Forty-four gathered to welcome Elizabeth May to the ASK Salt Spring gathering in the United Meadow last Friday, July 31. While we had feared a larger crowd (strictly adhering to social distancing as well as the BC limit of 50 for all gatherings), we were relieved to be able to welcome everyone who wanted to participate.
Elizabeth began by expressing her delight and enthusiasm to be able to chat with us in the lovely setting rather than being confined to yet another one of her many daily Zoom meetings. She announced the good news that the Vista Coal Mine would now have to go through federal environmental approval before proceeding. She also announced that there would be no big oil company bailouts in the recovery funding, employing workers, instead, to clean up orphan wells.
Her first question concerned the long-awaited Salish Sea Trail, sorely-needed bike lanes from Fulford to Vesuvius. Too long-awaited, these bike lanes would finally complete the trail linking communities on Vancouver Island to Salt Spring through a stunningly-scenic cycling loop. With widespread local support, finding the funding appears to be the biggest challenge. (This project is estimated at approximately $20 million.) Elizabeth was asked if these bike lanes could be funded through the green recovery funding. She suggested looking for tourism funding, one of British Columbia’s largest industries. Did you know that Canadian tourism generates as much income as that of the oil sands? Few are aware of the magnitude of our tourism industry, largely because much of our tourism is comprised of small businesses. Tourism also employs even more workers than oil sands, albeit at far-lower salaries.
Green strategies for tourism are needed, and there is funding available to integrate these strategies into our climate action priorities. Elizabeth suggested contacting Paul Nursey of Destination Greater Victoria for more information. (Note: Our Chamber’s Jessica Harkema is also a great source of information about Salt Spring’s green tourism efforts.)
Elizabeth asked us how we envisioned low-carbon tourism. She cited environmentally-sensitive ways to get to Salt Spring (and bring one’s bike) using rail and buses, but that once on Salt Spring, it is frightening, forcing cyclists to carefully navigate narrow, hilly rural roads with too-high speed limits and no bike lanes. She encouraged us by reminding us that federal green tourism pockets of money combined with provincial safe cycling funding could be the answer.
Elizabeth is confident that tourism will be a part of green recovery funding, but it may not be included in the first phase, due to roll out in September. This first phase will focus on re-opening our economy. (Some of our most important tourist destinations, like Butchard Gardens, are not sure that they can survive until next year.) It is the second phase of this funding that could be helpful supporting green tourism initiatives.
While Elizabeth agreed that the projected $1 trillion deficit by the end of the year is terrifying, she maintained that if we do not continue spending, we risk a global recession if not a world-wide depression.
When asked how we can break our auto-dependency, Elizabeth told us that she had not owned a car for decades in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite that ability to get along perfectly well without a vehicle, she reminded us that during this time of crisis, people had a right to feel safe. For many, being in their car was a way of safely extending their bubble when needing to get somewhere. She spoke of renting a car in Ottawa simply so that she could feel safer. While agreeing that we need to question our dependence on our cars, the also cautioned that we also need to understand and respect everyone’s right to feel safe and that traveling by car may currently be the safest option for many.
When a participant pointed out that cyclists do not get COVID, Elizabeth reminded us that there is a huge amount about COVID that we do not understand. She reiterated her message that it is important for us all to respect the rights of others to do what they need to do to feel safe during these frightening times. She predicted that it is only when there is a vaccine available that we will feel comfortable without the bubble of safety provided by our automobiles.
A concern that must be successfully-addressed in a very short window of opportunity is the safe, successful re-opening of our schools. She cited her work to utilize large areas, such as conference centres, now struggling for their survival, for schools so that students have the space to social distance while learning. She also spoke of the wonders of outdoor learning and her hope that even more learning in outdoor settings can help us be as we move toward safely re-opening in a few short weeks.
When asked about universal childcare, Elizabeth told us that she is now hearing more about this long-delayed goal. An essential need for our children, it is also necessary if women are to have work options. While childcare is a provincial responsibility, the federal government is offering $19 billion in funding in seven categories, one of which is childcare.
