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Incorporation: The Local Community Commission Option

    Editorial & Opinions, Governance & Politics    August 8, 2017

This article attempts to correct some of the misleading and even false information presented by the Yes campaign and Urban Systems regarding the Local Community Commission (LCC) and other governance options. Urban Systems was the provincially-approved consultant hired to conduct the Salt Spring governance and incorporation studies. This article is long because there is so much misinformation to undo and so many information gaps to fill.

In an August 2nd Facebook post, “Yes” advocate John Macpherson claimed that a Local Community Commission for Salt Spring is “not a legislatively available option”.  This is simply false. It is a distorted echo of a claim by Urban Systems that “… provincial legislation provides for either maintaining the status quo as an unincorporated electoral area or incorporating as a municipality.” In fact, the Local Government Act Part 6 provides the legislative basis for establishing an LCC within our existing unincorporated governance model.

Urban Systems’ “status quo” snapshot of service delivery as it currently exists on Salt Spring fails to present fully what could exist under the current governance model.

In an e-mail to me on 24 September 2013, Linda Galeazzi, the provincial Ministry’s overseer of the governance study chaired by John Macpherson wrote:  “It has been established that authority exists for any regional district to create a LCC and to delegate its authority to an elected LCC.”  This statement was also in an earlier e-mail from Ms. Galeazzi to Mr. Macpherson.  How can he honestly claim that LCCs are not a legislatively available option?

In 2010, a BC government official advised then Salt Spring CRD Director, Garth Hendren, to consider conversion of improvement districts to CRD local service areas and creation of additional CRD commissions to manage CRD service delivery. It was suggested that “establishing a local community commission (LCC) could allow residents to have direct involvement in managing municipal-type services such as sewer and water systems and that an LCC could be an important stepping stone in the evolution to an island municipality.” This 2010 advice was acknowledged in a July 2016 e-mail to the Incorporation Study Committee by Linda Galeazzi.

I am not aware of any effort from Salt Spring CRD director Hendren or his successor Wayne McIntyre to initiate a public consultation process to follow up on this. The focus remained on promoting municipal incorporation.

Mr. Macpherson claims that the governance incorporation studies “showed that the LCC concept is a tweak of the current system, nothing more”.  As will be shown below, creation of an elected LCC would be a very significant “tweak” – one that in combination with other possible changes could improve governance without the many risks of incorporation.

In an August 7 post, John Macpherson claims that “From 2002 until now there was no push by the “no” folks to tweak the current system or find ways to make it work better.” He knows this is not true.

There have been numerous positive changes or “tweaks” to service delivery under the current system since 2002 (bus system, new library, etc.) Mr. Macpherson knows that I and others tried repeatedly to have the governance study that he chaired consider the LCC option and other changes that are possible under our current unincorporated form of governance. I provided the governance study committee and Director McIntyre with Ministry-approved documents on LCCs and also met with Director McIntyre to discuss the concept. A proposal to increase the number of Islands Trust local trustees on SSI from 2 to 4 was narrowly defeated by pro-incorporation advocates who saw this change as potentially weakening their arguments against the Trust and impeding their push for municipal incorporation.

Neither Salt Spring study committee was allowed to consider the LCC option or any options for change other than incorporation.  As Linda Galeazzi wrote to me in 2013: “The intent of the [governance] study is to provide a current “snapshot” of what exists on Salt Spring Island.  … One of the questions raised about local community commissions was whether possible formation of an LCC could be considered by the Salt Spring Island Governance Study Committee under its terms of reference.  The straightforward answer is no.”  Ms. Galeazzi copied this e-mail to John Macpherson.  For Mr. Macpherson to claim that either study committee actually “showed” anything about LCCs when they were forbidden to even consider them is misleading – to put it mildly.

After sustained pressure from community members to consider the LCC option, Urban Systems did produce a dismissive, grossly biased, “newsletter” which “Yes” spokespersons have relied on in claims about the inappropriateness of an LCC for Salt Spring.  The so-called newsletter did not describe any of the potential benefits of LCCs – even those that are cited in the Ministry’s own documents! Those documents can be found in the “In Depth” section of the “Positively NO” website.

Urban Systems suggests that an LCC would not be appropriate for Salt Spring because LCCs are used “only in remote areas where other means of governance are lacking”.   In reality, it takes on average at least twice as long to drive to Ganges from the CRD headquarters in Victoria as it takes to drive to existing LCC communities from their respective regional district headquarters. By this measure, Ganges is twice as remote from its regional headquarters as the “remote areas” in which LCCs already exist.

