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Incorporation: Post Vote Reasons for Voting No Research

    Editorial & Opinions, Governance & Politics    November 21, 2017

Reasons for Voting Positively No in the 2017 September 09 Salt Spring Island Incorporation Referendum ~ From late 2012 to 2017, Salt Spring Islanders engaged in two studies, first a Governance Review Study, then an Incorporation Study. Both explored the incorporated municipal model of governance in full, as it would apply to Salt Spring. Neither study allowed an exploration of the full present-system model, only a “snapshot in time” of it, i.e. as it was currently operating, not any of its in-built or possible new means to strengthen and improve it.

These studies and resultant referendum cost $400,000 (Governance Study, $85,000; Incorporation Study, $255,000; incorporation referendum, $60,000 budget, but didn’t spend it all). The costs of B.C. ministry and CRD services to administer these studies cannot be determined, since personnel don’t bill to projects. In total, it’s reasonable to estimate that at least $750,000 of B.C. taxpayers’ money was spent to present the incorporation option to Salt Spring voters.

Those pressing to incorporate were well served. Those who wished to consider the full present-system model had no budget and no voice within the official process. Nonetheless, those advocating to keep and improve the current system explored and shared a great deal of information on an informal basis, becoming increasingly organized throughout the campaign period.

The No vote won the referendum by 61.8%, with a 72% voter turn-out. This wasn’t, however, an affirmation that the status quo was good enough and should continue. Decidedly not. Many No voters made clear their strong desires to improve the present local-governance system, as keenly as Yes voters lobbied to change it entirely.

The purpose of this survey was two-fold:

  • To find out what, in the current system, most No voters liked and wanted to keep — their core reasons for voting No. The first three questions explore and elaborate on this. Many of these reasons are linked, with some linkages more important than others. The reasons and their interconnections point to ways and means needed to improve Salt Spring Island governance, supported by the majority of islanders;
  • Question 4 was a catch-all for what local governance improvements each respondent thinks are most needed. The analysis of answers gives the scope, specifics, weighting, and priorities most favoured.

Since those who voted to incorporate lacked information — by design — about the full current-system, this survey might help them form a basis from which to consider the strengths of the present system that the majority want to keep and offer support for needed changes to local governance services, processes, and inputs. The results of this survey should also help elected officials better represent the broader community and get on with making the desired improvements.

Question 1: Please rank your reasons for voting No in the 2017 September 9th incorporation referendum. The follow list is from the Positively No Campaign’s “Top Ten Reasons to Vote No”. (244 answered, 3 skipped)

There were 171 responses to this question, graphed below. Ranking was on a scale of 10, see original data in table following.

Question 2: Please elaborate on the TOP THREE reasons given in your ranking. (191 answered, 56 skipped)

There were nearly 200 responses to this question. Most expanded by drawing links between the top 10 reasons and/or adding other considerations. A small number of respondents gave their reasons or conclusions without expansion.

In total, these responses run to 13 pages of printout in very small text, not something most would want to read through, even in summarized text. Distillation and graphic presentations are needed.

It’s of little use, without knowing the reasons for their repetition and how they relate to one another. The graphic on the next page, made from combing through the responses, may be more help to the community in getting clearer on what drove the referendum results and how to proceed from here.

This chart shows the linkages between reasons given, where 1 line = 1 mention. The line count is given for 3+ lines. “Preserve & protect the Islands Trust” and “green & getting greener” responses were diffused, hence their broader circles.

The most-repeated concern was how others might influence a municipal council. Developers and outsiders were most often named, but a few respondents didn’t want overly green locals holding sway. Although the incorporation option is off the table for now, these concerns will continue. Respondents who noted the need to improve the present governance system linked this to keeping the Trust, local control, and accountability.

Concerns about rising costs and taxes were directed at the municipal model, but that, too, remains a vital topic for many.

Development, population growth, and tourism will continue to be keenly dis-cussed. This survey shows broad support for Islands Trust’s role in this. Salt Spring’s role in the larger Trust federation remains, for many islanders, the key to future planning. Some are looking to strengthen Islands Trust’s role in governance, to maintain a rural, unique lifestyle.

The big take-aways are (a) development needs to dovetail with the sorts of rural aspirations that keep Salt Spring unique, (b) local inputs, energies, creativity, and accountability must continue to be tapped, and (c) many are looking for ways to improve the existing governance system, including keeping the inter-island connections and, perhaps, strengthening the Trust. The 2018 October 20 local-government election will reflect these considerations more strenuously than most campaigns. Look for a good turnout at the polls.

