The Islands Trust Experiment

“The Islands” of the title are between Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. There are 465 in this archipelago, known collectively as the Gulf Islands. I live on Salt Spring Island, shown in green, the largest of the 13, which have a total of 25,000 permanent residents.

Islands Trust is a federation of local governments with land-use authority, tasked with preserving and protecting the area’s unique amenities and environment.

This is something so rare that a web search of trusts related to land use yields many references to them as private agreements between non-profit or individual landowners, sometimes working with government, but not integrated into government.

In the late 1960s, developers and speculators drew up huge subdivisions of city-sized lots for many of the islands, planning instant new villages, towns, and mega-resorts. The alarmed Social Credit government put on the brakes, freezing lot sizes to a 10-acre minimum.

Salt Spring Island - The Islands Trust

Still, large-scale developments and industrial uses could easily wipe out forests, Garry oak meadows, and suck fresh-water supplies dry. What to do?

In 1973, the New Democratic government toured the area, surveyed the residents, and wrote a report that recommended creating an Islands Trust. By late 1974, it became law.

(In 1973, the NDP government also created the Agricultural Land Reserve, overseen by the Agricultural Land Commission, to slow down an average of 6,000 prime, fertile acres per year from disappearing to development. The ALR experiment is now facing radical retooling by the current B.C. government, but that’s another story.)

The Islands Trust Act makes clear that the islands are for all British Columbians, not just the locals. National parks, similarly, are for all Canadians. Some of them have permanent residents, but they’re bunched in towns, with very limited footprints over the entire area. The Trust islands have private landowners living and making their livings throughout the populated islands.

The Trust provides all local planning services, while advocating for the Trust Area and administering the Trust Fund. Delivery of all other local government services is through bodies tied to regional district (primarily), provincial, and federal agencies. The following example of Salt Spring’s government-service delivery is similar to other Trust islands.

Salt Spring Island - The Islands Trust Experiment

A common pressure on local governments is the unrelenting need to increase the local tax base to pay for infrastructure and amenities, very often by welcoming developments that are hard on natural land and water features. The Islands Trust Act separates the service delivery function from the land-use planning function, with its added protective mandate. Service demands no longer drive, to any great extent, land-use decisions.

Many people move to these islands without any knowledge or understanding of this history, purpose, and division of responsibilities. They often remain unaware of the basics until they run into problems and struggle to figure out how the place works.

Long-time residents can be just as thrown by a patchwork of regulatory bodies, with offices and meeting rooms over scattered locations. There’s no obvious town or city hall and no Welcome Wagon primers to introduce who’s where, what, and why. Documents abound, in print and online, but few residents are familiar with where they are, and far fewer still have read them.

Builders and business people who present the Islands Trust with unusual or ambitious plans for developing a property, especially if it requires rezoning, can find themselves on a steep learning curve about the Trust’s requirements and processes.

Canny developers commonly buy land that’s relatively cheap because of its zoning, then work to get it reclassified. This saves money that, eventually, feeds into profits. Successful rezoning bids are usually built on trade-offs that benefit the tax base, select community services, or the civic aims of elected representatives.

Within the Trust federation, rezoning must fit environmental requirements and broad community interests and values. Through regular, public Local Trust Committee meetings, islanders can weigh in about land use and zonings. This makes for open and responsive local government, and not surprisingly, it also makes for an engaged local community. Passions can run high. Singer-songwriter Valdy, a long-time Salt Spring resident, calls this place “an argument surrounded by water”.

These differences of opinion are good, however. People learn about the system and each other. In keeping with small-town life, most are good at remaining civil and caring through their everyday interactions.

And developers learn, often after investing money, time, effort, and emotion, that the usual tactics to convince local governments to repurpose land don’t work well here. Zoning and other by-laws can be amended, but that’s a different process entirely from fashioning trade-offs to achieve development ends.

This riles residents who want to make good livings and grow their businesses the way they could in a municipality, while enjoying a bucolic lifestyle rich with nature.

It ‘s around this nub that the Trust experiment may eventually come to an end, with Bowen Island leading the way. A 1991 referendum to incorporate failed, but a 1999 one passed. The Bowen Island Municipality remains in the Trust, which must approve any changes to the Official Community Plan and review all bylaw additions and amendments. The mayor and council, however, can appeal to the B.C. minister in charge of the Trust to override any of its requirements.

Bowen Islanders now support a burgeoning local bureaucracy and many service costs once covered by the Trust and B.C. government. Roads and policing are especially expensive for a small community to fund. Some formerly pro-incorporation people make clear their dissatisfactions and even predict Bowen’s devolution to a suburb of West Vancouver.

Were Salt Spring Island to become a municipality – and there’s a continual push for this by a local group called Islanders for Self-Government – 35-40 per cent of Trust’s tax support would vanish, effectively gutting the Trust. ISGers argue that the Trust would be as strong as ever, but how so, when local politicians have a trump card in the B.C. government?

In 2002, Salt Spring held a referendum on incorporating. The furor of debate from both sides made it hard to tell which would win, but when the tallying was done, 70 per cent said no.

Nonetheless, last fall, the B.C. government funded the first of a two-part local governance study, completed last fall. If they fund the second part, it would lead to another referendum, by 2018 at the latest. ISGers are working hard with local and provincial politicians to win this time ... or maybe the next, or the next.