In their newsletter, Urban Systems hypothesized that “In some cases, a board may be reluctant to delegate authority to a commission due to the limited ability for oversight and the potential for exposure to liability issues.”  Mr. Macpherson has stretched this unsubstantiated suggestion into a claim that “regional districts are extremely reluctant to create [LCCs] owing to oversight and liability issues”.

Admittedly there would be liability and oversight issues to resolve if an LCC were to be created – as there are with any new service. These issues have however been addressed to the CRD’s satisfaction in the operation of CRD water systems on Salt Spring, the Salt Spring library and recycling depot, and the Pender Island Fire Department.  The CRD currently contracts for these services to be delivered by locally-run organizations – North Salt Spring Waterworks District, the library association, Community Services, and the Pender Island Fire Protection Society.  These service delivery models could be further extended under an LCC umbrella – perhaps to include the Fire Department and North Salt Spring Waterworks.  A review of the Pender Island fire services arrangement found that the CRD had been very innovative in addressing liability issues.

If Salt Spring decides we want an LCC, is there any reason to suppose that liability and oversight issues could not be solved? If Salt Spring taxpayers were to be liable for costs incurred by their elected LCC, there could actually be more voter control and financial accountability than under a municipality. An LCC would be bound by spending limits established by local electors – as is the case with current CRD commissions. Municipal spending would be much less constrained.

Although the Salt Spring study committees were forbidden to consider LCCs or other potential improvements to local governance, that was not the case with a recent provincially-funded governance study in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS). That 2016 study by Leftside Partners of Victoria produced an objective LCC fact sheet that contrasts strongly with Urban Systems’ biased newsletter.  Of particular interest is the conclusion that LCCs are likely to work better in larger communities than in small ones. This contradicts the view put forward by Urban Systems and Linda Galeazzi.

Some highlights from the Okanagan-Similkameen governance study and LCC factsheet:

  • LCCs have 4 or 6 elected commissioners plus the electoral area director. The LCC election process can provide legitimacy that may be lacking with an appointed commission.
  • LCCs can:
    • have authority to plan and operate local services, including approval of expenditures (within a budget agreed to by the Regional District Board), contracting, operational policies, procedures and even enforcement of the Board’s regulations,
    • provide a conduit for residents’ concerns and local service issues,
    • provide support and direction for the electoral area director.
  • The greater the number of services and authority delegated to a commission, the more akin it is to a municipal council.
  • Extra funds from the Province would, combined with the reduction of at least one existing commission, likely cover the administrative costs of having the LCC.
  • Elected commissions are more appropriate for communities with larger populations from which to draw candidates. Source: Local Community Commission option sheet. Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Area D governance study, June 2016 (available in the In Depth section of the Positively NO website)

Why was the provincially-funded governance study in Okanagan-Similkameen allowed to consider the LCC and other options while the Salt Spring study committees were not? As a result of this prohibition, Salt Spring voters have been denied the information needed to consider whether they might prefer these and other possible governance changes to either the existing situation or municipal incorporation.

The Okanagan-Similkameen study’s examination of LCCs’ potential can be applied to our own situation. By bringing existing CRD commissions and improvement district facilities under a Salt Spring LCC umbrella, we could have more elected representation, with greater co-ordination, accountability, strategic planning, and local operational control. Protocol agreements with the Ministry of Transportation, RCMP, and Islands Trust could improve co-ordination of their services with those under the LCC umbrella. New or upgraded facilities operated under an LCC would be eligible for Infrastructure grants from the federal and provincial governments.

A Local Community Commission could be tried out on Salt Spring without the potential risks of incorporation (multi-million dollar roads and policing costs, and loss of the Local Trust Committee with its “preserve and protect” mandate). Clearly, the impetus for creating an LCC and other positive changes under our current form of governance will need to come from Salt Spring residents – not from the CRD or anywhere else.

The former BC government, a paternalistic provincial bureaucracy, and Urban Systems have attempted to portray municipal incorporation as our only option for change. We have other positive, low-risk options that we can try first – as the province suggested in 2010. If after trying them, the LCC and other potential changes were found to be unsatisfactory, municipal incorporation would remain an option. If Salt Spring incorporates there will be no going back.

About The Author: Richard Kerr is an economist who has lived on Salt Spring since 1993 and served on the 1999-2002 Salt Spring Restructure Study. He chaired the Highland Water and Maliview Sewer Commission and served on the Island Trust’s Salt Spring Advisory Planning Committee, the CRD’s Community Economic Development Commission, and other local volunteer organizations.

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