While ASK Salt Spring Friday gatherings at Thrifty’s have been temporarily-suspended, the need for information is still there. . . and is possibly greater than ever. Gary offered these answers to Salt Springers’ questions:
First, how are you doing during this crisis?
My family and I are well, and we feel grateful to be living in such a beautiful part of the world where governments, health systems, and communities are rising to this challenge. My thanks to everyone in public or private sector organizations who are taking care of our essential needs, particularly our health care providers who are saving lives while putting theirs at risk.
What is the hardest part for you to address as our CRD Director? One of the most difficult issues has always been difficult - providing safe shelter and services for the homeless. I have prioritized CRD grants in aid this year to help support the Salt Spring Island Foundation Emergency Fund, as well as organizations like Community Services and Copper Kettle who work directly with those most in need in our community.
The economic hardships faced by those laid off from their jobs, our local business community, and Salt Spring’s many self-employed workers and artisans are unprecedented. Unfortunately, these losses are largely beyond the capacity of local governments to directly address. While federal and provincial governments are responding at a scale previously only seen during wartime, there are still some gaps to be addressed, including support for property tax deferrals (see below).
Despite the tragedy of the pandemic, are there good things that are happening to give you hope?
I’ve been impressed at how our senior governments and public health systems have risen to the occasion. Partisanship at the federal and provincial levels has disappeared almost entirely, with the focus on implementing immediate and substantial emergency health and economic measures. Senior government health directives have been driven by health authorities and science, not political considerations. Measures that only a short while ago were the subject of political debate, such as provision of a safe drug supply for addicts and the concept of “basic income,” have suddenly been implemented. Let’s hope some of these measures will survive the pandemic.
The response of our community has also been heartening. Some examples are the willingness of most to accept social distancing recommendations, the success of emergency fundraising, initiatives to locally produce personal protective equipment, and coordinated efforts to support farmers, artists, and small business. Many people are growing food again or for the first time, and we are demonstrating that computer-based conferencing can be an effective, zero-based substitute for face-to-face meetings.
What have you learned from this crisis?
For me, this crisis has reconfirmed what we already know about this community - its inherent good will, sense of empowerment, and creativity. Emergencies like this always seem to highlight the importance of greater local resilience, especially regarding food security and tourism dependence. This pandemic has demonstrated the fundamental importance of public health care, available to all.
The need for collaboration is also reinforced. The joint efforts of small businesses and the farming community, the cooperation between the CRD Community Economic Development Commission and the Chamber, and the mutual aid agreement between North Salt Spring Water District and CRD Integrated Water Services are all examples of this collaboration. We need to build on these cooperative efforts in the future.
When will we have Hygiene Stations set up for those without homes?
Salt Spring Community Services, with assistance from various funding sources, will be expanding its shower and laundry services. The Lions Club has distributed wash stations throughout Ganges. The family washroom in Centennial Park continues to be open from dawn til dusk. The outside wash station at the Centennial Park and showers at the pool (now being repaired) are possible options in the future.
When will the Recycling Centre re-open?
The Recycling Centre is now open again Tuesday to Saturday. For health reasons, the number of vehicles allowed into the depot is being limited, which is creating lineups, at least until pent up demand due to the closure has decreased. I hope that residents safely store their recyclables until they can access the depot and that they are kind to workers who are also at greater risk providing this essential service.
It is possible that many businesses and residents will not be able to pay their property taxes this July. Does CRD have a plan to address this possible shortfall?
The CRD, along with many other local governments, is requesting that the Province fund the deferral of property taxes. It is my understanding that Provincial school property taxes for commercial properties (Classes 4, 5 and 6) will be reduced by 50% for the 2020 tax year.
During this emergency, do you have the authority to impose guidelines (for example, wearing masks) for Salt Spring in advance of the Province?
The BC Government has assumed complete responsibility for this province-wide issue. Therefore, local governments in BC, except for Vancouver, which has its own Charter, do not have the authority to impose legally-enforceable directives. While the CRD can still provide advice to residents and visitors, our main role is to ensure continuity of essential services (such as sewer and water), as well coordination and information sharing through our regional and local Emergency Operations Centres.
When will our roads be upgraded? I have lived on Salt Spring for over 20 years, and I have never seen any upgrades - only patchwork fixes that do not last.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) provides the funding for our road work. I have lived on SSI for 30 years, and I agree that road maintenance and upgrades have been lacking. There have been some improvements, such as the paving of Stewart Road between Beaver Point and Cusheon Lake Roads, and chip sealing of Blackburn Road. The Province has also responded well in emergencies like major washouts requiring the very costly replacement of old culverts. The new road maintenance contractor, Emcon, has been very community-minded and is playing a constructive role as an intermediary with the MoTI to address needed improvements.
Please give us an update on Ganges Hill and Other Transportation Initiatives
It is our understanding that Ganges Hill will be repaved this year. MoTI has committed to 1.8 metre bike lanes. These widths may have to be adjusted (e.g., on the downhill side where cyclists can travel close to traffic speed) depending on the width of the public road. A pedestrian pathway on the uphill side of the road is a CRD Transportation Commission priority. The North Ganges Transportation Plan and a portion of the Booth Canal - Central pathway should also be completed this year.