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  • Gayle Baker

Welcoming MLA Adam Olsen to Discuss That Classic Battle Between Centralised and Local Decisions

February 2

Twenty came to welcome MLA Adam Olsen and Jerram Gawley, his Constituency Advocate, to this ASK Salt Spring gathering. Adam added to our Territorial Acknowledgement by reminding us that his people had a tradition of overlapping spaces, a homeland to different groups sharing linguistic and cultural roots but still very different. He reminded us that these overlapping boundaries accommodating multiple groups were extremely difficult for crown governments far more comfortable with maps identifying discrete ownership.


When asked what excited and delighted him, Adam immediately responded that being on Salt Spring did just that. He is glad that he spends a lot of time here and is honoured that he has been accepted as our advocate. He is pleased that we trust him to bring our unique perspective to the Legislatur. 


He was also appreciative of his recent day on a panel with Chief John Jack (https://huuayaht.org/government/executive-council/councillor-john-jack//) and Eric Nyce of the Nisga’a Nation (https://www.nisgaanation.ca/) at the Leaders Governmental Learning Academy (https://lgla.ca/). These panellists spoke of the many roles of First Nations leaders. While the leaders participating in this academy have clearly defined roles at a specific level of government, chiefs and leaders participate in decisions that range from local issues to multi-nation, international ones. As an aside, Adam believes that our new Local Community Commission should be supported and even expected by Salt Spring to participate in such training and professional growth opportunities.


Adam was asked if there would be a provincial election this year, to which he answered a definite Yes. While an election is legally required by October 19, 2024 (https://elections.bc.ca/2024-provincial-election/), Premier Eby could call a snap election anytime before this scheduled election, with voting 30 days later.While snap elections tend to favour incumbents, most believe that Eby will not call a snap election, adhering to the regularly-scheduled election in October. Adam has already began campaigning in preparation of whenever this election is called.


When asked what he expected to be our #1 ballot box question, Adam suggested two: 

  1. The economy with escalating costs that are increasing far faster than incomes, and

  2. Our troubled healthcare system. Growing shortages of doctors and an upside-down system focusing on sickness, rather than preventive care, has resulted in poorer service despite the additional $8 billion spent each year since 2017. Adam characterised the failure of our healthcare system as an identity crisis, no longer giving Canadians a superior system than the United States.


A participant shared his heartfelt concern that local justice no longer exists. Centralization of our justice system in Victoria has resulted in no ability for local disputes to be settled in our community, judged, instead, in Victoria by those with no connection to our community. He asked Why do we have neither a Justice of the Peace nor a Crown Prosecutor in Salt Spring to adjudicate local issues? Why does all local justice now have to be decided in Victoria? Adam added that Sidney court cases have also recently been moved to Victoria. By centralising our local justice in Victoria, we have lost transparency, local understanding of issues, and swift resolution of disputed events.


Adam referred to the report of the Police Review Committee on which he served for 15 months, inviting testimony of over 1,500 witnesses (https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/42nd-parliament/3rd-session/rpa/SC-RPA-Report_42-3_2022-04-28.pdf). The overall conclusion of this Committee was that the further justice is removed from a community, the less accountable, transparent, and trustworthy is this system. While there were many recommendations https://www.ahbl.ca/bc-legislative-committee-recommends-replacing-the-rcmp-with-a-new-provincial-police-service-and-other-changes/) one headline was that . . . the committee recommends the province transition to a new provincial police service that would take over services currently contracted to the RCMP.


A classic battle between the efficiencies of centralization and the benefits of community decision-making, Adam suggested that local policing decisions consider more than the beneficial bottom line offered by centralization. Communities should also consider increased trust in public safety often offered by local justice systems.


Adam was asked whether it was time for a Gulf Islands Regional District. While Adam cautioned that a change of this magnitude would require an enormous amount of untangling of multiple contracts and service systems, he also noted that the Islands Trust now must work with seven Regional Districts, each with its own procedures and policies. He also noted the power deficit of the three electoral districts in the CRD, routinely outvoted by the far larger Victoria municipalities. A recent example of this is the disappointing Electoral District distribution of the billion dollar Growing Communities (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/local-governments/finance/growing_communities_fund_q_as_rds.pdf) windfall.


Would Salt Spring have received more Growing Communities funding had there been a Gulf Islands Regional District? Would essential services be lost or far more expensive? Lots of unanswered questions, but Adam did wink and suggest that, were there ever a Gulf Islands Regional District, each community could have its own Local Community Commission.