Elizabeth was asked about why Canadian Emergency Relief Bill (CERB) funding was not more like Unemployment Insurance which requires proof that the recipient is actively-seeking employment. Elizabeth responded that a foundation of CERB is the recognition that many do not feel safe enough seeking employment during this COVID crisis. Canadians should not feel forced to go into an unsafe work environment by the need to put food on the table or pay the rent. CERB was designed to avoid this frightening dilemma. The individual asking the question countered by expressing concern that many on Salt Spring were not working but were hanging about together without social distancing.
Elizabeth responded that she believes that CERB was an important element to our success flattening the curve. It was also a good test run for a universal basic income. With this universal basic income, workers would receive a basic income as well as being allowed to keep all the money that they earned as an incentive for working.
When asked about the apparent large increase in Chinese investment on Salt Spring, Elizabeth responded that, despite their horrific human rights record, we cannot downplay the important role the Chinese play in both our economy and climate action. She mentioned huge Chinese investments in our care homes, forestry industry, and hotels, to cite a few. She also reminded us that this is the year that we must renew our climate action plan and double down on our reduction strategies.
When asked why Canada does not spend its fair share for defense, Elizabeth cited her commitment for nuclear disarmament as well as her deep concern about cyber security. In her opinion, we need to rethink our defense strategies. She believes that our troops will best be used to combat the climate emergencies awaiting us. High on her list of security concerns is the very real threat that Russia, for example, could hack our infrastructure systems, shutting down essential services such as transit, utilities, and information networks.
When asked about affordable housing, Elizabeth responded that we know that Housing First works to address homelessness and addiction. But, beyond subsidized housing is the need for affordable housing for those who are working but still cannot afford a decent place to live. Elizabeth targeted Air B&B as one of the culprits responsible for significantly-reducing our inventory of affordable rental housing.
She also cited William Rhyse and his analysis of the effects of globalization on housing. According to him, the growing appetite for housing as an investment has significantly reduced the affordability of housing for those who live and work in our community. Before this globalization, home prices reflected the local economy. In this scenario, property values could not exceed what locals could pay, effectively making sure that housing was affordable for local workers. Now, housing prices are fueled by large fortunes made elsewhere, pushing local housing prices far beyond the reach of those seeking to live in the community in which they work. Elizabeth cited a valuable resource: gensqueeze.ca, which details public policy mechanisms to make housing affordable again.
Elizabeth cautioned that while everyone has a right to housing, not everyone has the right to own their own property. (She shared that she is a happy renter.) Cooperative housing is a good option, one that has not been properly funded for two decades.
We learned that the laundromat project has purchased the machines, a cause for celebration, but that money is still needed to open our long-awaited laundromat. When asked how much was needed ,we were given the figure of $100,000. Elizabeth responded that this should not be too difficult to acquire, sharing that even she, a vegetarian, had contributed to our abattoir. Stay tuned. . . .
Elizabeth reminded us that the nations that have had the best responses to COVID have been countries using Proportional Representation (PR). (Also, more women lead nations using PR.) Elizabeth’s conclusion was that countries with less partisan politics were the countries that suffered least during this crisis; the nations more able to work collaboratively to address crises fare better.
Elizabeth cautioned: We cannot accept our politicians’ claims about how well Canada is doing. While we are told that we are a climate leader, this is simply not true. Canada is also one of the least generous of the wealthy countries - too often shirking its responsibilities to support developing countries as well as our own citizens. Part of the reason Canadians believe that we are doing so much better than our record proves is that we continue to compare ourselves favorably to the United States.
When Elizabeth was asked what we can do to help, she reminded us of the importance of our community newspaper. Between 80-90% of our communities have lost their local news source, and many that still have local papers have been cannibalized by global giants, most of whom do not even pay taxes! We were reminded that it is an issue of democracy: voting decreases when there is no local reporting.
We should write letters, read, and educate others. And, pressure the government to begin treating our social media as a publisher - with all the responsibilities entailed - rather than simply a platform.
And, let Elizabeth know what is on our minds. . . she listens.
Interested in participating? Please join us this Friday to welcome MLA Adam Olsen to ASK Salt Spring, from 11-1, August 7, in the United Church Meadow. (Portlock Pavilion if raining.)