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  • Gayle Baker

Zooming With Adam: Safety and Health for Now and a Better Normal for the Future

May 1

Fourteen joined us for this Zoom session with Adam Olsen as our special guest. We began our discussion with a question about logging, Specifically, to encourage expansion of Islands Trust authority over logging on private land, should letters requesting this continue to be sent to Minister Selina Robinson?

After answering in the affirmative, Adam went on to give news that will be discouraging to those concerned about the environmental effects of logging: British Columbia’s economic framework, released in January, places forestry squarely in the category of a essential service. Only the day before, this support of the logging industry was again illustrated when the provincial government gave a three-month deferral for forestry companies to pay for stumpage. This allows them to defer payments for the trees that they have already cut, something these logging companies say is necessary if they are to remain liquid.

While the Islands Trust can regulate tree cutting in specific zones, the tools they have to do this are expensive and difficult to implement. Adam suggested that the key to managing this issue is to give Islands Trust regulatory authority, something municipalities have but regional districts do not. This is not a simple task as it must be done through legislation not simply an order in council.

When asked whether this was a good time to pursue this avenue, Adam replied that there is a constant tug of war in government. While there is currently no cohesive strategy for addressing this - as well as other environmental issues - he will be pushing for this needed strategy. He is committed to reinvest the future. Governments all across Canada have just demonstrated that they can invest in programs very quickly in an emergency. Added to this illustrated ability to fund in emergencies is the promising fact that there are very powerful people at both the federal and provincial levels who want to invest in a more sustainable economy.

Now is the time for us to let our politicians know what we support and how strongly we reject investing to recreate the past. The Green party is going to be exceptionally clear voicing their investment priorities as we move toward recovery.

What about our island economy? Should we try to limit folks coming on the ferries? The answer is complex.The province should provide Salt Spring everything it provides to other communities as well as making the huge investment to get our islands connected with fibre optics - opening up the ability for many to work at home. Salt Springers must come together to agree upon a strategy for moving forward, with short, medium, and log-term plans. .

Pleasure was expressed about both the federal and provincial support for the “little guy” instead of everything going to corporations. Thank you! When this is over, many businesses will not survive, and former employees will be looking for jobs. What would happen if banks simply forgot about debt for a few months rather then accruing interest for missed payments? Could the province tell banks to give a several month reprieve?

According to Adam, it is easy for governments to get caught up in politics and forget about serving. The deferral to logging companies while businesses continue to have to pay their mortgages is a classic example of tools that are applied differently as a result of expediency and the lack of an overall plan.

In response to the question of whether band and hereditary chiefs can be expected to agree, Adam replied that they are not likely to agree in the near future. Historically, the rights of indigenous people have been far fewer. Reconciliation is about equity, recognizing rights as well as the rights others, and upholding them the same way. To some, it may seem like indigenous peoples have been given something special, but this is incorrect as one cannot give something that is not yours to give.

While their rights are great (and to some may seem unequal), the important part is to apply rights equally. Until the Indian Act, the Wetso’wetan had a process to settle issues. Then, the federal government created another process. According to Adam, the best way forward is to invest in governance for first nations to help them deal with .shared territory. We all need to learn to: Disagree without being disagreeable.

Is it necessary for the burn ban to continue into the fall? As no one is in the ICU in Vancouver, maybe the need for the ban has passed? Burning our cuttings before the hot season is a way of life for us as well as our contribution to a fire smarter island. Is it possible that this prohibition is over-reaching and that communities should be able to make some of these decisions on their own?

Adam response was to ask us to recognize that, despite pressure for more restrictive measures, federal and provincial governments have stopped short of the most restrictive measures. Trudeau has asked Canadians to cooperate so that more restrictive measures are not needed. Ministers are wary of being too strict. (The province might have trouble enforcing more restrictive measures anyway.) One big concern coming out of these restrictions is that tech companies want to ramp up more invasive tools, ones that would probably be used by governments. We must remain vigilant about this worrisome consequence of the virus.

When asked why our less-used provincial parks cannot be re-opened sooner, Adam replied that Dr. Henry is phasing in recommendations. Moving from the stay-at-home recommendations, she has now suggested that people can go outside. As a result, Adam believes that areas will slowly be opened up and that provincial parks will be among the first. He did remind us, though, that these restrictions were made for more than just concerns about park users keeping a social distance. Concerns were also focused on the probability that folks could get hurt, needing rescue, and, thus, putting rescue workers in danger of not being able to maintain a social distance and getting sick themselves. They were also closed to avoid additional burden on hospitals were park users to be injured. Despite few virus cases, Victoria hospitals are nearly overloaded. Avoiding an added burden on those keeping us safe and healthy by keeping our parks closed a while longer seems to be a pretty small price to pay during these challenging times.

In response to the question of how we can best support our small businesses, Adam replied that the biggest threat that we face right now is the hollowing out of our business community. Too many businesses cannot be sure that they will survive. One way to help is to support the businesses that are open now. Don’t shop on line. And, get ready to support the others when they open again.

One participant pointed out that we are in a unique time in which most systems have closed or their activities have been severely reduced. Surgeries, library, recreation, schools, etc. are closed. We need to have an island-wide discussion about our future economic viability. Has this conversation begun? What will be our new normal? Will we solve problems that we have not yet been able to solve, such as homelessness and unrestricted water? How much tourism do we need? How can we, as a community of 10,000, use this time to define our way forward and prepare to adjust to it? How can we better address issues of economic viability and develop a plan for a new normal?

The answer is complex and cannot be simply answered. One problem to defining solutions rests with the fragmented governance on the Gulf Islands. We have disparate system that has benefits and drawbacks. While municipalities are not necessarily better they are quite different. An incorporated government offers the capacity for planning and coordination that is more difficult on the Gulf Islands. To succeed here having an inclusive island-wide conversation that can be implemented by local government is essential. Concerning strategic planning and better coordination of various aspects of community-decision-making, Adam cited a good result of this virus: He, our two Island Trustees, and Gary meet weekly to teleconference. (They are still seeking participation from Elizabeth - and are hopeful.) These meetings will continue after this pandemic has passed.

Adam has high hopes for the completion of the fibre optic system to the islands that will help open up many economic opportunities to all the islands. While optimistic, he also reminded us that the last mile connections are the most difficult and expensive.

It would be good for Salt Spring to work with the province to solve problems for these solutions could help other islands as well. Adam left with the request to be a part of the conversation about our vision for our future.

This conversation has begun with the Farm and Business Recovery Task Force involving the Islands Trust, the Chamber, Community, and the Community Economic Development Commission as well as others. The Community Alliance also had a meeting this week to explore how we can achieve sustainability and resilience. (This conversation will continue May 25 at 7:00 on Zoom.)

While some are already discussing our economic future, how can more get involved.?

Hornby spent two years creating a plan that engaged the entire community which, despite the lack of governmental support, has moral strength. This plan had visions for each sector of he community. When the plan was complete, those sectors moved to implement them.

Currently, Sal Spring has nothing similar to the Hornby plan, but it was suggested that we begin by re-examining the report released in 2014-5 by the Community Economic Development Commission. ( Maybe we should also look at the many, many studies done over the years. A summary of past recommendations of these numerous studies could give us rich information.

This Zoom meeting concluded at about 1:30 with an appreciation of the opportunity to meet virtually to discuss what’s on our minds.

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