Building upon this theme of the tension between efficient centralization and more responsive local decision-making, Adam admitted that the province does not support community self-determination well. He has observed that it is easier for the province to proceed with the perspective that one size fits all and that provincial management will solve all community issues. Adam would prefer the province fund communities adequately and trust them to spend these funds to address their own needs. Rather than routing everything through Ottawa and Victoria, shouldn’t our governments support communities to solve their own problems with their unique solutions?


We had a light moment when a participant marvelled at Adam’s persuasiveness: A friend anxiously seeking permanent residence status had written to Adam asking for help. He was thrilled when he soon got his letter of permanent residence. Adam smiled, saying that, while a large part of his role is as critic of the majority government, he also places great effort in building strong relationships throughout the Legislature. This welcome confirmation of permanent status is one of many of Adam’s advocacy successes.


Recognizing that few in the room would be sympathetic, a participant spoke about the doubling of his property tax due to a new 2019 tax, called the Additional School Tax (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/taxes/property-taxes/annual-property-tax/school-tax/additional-school-tax-rate). Misleading from the start, we learned that these funds have nothing to do with funding our schools but go directly in provincial coffers. With our assessments skyrocketing, a number of Salt Springers are shocked to discover that their property values have escalated beyond $2 million, with an enormous increase in their property taxes each and every year. As the participants at ASK Salt Spring in this situation have long held these properties and have no interest in selling, these taxes are creating a cash flow hardship. Complaints to the government are met only with the suggestion that they defer their taxes (with interest) so that their heirs will be saddled with this daunting bill.


Adam agreed that our seemingly-random assessed values are further driving a wedge into housing our community. Why, asked one participant, can’t we rewrite our outmoded land use zoning laws to allow multiple homes on these large lots? Adam replied that the just-passed Bill 44 (https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/legislation-debates-proceedings/42nd-parliament/4th-session/bills/third-reading/gov44-3) is doing just that by mandating the permitting of multiple homes on residential lots. Salt Spring is exempt from this law, an oversight in the minds of some and blessing in that of others. (For a more detailed discussion of Adam’s opinion of Bill 44, see the December 1, 2023 ASK Salt Spring discussion: https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org/post/our-mla-adam-olsen-i-am-bloody-honoured-to-represent-salt-spring).


When a participant asked whether Salt Spring would get its fair share of the proposed $85 million borrowing for the Capital Regional Housing Corporation (https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/news/article/2024/01/17/the-crd-and-its-capital-regional-housing-corporation-(crhc)-is-getting-ready-to-expand-affordable-housing), an optimistic participant jumped in to say that much of that depended upon whether Salt Spring can generate competitive shovel-ready affordable housing projects. This challenge was tempered by Adam who reminded us that, however laudable our housing projects, they would still compete with the urban CRD areas that can offer far larger densities without our troublesome infrastructure challenges. He also reminded us that the provincial government has focussed most intently on the housing needs of urban areas and largely ignored the needs and unique challenges of rural areas.


Housing concerns - both urban and rural - are very real issues for too many British Columbians: It is estimated to over 100,000 households in BC pay more than 50% of their incomes on housing, leaving them one short step from homelessness. 


As 1:00 approached, a participant stated his confidence that there is the private money on Salt Spring to significantly help fund promising housing projects. In his opinion, one of the challenges is that these generous donors do not know where to offer their money. A perfect opportunity, we were reminded that organisations set up to accept donations as well as fund projects are coming to ASK Salt Spring Friday, February 16, 11-1, in the SIMS classroom. Will they be part of the solution?


As we prepared to leave, we applauded Adam, glad that he comes to ASK Salt Spring every month and so appreciative of his tenacity, eagerness to be our advocate, courage to push us to look at other perspectives, and joy at being part of the solutions for our complex issues. (Thank-you Adam and Jerram!


Please join us this Friday, February 9, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome your Local Community Commissioners.


What would you like to ask them?

  • Now that your 2024 budget deliberations have concluded, what local issues do you plan to address?

  • What are your top three priorities for 2024?

  • What do you see as the biggest challenges to your success addressing these priorities?

  • What Local Community Commission (LCC) accomplishments can you identify in its first six months.

  • And?


Please join us this Friday to welcome your Local; Commissioners!


Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grant Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!


Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?


Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

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 questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


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

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


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!

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