Will the Islands Trust experiment be running strong by its 50th anniversary, in 2024? Hard to say. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, come visit. It really is a lovely, rare, biodiverse place – a backwater needing regular municipal governance to some, a world leader in eco-conscious governance to others, who seek improvements to existing agencies, not replacement.

References:

The Islands Trust Story: Celebrating 35 Years, 1974-2009 by Peter Lamb, 30 pages, available in print and online for free.
Islands Trust: www.islandstrust.bc.ca; lots of links
Islanders for Self-Government: http://www.islandgov.org/

Brenda Guiled grew up in Jasper National Park, first visited Salt Spring Island in 1972 as a new Zoology graduate, and moved there in 2002. She favours the Trust-regional-district governance system, with improvements made using built-in means.

October 23, 2014 8:37 AM

  • Avatar Norbert Schlenker says:

    Your continuing to write up the history of the Trust area, on the Exchange, is informative, especially for newer arrivals. However, your editorializing re incorporation misstates facts quite badly. To pick just two:

    1) Salt Spring's incorporation will "gut the Trust". This canard was trotted out at the time of the last referendum, and it's simply untrue. More recently, Linda Adams, the Trust's chief administrative officer, estimated that incorporation here would require cutbacks at head office and/or tax increases elsewhere in the Trust area of less than $100 per household. In process right now is a detailed look at how our island's incorporation could affect Trust finances, so we'll see how that looks when it comes out. (It's six months late already!!!)

    2) Local government costs will explode after incorporation, and we can look at Bowen for proof. This was also trotted out last minute in 2002 and no doubt increased the no vote. So let's see how Salt Spring residential taxes compare to Bowen residential taxes. Apples to apples. I wrote to Bowen's finance officer this morning asking about their mill rate and they replied within 30 minutes with a sample tax bill for a representative property. On Bowen, they paid $5.01 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2014. Then I looked at my own tax bill. I paid $6.15 per $1,000. To make it completely apples to apples, I need to add in garbage collection, which is a municipal service on Bowen but private here, I paid $6.28. It turns out that Bowen's "burgeoning bureaucracy" costs about 20% less than we pay on Salt Spring.

    Let's see the report on the Trust's finances post-incorporation of SSI. Let's see the results of a follow-up incorporation study on Salt Spring. Those facts will inform the public and let them make a reasoned judgment about what's good for us here, as residents of Salt Spring and the Trust area whether we incorporate or not.

    Informing the public with these missives can be a good thing. Keep it up. "Gutting the trust" and "Bowen's burgeoning bureaucracy" are fact free fear-mongering. Stop doing that, please.

  • Avatar John Macpherson says:

    Brenda, your accounting leaves out important facts and contains misrepresentations without regard to some facts.

    1. Let's get rid of the myth that municipalities necessarily cost more and will increase taxes faster than our current decentralized system. In 2000 the 'average' Salt Spring property (as per average assessment) paid $768 in taxes to our local taxing authorities - the CRD, the Trust and the Fire District. In 2013 the average property paid $1808, an increase of over 135%! Several nearby municipalities saw much lower tax increases. In the same period inflation in BC was a mere 26%.

    2. Let's get rid of the idea that the Trust would be gutted if Salt Spring incorporated. I personally heard Linda Adams (CAO of the Trust) speak on April 11, 2011, and at that time she said the cost to the Trust would be equal to a $64 tax increase for the average property in the rest of the Trust area. As Norbert says in his comment, there is an Impact Study expected shortly, which will show updated numbers. Brenda, if you are not willing to base your statements on facts, and if you are not willing to wait for further facts before making up your mind, I fear you run the risk of being seen as a propagandist instead of an open minded person who makes evidence based arguments.

    3. Let's get rid of the idea that incorporation and the Trust are necessarily opposed. The Trust Act specifically allows for incorporation and a municipality would be bound by Preserve and Protect.

    4. Let's get rid of the idea that Islanders For Self-government is pushing an incorporation agenda, and that by inference the ISG group is driving the current governance review. In the last election 70% of the vote went to candidates who supported a governance study. This did not mean that they all had their minds made up about incorporating, the vote was to explore the legislatively available options. The first phase of the study in 2013 showed that participants by a vast majority were interested in obtaining more detailed information about the municipal option. Our current elected officials have been united in their commitment to see this happen. This includes Peter Grove, for whom you have publicly via Facebook declared your support. (In the interest if full disclosure I am NOT a member of ISG)

    I'm afraid I could go on and on but I think my message is clear. Please agree to refrain from making assertions that can't be supported. In my opinion it confuses matters terribly when articles of faith are proffered as facts.

  • Avatar scott simmons says:

    As someone who tries to go to all the LTC (Local Trust Council) meeting every month to see the subdivision development applications I disagree with your article. Last month 5 neighbors spoke against the development on Ashya road at the open house the night before the LTC meeting. It was passed the next day by the LTC even though there was local opposition. Most subdivisions seem to get the rubber stamp from the LTC because the application is actually processed by the ministry of Transport unless there is a variance needed like the new subdivision on Shepard Hills. I think it was lot 3 did not meet the frontage requirement they needed a variance out came the rubber stamp. If Salt Spring was a municipality I personally think the island would have a lot more rules on subdividing and get more out of the developers. Charles Lamman just released a study via the Fraser institute that compares municipal gov finances for metro Vancouver. On page 24 he goes into development fees and how some local governments charge lots to developers and in fact have lower property taxes. To me this something that really has to be looked at. As per my letter to the driftwood "Are developers getting a free ride" just look at the new development on Mt Tuam. The developer stands to make millions and has not put anything into our island infrastructure. To me this is just wrong and I'm basically a free enterprise person and see nothing wrong with making a buck but I'm also a bit of a socialist and want a few things from local government such as, a harbour board walk, my road fix in front of my home, library, park, pool etc... Most municipal governments see developers as a cash cow that has to be milked. We are not getting any milk under the present system. Either we fix the present system or go for another. I do enjoy your articles Brenda please keep them going. Thanks.

