While Salt Spring residents and property owners are the only ones who will have a vote on whether or not Salt Spring will become an island municipality, that decision will have an effect on all the islands in the Trust area.
In fact, the Island’s Trust mandate is to protect the islands for all British Columbians. The Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA), which exists mainly to support that mandate, feels it is important to offer our perspective on the upcoming referendum.
The Province paid for a study of the impacts of Salt Spring incorporating on the Islands Trust but there was no public engagement process connected with that study. So people might not know that the study concluded that the impact of incorporation on the Trust “would be substantial, making it difficult for the Islands Trust to carry out its mandate in the way it does now.” Some former trustees and one councillor on Bowen Island believe that if Salt Spring were to become a municipality, this could signify, over time, the end of the Islands Trust.
Why is protecting the Islands Trust so important? A legal opinion posted on GIA’s website notes that a provincial court ruled that the Trust’s mandate to “preserve and protect” is “not a mere piety” and that, in contrast, “municipalities are empowered to engage in […] trading off of environmental or natural values, for other benefits.”
If Salt Spring were to incorporate, over half the population of the Trust area would no longer get its planning services through the Islands Trust. This would be a loss for those islands, as well as for the entire Trust. The current system favours connectivity between the different islands and it offers some protection from the political pendulum swings inherent in the electoral cycle.
Perhaps the choice for Salt Spring voters can best be summed up in the words used to describe the elected officials who would make land use decisions in the future. Under the current system, they elect trustees, people entrusted to uphold the preserve and protect mandate of the Islands Trust. Under incorporation, there would be a mayor and councillors making those decisions, with no true commitment to the Trust mandate. This is why the Gulf Islands Alliance asks you to vote ‘no’.
Chair, Gulf Islands Alliance