If Salt Spring were to vote for incorporation on Sept. 9, this would close the door for a number of options for positive change that are open to us under our current system. This is one of several reasons why I will be voting “no”.
Like many others, I would have liked our governance and incorporation studies to look into options for modifying our current system. But the provincial government paid for those studies and placed considerable restrictions on them.
Now an ad hoc group of citizens is organizing an information session to discuss options for improving governance after a no vote and I can imagine some people who support incorporation will cry foul.
So I’d like to provide some context to explain why I look forward to the information session.
After the “no” vote in 2002, some supporters of incorporation formed the Islanders for Self Government (ISG) group. Then, in 2006, elected officials began a governance review which led to a referendum in 2008 on whether or not to increase the number of local Islands Trustees from two to four. ISG campaigned against the increase, even using misleading advertisements. Another ad, placed by a citizen who supports incorporation, argued that “a vote for 4 trustees [would] prevent a real look at governance and equitable tax treatment for Salt Spring.”
It’s impossible to know if that assessment was correct or not, but the statement shows why some people would have felt that any improvement they might have worked towards under our current system would have been shot down by supporters of incorporation as a mere half measure.
Nonetheless, further efforts were made to fully consider our options. For instance, during their term in office from 2008 to 2011, our elected officials approached the BC government, asking for an open-ended, inclusive process to review governance options for Salt Spring. The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (MCSCD) replied that they did not have funding for a governance study, but even if they did, they would not fund that kind of study. Indeed, in an article dated Dec. 22, 2010, trustee Torgrimson wrote, “the ministry even told us not to finance our own study, as they would not consider it legitimate”.
It’s not surprising, then, that pressure for another incorporation referendum did not subside. By 2013, this led to a governance study, which many people saw as biased, for a variety of reasons. I was particularly struck by the fact that the study committee was initially given model terms of reference which included “Identify a range of local government structure options for the community.” But the MCSCD representative nixed that idea, and made it clear that the study was to compare only a “snapshot” of the status quo with incorporation. (They were not to look at how the current system has evolved over the years and how it could evolve further.)
For the subsequent incorporation study, MCSCD restricted the terms of reference from the outset, stating that a review of "any form of governance other than the current rural model or incorporation" would be beyond their mandate.
Even so, many Salt Springers communicated to the committee their interest in learning more about other options. This prompted the committee to prepare a fact sheet on “governance options”. Its title, as a Driftwood article, was “Dissecting a governance non-option”, as the article panned the idea of Salt Spring using a Local Community Commission (LCC) to oversee and co-ordinate service delivery on Salt Spring. In August, 2015, I had written to the committee, suggesting I could work with others to “produce some kind of report on at least one other option within the next few months. […] If you felt it included useful information for the community, would you be interested in including it somehow in the public engagement process?” The reply was cordial but clear, stating, "we are encouraging delegations to the Committee to speak on matters that are within the scope of the Committee’s mandate. Unfortunately, this is a topic that falls outside our scope and, as such, we are not in a position to receive or debate such a report, or receive a request to do so.” I would say it showed bias when the committee later produced a fact sheet that discredited the LCC option after doing minimal research on the topic. I would go further; I believe the “fact sheet” actually distorts the facts.
The fact that the studies were limited and biased is not a capital offense; bias is virtually inevitable. But it’s important that voters be aware of these issues before casting their ballot.
I believe our Trust-based form of governance is part of what makes Salt Spring unique and precious. Like a rare species, it’s worth protecting, if only because of the need for diversity in our governance models. Of course there are many other reasons to vote “no” on September 9th. I invite readers to check out the Positively No campaign for more information at www.positivelyno.org. And if you’d like to learn more about positive change without the risks and costs of incorporation come out to the information session at 7 pm at the Lions Hall on August 28th.
Jan Slakov is grateful to many engaged Salt Springers for helping her learn about governance issues over the years.