  • Avatar Anne Parkinson says:

    I arrived on SSI a year ago after 34 years as a homeowner in the Municipality of Oak Bay. I agree with Brenda Guiled - municipal status does not improve building, servicing and monetary issues. Doesn't watching issues in Victoria such as sewage treatment, Blue Bridge, SOF Arena, selling of closed school lands, variances for condo towers, to name only a few, give anyone pause to consider who Mayor and Council of a Municipality really serve? I sat through too many 'public' meetings late into the night where the final vote of the Mayor and Council went to the developer even though overwhelmingly the audience spoke for hours against the proposal. I am impressed that a referendum was held on SSI - would that ever happen in a Municipality? Do Municipalities protect or add green space? And if the push to have all Municipalities around CRD amalgamate as per the Greater Toronto Authority (supposedly to cut taxes and improve service), does SSI get absorbed too?

    Definitely compare apples to apples - and be very aware of which one has the hidden worm.

  • Avatar bornonsaltspring says:

    Can't help but think the timing of these articles coincides with the upcoming election...which leads me to believe/speculate that at least one candidate will be coming out against incorporation during her campaign. I agree with the comments from Norbert, Scott and John.

    This is not the first time you and other anti-incorporationists have made the completely unsubstantiable claim the Trust will be "gutted" when Salt Spring incorporates. Logic would dictate that you should be completely supportive of moving to the incorporation study, since theoretically it should prove your claim. However, as an active participant in the debate for a number of years, you must be aware that it will prove the exact opposite, which would explain your non-support for it.

    Bowen Island has been a municipality for 15 years now. I'd like you to name ONE instance when the town council had to go to the Minister for approval of a bylaw that the Trust Executive had turned down because the proposed bylaw didn't meet Trust Policies.

    Concerns by business owners on Salt Spring are more related to maintaining a viable business, as opposed to expansion. SSI's economy has been hard hit, and many of the comforts you enjoy (including the level of taxes) are dependent upon businesses being successful. The fact that an Economic Development Commission even needs to exist underlines the current and future problems facing SSI.

    SSI has had less than a 1% per annum growth rate over the past 10 years. At that rate, and, with a likely increase in real estate prices as we move into the future, it will take 100 years, or more, for SSI, under current zoning, to reach its current proposed maximum population estimate of 15-18,000 citizens.

    Growth isn't the problem, maintaining service levels and providing housing for, and attracting, middle income earners to replace the aging baby-boomer population, is. With all due respect, the Trust is not leading the way in that regard. IT has focussed ITself primarily on environmental issues, to the detriment of social and economic issues. There needs to be balance, and, I am of the opinion a SSI town council can achieve that.

  • Avatar bornonsaltspring says:

    The "referendum" referred to was a referendum on whether SSI should be a municipality and was not a function of SSI being in the Islands Trust Area.

    And, what is not mentioned in the article is that only about 50% of eligible voters in 2002 voted...not a great turnout by any measurement.

    So, 70% of 50% = 35% of islanders actually voted against incorporating.

    The latest polling I am aware of was done 3 years ago (after 10 years of discussion on the issue) which suggested 60% of islanders were then in support of incorporating.

    A full incorporation study will give the information islanders need to make a decision.

    As an evident ardent supporter of referendums, I take it you will be in full support of having one in the near future on the issue.

  • Avatar Brenda Guiled says:

    This piece says nothing against governance studies and the need to improve local governance. The brief bio' at the end concludes with this latter. It also includes my wish to improve it within the current system, which seems fair to note.

    The larger fairness that really matters is that these studies be presented as such, and the last one wasn't entirely. Richard Kerr (who actively supported incorporation in the 2002 referendum) stated one concern of several regarding its fairness in his Driftwood article about the Local Community Commission option, http://gulfislandsdriftwood.com/opinion/lcc-governance-alternative/#.VEv652d0yxA:

    "Since the LCC option already exists under provincial legislation, could it be considered by the current governance study? When I asked this of the provincial official overseeing the Governance Study Committee, she replied: “The straightforward answer is no. The Board of the CRD has not created a LCC on Salt Spring Island, nor has it chosen to delegate any of its power to an elected LCC. Therefore, the current state of governance on the island does not include a LCC.”

    "The current state of governance on Salt Spring does not include an island municipality either, but that is the only alternative to the “snapshot” of the status quo that the Governance Study Committee and their consultants are being allowed to examine and present to the community. The Governance Study Committee’s current survey is seriously flawed because it presents municipal incorporation as though it is the only possible alternative to the status quo."

    To a citizen, we all wish to have better governance, either by working to improve our present system or changing to another system. The next governance study must make clear the former, with options spelled out, as well as the incorporation option.

    I look forward to voting in the next incorporation referendum, in 2018. In the drafting of the question, I'll be vocal about it asking if we'd like (1) to improve the current system using allowed means or (2) incorporate as the Municipality of Salt Spring Island. Any less won't do the whole process justice.

