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Incorporation: The Islands Trust – Saviour or Scapegoat?

    Editorial & Opinions, Governance & Politics    August 24, 2017

The Islands Trust may seem both noble and necessary to one side of the incorporation debate, but it’s a scapegoat for all that ails us to the other. Perhaps the Trust does say no more often than it says yes, but the average person probably doesn’t know how many pressures there have been to develop our community in ways that would make it, essentially, a different island. We’ve talked to a number of people who understand those pressures intimately because they’ve had to visualize, in their minds’ eyes, exactly what these developments would have looked like.

Linda Adams, a former community planner in the 1990s, recalls these development proposals. “Before we got our OCP into place in the late 1990s,” says Adams, “the pressure was so intense that the LTC limited new proposals to ten a week. They were coming from everywhere, not just across Canada. They included: a golf course and condominium complex in the Ford Lake area; a golf course, hotel and small-lot subdivision on Beddis Road; a golf course and condominium project in the Fulford Valley; a shopping mall, pub and recreation centre on community park land; an industrial development on Long Harbour Road; a commercial and retail complex on the north end; an industrial/residential complex in Ganges; three luxury condominium complexes in the Ganges core; an industrial development on Isabella Point; a condominium project at Southey Point; a seniors housing and recreation complex in Ganges; and a stream of enquiries about subdividing rural land into small parcels—a subdivision on Scott Road into quarter-acre parcels; a subdivision on St. Mary Lake into third-acre parcels; and subdivision of agricultural land into five-acre parcels.”

The pressure to develop hasn’t gone away. (Several international developers reportedly have a keen eye on this referendum.) Development has occurred, but since the OCP was adopted, increased density in Ganges has been primarily limited to affordable housing projects, rather than all the high-end condo projects that were proposed in the early 90s. Ironically, Adams notes that many of the topics being discussed as part of the governance review are actually more relevant to an OCP review—whether we want to further densify villages, say, or encourage more affordable housing: “These decisions could be made under our current system.”

When we asked six former trustees of the Islands Trust (Nick Gilbert, Bev Byron, David Borrowman, Peter Lamb, George Ehring, and Christine Torgrimson) why they’re voting no in the upcoming referendum, we knew development would be a major factor: All agreed that forestalling the inevitable trade-off between development and tax revenue that comes with incorporation was paramount. All saw keeping the Islands Trust a vibrant, potent institution as key.

Not all six trustees started out pro-Trust. Bev Byron had been encouraged to run by friends who found the Trust obstructive and hoped she could help. “I had no desire to become politically involved,” says Byron. “But once on the job, I was impressed and inspired by all the Trust was trying to accomplish. Slowly and surely I became a convert its mandate and the work it was doing.”

Byron and David Borrowman initially ran against each other, representing different groups. “We worked so well together that in our second term we ran together,” says Bryon.

Cooperation includes compromise. “It’s touchy making decisions,” says Byron. “There are always winners and losers. I had to choose what I thought was best for everyone in the long run, sometimes despite pressure from friends and neighbours.”

This points to a crucial reason for keeping a Local Trust Committee. “A municipality is the antithesis of the Trust,” says Borrowman. “Land-use planning and paying for services are currently completely separate. Incorporation puts them back together.”

“A new municipality absolutely depends on growth to pay its bills,” reiterates Ehring. “If that growth comes, many of the values the community most cherishes will be endangered. If growth doesn’t come, the community will face big tax increases or service cutbacks. Either way, we lose.”

Byron says, “Increased taxes are a serious concern. We cannot afford to pay for what our roads will cost us, nor should we.”

Then there’s the other elephant in the room: water. “The Trust should be at the forefront of resolving these issues,” says Borrowman. Increased development won’t help.

“Let’s not turn this beautiful, rural island into a municipality, with its related urban values and pressures,” pleads Torgrimson. “The Trust is a unique, visionary form of government, sorely needed in light of climate change, population growth, increasing materialism, and degrading environments. The notion that a municipal government will retain the values of the Trust is misguided. Incorporating Salt Spring may spell its demise.”

“If we incorporate,” warns Peter Lamb, “it leaves the smaller islands with the mandate to protect but without the funds to do so. As the largest island, SSI is the foundation of the Trust. I’ve no problem with the idea that SSI subsidizes some of the smaller islands—the whole Trust needs to be strong.”

“We are caretakers, not owners,” cautions Ehring. “We need to behave accordingly, as a community, and leave a legacy that shows future generations that we’ve acted wisely. We’ve built a caring, welcoming, successful community under the present form of governance, and we’ve shown that we have the talent and capacity to deal with issues that concern us. To risk that on incorporation, from which there’s no turning back, seems very silly to me.”

Elissa Poole ha longs been a professional musician and music journalist and now teaches at the University of Victoria. When she first moved to the island you could still bicycle to Ganges between ferries without meeting a car.

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