Incorporation: Which side are you on?

So which side are you on - Positively NO or Negatively YES? The Incorporation question by it’s nature divides our community rather than uniting it in creating an inclusive model for self-government. Some folks win, and others inevitably lose. Why would we do this to ourselves? (More below).

Once upon a time the Duncan area was every bit as lovely as Salt Spring Island, but for decades Duncan has had a different form of government than we have here. Salt Spring Island is protected by the Islands Trust, and the difference is priceless.

Perhaps the easiest way to appreciate SSI is to leave it for a while. Go anywhere else that has a comparable population and notice what happens when your environment becomes a commodity.

We’re not unique in that Salt Spring Island faces some challenges (are you self-employed or unemployed)? There are good jobs to be had, but also many low-wage part time jobs that coincide with a seasonal shortage of decent, affordable housing.

Thirty years ago Fulford - Ganges road was in good condition but today, it needs a complete rebuild. Our roads are falling apart because our Province privatized road maintenance to save money. (corollary - B.C. Ferry Corp.) Work was contracted to profitable corporations so if we incorporate, we’ll inherit miles of neglected roads.

Water is another danger zone - costs in the tens of millions are being discussed and it’s hard to separate the facts from the politics.

We’re not developer Heaven. In the notable failures department, we have the long histories of the Channel Ridge development and a resort at Bullock Lake.

Still, we have achieved some mighty fine things here like protecting Maxwell Lake, Burgoyne Valley and the Mill Farm. We’ve built ourselves a wonderful library, the High School, Artspring, indoor tennis, a swimming pool, the abattoir, a serious fleet of electric cars and bicycles, miles of pathways and that dysfunctional darling of the business community - the boardwalk. Much of the Ganges core is recent construction.

We have a good community here because many of us work hard in our various ways to make it that way. Volunteers are the gears that get things done, building friendship, tolerance and community. The food here is fantastic. Home based businesses employ a significant portion of our community. The Saturday Market provides seasonal income for about two hundred households, and it serves as an incubator for young businesses.

Agriculture has blossomed; beautiful young families work hard to establish market gardens and livestock. They buy land to make a home - not to make a profit. People with deep pockets have revived farm land, built greenhouses, established orchards, vineyards, blueberries and olive groves, spending millions on infrastructure that will benefit our island for many decades.

It is normal to enter a restaurant and see local meat and produce on the menu. It’s normal to see someone pick up trash they didn’t drop. It’s normal to be wowed by GISPA, PRIDE and the Photography Club. It’s also normal for locals to avoid Ganges on a summer Saturday because it’s bursting with tourists pulled here by relentless advertising. This is a good place to live, and some of the very best things about living here are alternatives to the traditional growth-oriented retail model.

It’s useful to critically examine the individual players in our business community, which divides broadly into two groups - earnest folks who embrace the concept of “enough” and other folks for whom it’s never enough. The latter group resents the existence of a governing structure that moderates their activity. While it’s neighbourly to tolerate this relatively small group of people, it would be unwise to let them run the show.

The rest of us, (and that’s most of us) have a spectrum of viewpoints, most of which contain an element of money sense but which also consider sustainability, quality of life and respect for environment.

Diligent research has raised critical questions (to date, unanswered), about the ongoing costs of incorporation, the accuracy of road cost data, staffing costs, policing costs and access to provincial and federal infrastructure grants. Until we have believable information from the Province, voting against Incorporation is our only option.

The incorporation question is driven by the same folks who wanted it last time and the time before. Their presentation has evolved, but it’s still other people’s ideas of what’s best for us and it diminishes the Islands Trust which has thus far protected our island from overdevelopment.

Once again, I will vote no. I don’t believe the information and the rationale we’ve been offered is sufficient or accurate enough to support the proposal. Incorporation 2017 will fail as it has in the past because it is unattractive, as presented, to a majority of residents.

Our island stands out as a beautiful exception to the corporate model. I think we need to design a government structure that no-one needs to be afraid of. I want a form of government that reflects and builds upon our unique and successful history. I believe the Trust must play as important a part in our future as it has in the past, and I know that successful government serves the majority, rather than a small, self-serving group. Incorporation - or any form of government - will succeed when all of us want it - not just 51% of us.

It seems inevitable that we need to make changes to the way we govern ourselves. We’re smart enough to take our time and figure out our own design. Up from the roots rather than down from the crown. Pressure from off island is unlikely to deliver a durable solution.

The first priority in designing an administration will be to pull in the folks at both extreme ends of the yes/no argument and to listen carefully to them. Arguments supporting incorporation that are valid today will remain valid and should inform our future choices. We can start working together immediately after the referendum. The process and the question as it stands now does not serve us.

Chris Dixon, SSI

July 25, 2017 7:35 AM