  • Avatar John Macpherson says:

    Brenda, you do not acknowledge any of the errors that have been pointed out eg. exploding taxes, which have already happened - a 135% increase from 2000-2013.

    As to improving the current system, that has always been possible, but it does not change the nature of the system. You seem to put great faith in a LCC, which can only be granted and/or taken away by the CRD where Salt Spring have just one vote among 26. That is not likely to happen. If you believe otherwise, then what steps have you and other anti-incorporationists taken to make it happen?

    The reality is, a LCC is subject to the will of the CRD Board of Directors. It would administer only CRD provided services. It would have no power of taxation, no powers of centralized budgeting, no authority in spending, no powers of general oversight in island affairs, no power of coordinating with the other independent elements of our current system i.e. The Trust, the Fire District, the independent water districts like NSSWD and no power for strategic planning for the island as a whole. In short, the system would remain the same. None of the thematic issues identified in the Governance Study would be addressed. Let me ask you, how would a LCC help address community concerns about Fire District or Trust spending? If people want those thematic concerns addressed, I can't see the LCC idea getting much traction.

    Please note: LCC's in fact we're described and discussed in the governance study. To say otherwise is wrong. However, the study was not about optimizing either our current system or optimizing what form of municipality might work best. It was about the two systems generally speaking. Optimization is what people try to do all the time given the system they've got, with the tools they've got. What tools does the current system give you to make the improvements you would like?

  • Avatar Timothy Harvey says:

    Scott, your views on milking the cash cow of development are exactly why we should avoid municipal government, as well as curtail the current rubber stamping habits of the municipal trust. True, development can create a carefully-managed feeding frenzy, but where would this take Salt Spring? It won't be the Salt Spring that we know and love. It currently takes more creativity to make a living here, and that is prtly why the island tends to attract and retain creative people. An economy can't be expected to be conventional in a more environmentally responsible community. We can see what has been lost elsewhere and choose to do things differently here. This requires a different government structure.

    It is not in our interests to open the money faucet at the cost of everything we hold sacred. The last thing we need is to debase Salt Spring by moving to a government structure that puts developers in the driver's seat.

  • Avatar scott simmons says:

    So it's best to keep it the way it is and let developers develop lots on every far flung property creating more rural sprawl with virtually no over all master plan? Let the developers reap in large profits and contribute nothing to our local infrastructure? Let the developers continue to donate the worst land they have to PARC for their minimum 5% park dedication(if they have to)? One has to realize that the current system is a developers dream. They are in the drives seat NOW. Please Timothy tell me how they are not in the drivers seat now?

  • Avatar Timothy Harvey says:

    Excuse me, Scott! I made a typo. I wrote: "as well as curtail the current rubber stamping habits of the municipal trust,"

    but I meant to write: "as well as curtail the current rubber stamping habits of the Island's Trust". It was late when I made that post.

    YES! You are correct! Developers, such as the recent South End situation where neighbors were ignored attests, are in the driver's seat. Sometimes I think that campaign slogans like "For a balanced approached" should be changed to "You balance my books, I'll balance my views".

    Had I not made the typo last night you would have understood that I think the current situation needs fixing. Badly. But the glaring problem is that municipality proponents spread the egregious myth that the only appropriate alternative is a municipality. They would throw out the baby with the bathwater. But Salt Spring is too precious a baby to throw out the window as it seems you would have us.

    The Trust, at least, espouses environmental protectionism. We need a mechanism in place to hold them to account over the long term. Municipal governments, sadly, are term-to-term creatures. If one regime isn't developer friendly the forces of development can wait them out until the next elected officials, perhaps more easily influenced by their lobby, holds power. As we can see with the current dictatorships in Victoria and Ottawa, it takes only one ass-backwards government to overturn decades of legislation made with the best intentions. Municipal governments, it seems to me, are much more prone to the same ebb and flow of interests and lobbies that can swiftly change the course of history and lay waste to what previous generations had the foresight to protect.

    You should bear in mind that I'm the demographic you would expect to be shouting loudest for municipality here. I'm 36 years old with a young family, easily the youngest landowner in my subdivision (Wilkie Way). My generation has access to perhaps a fifth of the total capital hoarded by the boomers (who did much better at our age) and receives about a fifth of the government support. Yet we are expected to drive the economy now and going forward. You would think I would want all economic restraints loosened. But not so! The screaming out for a municipality is in fact the the voice of the ideology that got the world into the great mess it's in. It calls for a municipal government structure that is by nature easily influenced by the free-market cry, the cry to allow the economy to flourish as nature withers around us.

    I would never dream of trying to subdivide my own 10 acres, and with the Trust in place, I don't think I'd get very far. So much the better. But with a municipal government, I'd stand a far better chance. From where I sit, I'd have to be blind not to see the effects of municipal government, It spans the north-eastern horizon every night: a glow of concrete sprawl laid over Canada's finest farmland.

    Where would we be if a vested interest group gained control of a municipal government who happened to support building a bridge to Salt Spring?

    I do not support the opacity of the Island's Trust as it is today. The latests rubber stamp in the South End for development over the cries of the community are further evidence that something is badly broken. But let's not impose a more ruinous solution than the original problem.

    Let's instead revisit the original motivations for creating the Trust in the first place, and repair the damage done by such mis-steps as Channel Ridge, Bullock Lake, The Fulford Inn, and Mark's Work Warehouse (kicking out so many family businesses, then folding) to name a few. With the Island's Trust, trust needs to be restored, but let's not replace them with a political structure that is by nature untrustworthy.

