations on BC Ferries. Adam does not believe that Bill 7 will return during this legislative session. He referenced the major BC Ferries personnel changes that have been made, concluding that the provincial government decided to make changes in the leadership of the corporation rather than pursue Bill 7.
Adam does not think that bringing back this proposed Bill 7 is the best solution as it authorizes the provincial government to impose orders on the organization without taking any responsibility for the outcomes of these orders. As a vital component of the transport system, Adam would prefer a discussion about ensuring BC Ferries is entirely part our Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure rather than its quasi-corporate status (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BC_Ferries), noting that it is the marine highway and transit system for thousands of British Columbians.
A participant lamented the poor treatment given to foot passengers, especially the miserable waits for buses at ferry terminals with no protection from the elements. We were reminded that BC Ferries representatives did hear these concerns when they recently visited ASK Salt Spring. Their response was that BC Ferries staff now meet monthly with BC Transit staff to better coordinate services. They also heard about miserable passenger waits for buses, with a promise to further pursue this issue. As they committed to return to ASK Salt Spring this summer, stay tuned, okay?
We also learned that William, Adam’s able staff member, is a passionate active transportation proponent, constantly advocating to Adam about opportunities to better support non-vehicular travel. Adam spoke briefly of discussions of a rapid bus system, better intercity transport, a passenger-only ferry, and even a Vancouver Island train service. All expensive options, requiring a mandate from voters and government subsidization, significant improvements to our current vehicle-dominated transportation system are possible.
As 1:00 approached, our conversation shifted to housing and our most vulnerable. Adam was asked for details about the contract to manage the proposed Supportive Housing project on Drake Road. Initially assuming that Salt Spring Community Services would manage this facility, recent indications are that this management contract will be awarded through a competitive process. Adam promised to get more information concerning the timing of this process.
It is Adam’s opinion that BC Housing initially went awry with this project by telling us what we need rather than asking those with local knowledge. We were reminded that this 28-unit Supportive Housing project was initially supposed to be completed by spring 2022. Now slated to be completed by this spring, some wonder whether it will be 2024 before it is occupied.
Adam believes that another error on the part of BC Housing was believing that building on Salt Spring was the same as building anywhere else in the province. Using the power of primacy to circumvent some local regulations, it appears that BC Housing believed that building this Supportive Housing on Drake Road would go far more quickly. Current realities of building on Salt Spring have belied this assumption. While BC Housing did recently have an informative Zoom meeting to answer Drake Road residents’ concerns, serious drainage issues as well concerns over the deteriorating condition of Drake Road remain unanswered. (NOTE: What about having a conversation about a stormwater retention system?)
Despite these challenges, Adam is looking forward to learning more about Premier Eby’s housing plans: (https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2022PREM0065-001745).
We concluded our time together with hopes by some participants that the organization that wins the contract for management of the Drake Road Supportive Housing will be an active partner in safe drug use initiatives as well as the Peer Support Projects being initiated by Salt Spring Health Advancement Network’s (SSHAN) Mental Health Initiative (https://saltspringexchange.com/2022/06/16/mental-wellness-culture-of-care-what-would-it-mean-to-you-to-be-included-to-have-your-voice-heard/).
We left this first ASK Salt Spring gathering of 2023 by expressing heartfelt appreciation to Adam and his staff for all of their hard work as well as their time spent with us to answer our questions, share their visions for a better BC, and genuinely hear our concerns about those issues that matter most to us. (Thanks, Adam, William, and Jerram!)
Please join us this Friday, January 13, 11-1, in the Middle School Lobby to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman.
What would you like to ask him?
What are you doing to prepare for the Local Community Commission establishment this June?
What are your priorities for CRD for 2023?
What do you use as the biggest challenges for CRD in 2023?
How do you plan to address these challenges?
What do you predict will be CRD’s greatest accomplishments of 2023?
What can you tell us about the HarbourWalk?
Acquisition of the current firehall?
Please join us this Friday, January 13, to welcome Gary.
Remember: the Middle School Lobby!
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