Question 3: Were there any other reasons, not listed, for your No vote? (175 answered, 75 skipped)

Ranking Mentions Reasons
1 32 not in accord with Yes interests and approach
2 27 concerns re: present local representatives & future municipal ones
3 13 okay with present system
4 11 inadequate or unreliable incorporation information
5 10 municipal tax hikes, as a particular cost of incorporation
6 9 improve the present system
7 8 stay a close part of the Gulf Islands/Islands Trust region
8 8 keep the island primarily for islanders
9 7 liked the Positively No campaign
10 5 prefer volunteerism to more paid municipal services
11 5 present system better re: climate change
12 4 too much government already
13 3 divisiveness of municipal governance
14 3 questioned B.C. government motives re: incorporating SSI
15 3 farm status and costs better under current system
16 3 water management at odds with municipal development interests
17 2 don’t want stop lights and parking meters
18 1 our problems exist everywhere
19 1 too soon after last referendum
20 1 island not a town, too large an area to incorporate
21 1 municipal model not a fit with the island
22 1 dislike municipalities
23 1 too many liabilities
24 1 update the Official Community Plan under the current system
24 1 as a newcomer, trusted longer-time island friends who voted No
25 1 concern that a municipality would switch to the CVRD
26 1 don’t like municipal First-Past-the-Post electoral system

The first reason points to the need for civil discourse. This isn’t the place to open wounds, but to progress from the experience gained. The second reason opens a whole other discussion that will bear fruit in next year’s local elections.

Question 4: What improvements to local-governance structures and services do you think are most needed? (186 completed, 61 skipped)

Summary of Suggested Improvements

Replies ranged from a few words to longer paragraphs. Extracting the essential points and categorizing them is somewhat subjective, but the overall purpose is still achieved, to give a rough idea of what improvements are most desired.

The top 10 most mentioned improvements were — by direct mentions, not linked concerns (% of total replies noted in parentheses):

  1. Islands Trust–64 total mentions (~34% of suggestions; top 2 suggestions: more SSI-Trustees; revise Islands Trust Act)
  2. Working Together–55 (~30%; coordinate government services; community inputs group; hold town halls)
  3. Transportation Infrastructure & Transit–45 (24%; road maintenance, line-painting, walking, cycling, bus service)
  4. SSI-CRD–37 (~20%; topmost: consider a Local Community Commission)
  5. Affordable/Low-Cost Housing–34 (~17%; topmost: change and enforce rules)
  6. Water Services–26 (~14%)
  7. Facilities–22 (~12%; topmost: centralize local-government services)
  8. Priorities, Spending, Accountability–16 (~8.6%)
  9. Information, Communication, Education–10 (~5%)
  10. Local Elected Representation –10 (~5%)

Salt Spring’s two Trustees will find a renewed interest in increasing their number up to four, plus a desire to discuss how best to revise the Islands Trust Act — for a number of reasons, one being the possible removal of the essentially-irreversible incorporation option or making a No vote just as binding in perpetuity.

The broadest agreement re: desired changes is #2 above: more coordinated, collaborative governance, including regular, respectful communication with a single, strong community alliance.

Island representatives, elected and volunteer, need to push the B.C. government to get road works done. Local and senior-government collaborative efforts are also needed for those who walk, cycle, and take transit.

The community is ready to explore the Local Community Commission option, despite recent, strenuous efforts to nix the discussion. It could begin now and will be one of the pivotal issues in the next SSI local-government election, on 2018 October 20

Top of the wish list for new facilities is a centralized office for most local-government services, be it rented or built. The next three desired additions are the boardwalk/Harbourwalk, Laundromat, and new fire hall.

Water services need better coordination and communication. Some need to make organizational changes, by converting improvement districts to either CRD service areas or non-profits contracted to the CRD. More funding would help.

Overall priorities, their costs, and accountability need to be clearer.

More information, communication, and education about government services, in a coordinated manner, would aid understanding and clarity. This, in turn, would help the community and elected officials to form priorities.

Local elected officials need to be seen to support the current system of governance, work to increase representation, and better serve the majority of islanders.

Some of the following are low-hanging fruit, e.g. having an easily navigable website with links to all local government services: what they do, where they are, when then meet, etc. Other improvements are easy to ask for, but require savvy and will by local representatives to guide the community through them.

Click here to download the full document and addendum notes in PDF format.

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