    I'll apologize in advance if any language here was inflammatory, or appears ill-informed. Perhaps the Trust had no roll in what happened with the Fulford Inn. The gist of what I'm saying, however, is true. My arguments are of a fundamental nature, about what is good for the sustainability of a strong community in the long term.

    When I look at the arguments made above in favour of imposing municipal government, such as getting our money's worth out of the RCMP, I think, is the municpality camp clutching at straws here? Is that really their strongest argument? What is your strongest argument, Scott?

  • Avatar scott simmons says:

    In my opinion the trust is a paper tiger that has no actual power to preserve and protect the island. Just look at the state of St Mary lake and look at all the illegal suits and or illegal resort cabins around the lake. Most jurisdictions protect their drinking water reservoirs. What has the trust done? It has enacted the new bylaw 154 but what have they actually done? Anything? Have they cracked down on one illegal suite? Have they counted the cabins at the various resorts? Have they checked one septic system? In reality St Mary lake is a mess. Bylaw 154 is an attempt to try and get some organizational responsibility but what is really needed is action. Direct action. Not another academic study of the lake.

    Some how you think a municipal government will bring in all the evils of the world. Do you really think the voters of Salt Spring are going to vote in Joe developer and his friends? In my opinion controlling the water districts, parks, water sheds, bylaw enforcement, zoning, etc. all under one roof might be more efficient at fixing the problems and protecting the island. Municipal governments have real power. Do you really think Salt Spring sheet metal issue would have dragged out for 7 plus years? He would have never gotten a business licence and would have been shut down in the first month.

    I really do not see any preserve and protection under the system we have because it's just to fragmented. There are to many organizations and no one is accountable. Who do I blame for the state of St Mary lake? Under who's watch did the lake take a turn for the worse? It happened under the "protection" of the Island trust. Is this really preserving and protecting? Like I said it seems as if the island trust is really just a paper tiger all talk with no action and no accountability.

  • Avatar John Macpherson says:

    Yes, 'red herring' crossed my mind too. It's hard to believe anyone could go on with this idea knowing it adds virtually nothing substantive. So it appears like deliberate obfuscation. Thanks for the added clarification. I still want to know what tools Brenda thinks the current system has for the community to make adjustments. As you've pointed out, power lies elsewhere.

    The overwhelming question is whether the anti incorporation folks will debate on the facts of the LCC idea, tax increases, impact on the Trust etc. If not, the question is about intellectual integrity.

  • Avatar Timothy Harvey says:

    Interesting food for thought, Scott. Thanks for posting your views. The trouble with interest groups is that they find a way of getting into power in electoral politics. I wouldn't think Salt Springers would vote Joe Developer into power, but then again I didn't think Canada would vote Joe Oil into power and turn Alberta into a wasteland. Those with capital have a way steering votes their way and Joe Preservation will always be comparatively underfunded at campaign time. The way I see it, the Trust is currently quite ineffective and its inability to get much done means there's never much of a door open to rapid overdevelopment.

    In a municipality, however, if Joe Developer ever got into power he could throw that door wide open in a single term in office. Power corrupts, and as you say, a municipal government has real power. It's a double-edged sword.

    What we need is a government structure grounded in common sense. Some of the current limitations are excessive; taking out a permit for a woodshed over 100 square feet. Can anyone get through winter on a 100 square foot wood shed? I'm quite happy the Trust isn't running around throwing pink papers up on peoples' wood sheds. The issue of illegal suites is interesting as well. I recall conversing with a girl waiting tables who lived, she said quite happily, in a mud hut. Can we expect people in such positions to afford housing that costs $250 per square foot to build? What would happen to our island economy if people had nowhere to live? There was a time when I came to this island, as a kayak guide in the late 90's and early 00's, when I lived for months illegally out of a tent. I was 21 and working two jobs on the island.

    We need to realize that if we get a government with teeth, a real not paper tiger, into power and have them shut down everything that doesn't correspond with regulations, we'll have a lot of people with nowhere to live, jobs with no one to fill them, and wet firewood. To some degree we must beware a government with "real power". Some common-sense middle ground must be found.

  • Avatar Brenda Guiled says:

    I'm puzzled about why I'd acknowledge an error that's been pointed out when it doesn't exist?

    The word 'tax' appears three times in my article, twice in general terms about local government tax bases (not specifically Salt Spring), and once about SSI's total contribution to the Trust. Nowhere do I say anything about exploding taxes, on Salt Spring or anywhere. My one posted comment doesn't have anything about taxes.

    I expect you're reacting to this: "Bowen Islanders now support a burgeoning local bureaucracy and many service costs once covered by the Trust and B.C. government."

    This is simply true. The new municipal government had to grow and quickly to deliver services no longer provided by the former bureaucracy. The Municipality of Bowen Island lists these boards, committees, and commissions: http://www.bimbc.ca/content/committees-commissions-and-boards, and these by-laws: http://www.bimbc.ca/content/bylaws-0. These have all grown in the last 15 years -- nothing I'd call "exploding", if I were given to using that word (I'm not), but "burgeoning" seems fair enough.

    Further, many service costs formerly covered by Trust and the province are now paid by Bowen taxpayers to their municipality. Nothing here either about "exploding taxes", just money going to a different bureaucracy.

    You're right that we continually have the option of improving whatever form of local governance we've got. The divide is exactly over this. Some want to keep working with a continually upgraded current system. Others have given up on this and are keenly focussing on the next governance study and referendum.

    After these studies and vote, it's very important that both sides view the results as well worth the money (something like $1/4-million total), time, and effort spent. Putting every card fully on the table will contribute to this satisfaction.

    What am I doing to forward this? Good question. Thank you.

    I hope to see, in the next four years, the LCC option fully explored. I'm voting for candidates who are open to this, so we can get completely straight on how it could be enacted and work to improve some overly complex CRD-related service issues. I'll do my part, on behalf of our elected representatives and within the community, to make sure that this base is well covered. Is an LCC a panacea on the CRD front? Am I totally wed to the idea? Of course not. I just want to know about it, as fully as possible, before making up my mind. While strong, but vague opinions that it's unworkable are part of the process, they shouldn't trump actually finding out, informing citizens, and then deciding.

  • Avatar Norbert Schlenker says:

    Timothy,

    You bring up a lot of items, so let me address a few of them.

    First, I'm sure I come across as an advocate of incorporation, but all I really want is a chance for residents to consider the option. Put the issues and the numbers on the table. Let the pros and cons hash it out on the Exchange, in the Driftwood, at public meetings, over coffee at a friend's house. Then let's vote on it.

    That didn't happen in 2002. There was no pro side whatsoever. (ISG was founded after that referendum.) The con side was very well organized, had the floor to themselves and, at the last minute, threw as many issues as they could into the wind. Arguments like "your taxes will go up" and "the Trust will be gutted", which Brenda and others still make today, won the day.

    Well, our taxes went up anyway. Whether the Trust will be gutted has been denied by Linda Adams, and we will soon have independent confirmation one way or the other. Getting the information is a good thing. A follow up incorporation study will answer the tax question, and getting that information is also a good thing. It allows voters to make good decisions.

    I realize very well that an incorporation study might reveal some very unpleasant financial facts, which Brenda has already alluded to. The development pattern here means we have an outsized road network, which means it's expensive to maintain. I expect any study would say, for this reason alone, that incorporating would cost taxpayers more. The roads by themselves could outweigh any savings from not having to cover Trust overhead and excess policing costs. (I brought up possible RCMP savings earlier because the Richard Kerr letter that Brenda linked suggested that we might be paying less for policing than we would if incorporated, whereas I had information that we are paying more, but quite frankly, I don't know which is true.) If an incorporation study says we will pay more in taxes, I would bet that Salt Spring would again vote against becoming an island municipality.

    I'm not interested in higher property taxes, any more than I perceive a majority of property owners are. A study that confirms higher taxes for equivalent services would be a death knell for incorporation. So let me ask you this. Why do I, who leans toward incorporating, want the study and the information? And why does Brenda, who leans against, want no study or some obfuscating and nonsensical third option? Who wants you to have information? And who wants you kept in the dark?

    You asked Scott what his strongest argument was, and he's replied below. He thinks our local government, multi-faceted as it is, is toothless, and to a considerable extent he's right. You then replied that it needs more teeth on some issues and less on others. And you're right on the examples you brought up.

    So let's try to imagine a local government structure that would address Scott's issues and yours simultaneously. We could use something that would be in charge of all these things, tightening up some things where that makes sense, relaxing others when that makes sense, locally accountable to the voters, maybe with one phone number that you could call to say, "Hey, there's a problem that affects a bunch of us and it needs fixing." What would we call something like that?

    That's my strongest argument for incorporating. That we grow up. That we get to be masters of our own house. That we be responsible for our own future.

  • Avatar John Macpherson says:

    While the piece has some useful information, it has some shortfalls and some misstatements of fact. Saying that services previously 'covered' by the Trust are now paid for by islanders disguises the fact that islanders were already paying for those services by way of taxes to the Trust in the first place. Maybe just an oversight on your part but still, it creates a false impression of burden that wasn't there before. Citing anecdotal evidence of dissatsfaction with incorporation is just cherry picking. The question is, why any particular cherry if not to massage perception?

    I used the word 'exploding' as both a simple counterpoint to the idea of a tax boogeyman, as well as to highlight that taxes to the CRD, the Trust and the Fire District have shot up 135% plus under the current system since 2000, greater than some municipalities.

    When I spoke of errors, I was including your suggestion that the Trust would be effectively gutted. This is simply untrue. Linda Adams spoke to this in 2011. I am puzzled myself, why you would not choose to wait for the results of the impact study, expected shortly, before announcing such dire consequences for the Trust.

    About this election, I believe Trust candidates would be neutral on a matter that concerns the CRD? Hard to imagine otherwise.

    I appreciate your acknowledgement of the limits of a LCC and that your objective is to optimize the current system. As you know, tweaking a system does not change the nature of the beast, no matter which beast one is talking about. The 2013 governance study included discussion of LCC's so the facts are available for those who are interested. I want islanders to have a choice among the legislatively available alternatives - unincorporated or municipal. There is a mechanism for this that allows islanders to determine their own fate at the ballot box. Unlike the establishment of a LCC which rests in the hands of the CRD where Salt Spring has but one vote and others have all the control.

  • Avatar Timothy Harvey says:

    I hear what you're saying in many respects Norbert, but I'm not sold. Your last paragraphs are nothing short of an inspirational tour de force. However, when I look at governments of all levels I see that despite the ideals you've expressed sounding great on paper, democracy as practiced in the 21st century most often fails in practice. It would take an unbroken string of exceptional governments to prevent great damage being done to the island way of life. We know how 4-year terms tend to go. Incoming governments want a grand achievement to hang their hat on. Heads butt. Lobbies clash. The balance of power wins the day and the only inevitability is an accelerated rate of change.

    Currently people come to Salt Spring, or remain here, because it appeals to them. They find it a better place than the alternatives. Most people would agree that the current government system could be better, but few regard it as so broken that wholesale change is required.

    Positions of power attract those who like to wield it: change-makers, if you will. But how much change is necessary on Salt Spring? As much as would be brought about by amping up the power of local government?

    No study can predict the competing agendas of political parties over time, so a governance study will be unable to answer the basics of how a municipal government will have affected life on the island 20 years down the road. What we do know that here as everywhere, interest groups will seize power. This creates a dangerous potential scenario: as a given interest groups evolves the status quo towards conditions that better favour its interests, more members of that interest group are attracted to the island. We potentially end up with a positive feedback loop for change of a given nature.

    It is all well and good to espouse growing up and being the masters of our domain, but in reality we're a mixed bunch here. Governments strive hardest to serve those who will continue to vote them into power, not those who narrowly lost the election. It's therefore entirely predictable that a municipality will ramp up divisions in Salt Spring society. Yes, there needs to be a healthy forum for debate and solving problems on Salt Spring. But is party politics the answer?

    I would like to hear more about Brenda's third option, which you characterized as nonsensical and obfuscating. Are you sure it isn't a well-thought-out alternative? If she can envision alternative models, let's hear Brenda out.

    Things are rarely black or white. Maybe it isn't a choice between the "Trust As Is" or "Municipality". I would like to hear further options, and I'd hope to see ones that make provisions for giving islanders a voice in government while still maintaining the conservationist values that impose real restrains to the capitalist drives that have ruined so much of the world. In travels across five continents, I've found Salt Spring to be uniquely livable. It's clear to me that we're doing something fundamentally right, though not perfect, already.

  • Avatar Brenda Guiled says:

    Re: gutted -- Most people, if they lost 35-40 per cent of their income, would consider it gutted. You don't, hence you don't like the word. That's just a difference of opinion. And yet you introduce, out of the blue, the word "exploding" for tax increases that may have been long overdue and give value for $$ proposed or spent. That, too, may be just a difference of opinion, or it may go deeper.

    In any case, here's the problem with you arguing semantics, while using freighted language yourself:

    You were chair of the purportedly neutral and entirely fair, factual governance study, hence for you to take me -- as a private citizen, with no official connection to the study -- to task for the words I use, while using clearly biased words yourself, does the whole process a disservice. I'm allowed to present how I see our governance and advocate for changes that may improve it, just as you are, but when you show your colours through weighted words, you undermine your former position and people's view of your "neutrality".

    Your choice, but I'd really rather you kept your purity, and who knows? saying this may help, not only you, but your cause.

    Re: Trust candidates being neutral on CRD concerns. Of course, but I've spoken to half-a-dozen Trustees (former and present; not the two who admitted to trying to sabotage the Trust), and they've all said that the Trust is actually quite functional and works fine -- with continual improvements needed; that's the nature of governance. They've also volunteered that the extensive and fractured nature of local CRD services, plus the massive job expected of the lone CRD Director, are noteworthy and impact far more islanders than the Trust's zoning work. Would our Trustee candidates say this in public? I can't see why not, even though it's not directly their concern, because it's simply true.

  • Avatar John Macpherson says:

    So I use one colorful word and I'm decreed to be showing my colors? Gives one pause for thought.

    Whatever we call an increase in taxes generally, or an increase in taxes 550% greater than the inflation rate and whether this represents good value or not, doesn't change what I've said before: let's get rid of any prejudgment that a municipality is going to leave taxpayers somehow much worse off than before. It is a fact that some municipalities did not grow their taxes so much as we've experienced, and it is a fact also that some like Metchosin continue to promote the rural lifestyle, even though Metchosin exists with no preserve and protect mandate, right next door to Langford which has taken the opposite approach.

    It is true that the policing formula works against us under the current system. It is true roads will be something we would have to pay for under a municipal system. I believe the last incorporation study showed that things being equal, taxes would go up just under 6%, a one time jump. I urge islanders of every stripe to wait for the outcome of an incorporation study before making up their minds one way or the other.

    While gutting the Trust is something you stand by as an objective description of the impact if incorporation.... I prefer to wait for the Impact Study commissioned by the Trust. I doubt very much that the word "gutted" will appear anywhere, or that there will be any description of impact even remotely synonymous with that word. Linda Adams herself showed considerable balance in her own description of the impact on the Trust in 2011.

    Whether costs formerly "covered by the Trust" are now paid for by islanders on Bowen, is a question of fact, not semantics. The facts say the phrase covers up the fact that Bowen islanders were paying for those Trust services in the first place.

    My cause now that you mention it, has been and remains a somewhat keen interest in seeing that islanders get unbiased information and ultimately a genuine choice as to which governance model they'd like: unincorporated as we have now, or a municipality. Your cause primarily seems to be promoting, preserving and improving the status quo. I take no issue with that.

    The governance study committee worked within the approved parameters for conducting a provincially sponsored governance study, and oversaw the work of the consultant to be sure the terms of reference were fulfilled. The committee was unanimous in its evaluation of the consultant's work and also in its recommendation, based on the results of a comprehensive public engagement process.

    I believe the Province was well reasoned in disallowing any in depth consideration of an LCC, based on the fact that an LCC is not a working part of current governance, nor is an LCC a governance model like unincorporated and incorporated, the only two models existing in legislation which is the domain that concerns the Ministry. As you know, an LCC is a tweak of the current model, a hypothetical (one of many) that might come into being through the good graces of the CRD, where we have one vote. If an LCC came into being, it could indeed help with some local CRD coordination issues and relieve the CRD Director of some workload that by all accounts is just too much for one person. It would also mean more elected officials, in addition to those islanders elect to the Trust, the CRD, the Fire District and the various independent water districts like NSSWD. In any case, I expect this falls outside the parameters of a provincially sponsored incorporation study.

  • Avatar Brenda Guiled says:

    You ascribed the "one colorful word" to me, although the piece says nothing about tax increases. That's my deeper concern.

    A number of Trust experts gave stiff feedback on drafts of the article, and I revised it considerably. None of them had trouble with the words that trouble you. They seem to need educating too.

    But enough back and for about words for now.

    I want to thank you for taking no issue with my preference for improving our current form of governance, a position I will continue to be clear and open about, so others can judge accordingly.

    And who knows, if we get a $20-30-million bikeway paved through Salt Spring by the referendum, I may vote yes to incorporate. I volunteer 20-30 hours/week year 'round with Island Pathways to help achieve this important amenity, which the Economic Development Commission favours also. This roadside connector won't be just for the fit and able, but a boon as well for old Boomers in their GHG-saving mobility scooters, golf carts, and John Deere tractors (kidding ... I think), which they can ride on the lovely widened shoulders without a driver's licence.

    Let's keep working hard and our fingers crossed.

    I'm writing now to say thank you for your question of the candidates last night about their support for the second governance study. Important, well done, with much appreciated answers.

  • Avatar Reuben Kaufman says:

    My wife and I moved to the island 3
    years ago, and boy how grateful we are to have settled here! And so it is true
    that we are ignorant about our arcane form of government. There are times that
    I scratch my head in bewilderment, but I genuinely want to be better informed
    about both sides of the issue, in case we’re ever given the opportunity to
    decide on one course or the other.

    One thing I will say: I can’t
    imagine a more dysfunctional process I experienced on “Part A” of last year’s
    governance study. To almost all the questions I asked the answer was, “that
    will be explored if there is a part 2”. Almost no information provided in part
    1 was of any use (in my opinion) for deciding whether or not we should have a
    part 2 …. Anyhow, that was the fault of the minister controlling the process,
    not the fault of the governance committee.

    I’ve read through this whole
    exchange here and have a comment and a question:

    1) I’m impressed that the strong views expressed was done in a
    most civil manner on all sides. I’m also impressed that the folks expressing
    each side, seem well informed. So this leads to the question:

    2) Any possibility that all you well-informed people (Brenda,
    Scott, John, Norbert, Bornonsatlspring, Ann,Timothy, have I missed anyone?), or
    at least a few of you, could hash out your views together over a pint (or more
    if necessary!), and see whether you can come to a consensus for at least some
    (if not perhaps a majority of) your differences? Then if you could write this
    up for the community at large, it would be an incredibly valuable service to
    the rest of us. And then, if we ever do get a referendum on governance, it can
    be circulated again to help us arrive at as good a decision as possible?

    Cheers,

    Reuben

  • Avatar Artist3d says:

    Putting the Islands Trust on the back burner would likely save millions!
    Although we can supposedly vote for them we certainly have no option to vote them out so where is the real democratic choice?. It's a perfect symmetry of power entrenchment that has exhausted its dollar for green advantages.

    As a proponent of 'less is more' when it comes to endlessly funding governments on their quest to create continuous streams of legislation and bureaucracy "because that is what the job description calls for", I voted against incorporation last time just to avoid yet another layer of taxation.

    Since then I have moved to the middle on the issue, assuming the Province will negotiate on the issue of our simultaneous funding of the Trust. My perspective has changed over the years primarily because we have watched most of our infrastructure organizations work in a vacuum of isolation from each other regarding what ratepayers can be expected to fund in total.

    Ever since the Library fell into the Federal Funding of millions of dollars for their project, each organization from water to fire districts and now transportation in turn have been looking at their own multi-million dollar expansion plans and this on an island that has simply stopped growing based on the last census. Once organizations get comfy on the tax requisition they seem to have little regard for budgeting some of our tax contributions for a rainy day or even simple maintenance! They continue to come at us with sneaky Alternative Approval Processes and donation drives instead, verifying their mismanagement of priorities and expenses.

    Yet another transportation funding request will feature on the ballot this time, I hope people will look at the grander picture of the island as if it was mature enough to elect a town council --- then imagine ourselves as that centralized more representative council; what should we really prioritize? Certainly not empty bus routes and a transportation committee that refuses to 'taint' their buses with advertising to pull in even a few bucks for their grander idealistic plans.

    If a true governance study were in a position to add up the total cost of our current decentralized governance in contrast to a consolidation under a municipal model, fiscal prioritization and ensuring electability would begin to have an affect on limiting spending and prioritizing the needs of the community, one project at a time.

    If the Islands Trust takes a hit under a municipal model, so be it, they have failed at their kick at the can at being a so-called 'body of governance' and have evolved into a one of the worst and most expensive examples of a self-aggrandizing bureaucracy.