Twenty-three Salt Springers welcomed our MLA Adam Olsen to this gathering in the United Church Meadow. (Two others listened from a distance, but they never joined our circle nor our conversation.) While the air was smokey - a constant reminder of those in peril in the fires to the south - the rain gods held off to allow us to again gather in the lovely Meadow.
Adam began by inviting us all to speak from our hearts when we begin our meetings with an acknowledgment of our unceded territory. We were assured that, if spoken from the heart, it will be exactly as it should be. It is only the rote phrases that are repeated over and over that are meaningless.
He suggested we may want to acknowledge the unbelievably-destructive impacts the colonial system has had upon our indigenous peoples and our environment. We may want to also consider the impacts it has upon us all. Adam’s advise is that if we are feeling frustration about this antediluvian system, it is okay to share those feelings as we begin our gatherings.
We were also warned that, despite our best intentions, reconciliation will never be complete. It is, instead, an on-going, continuous conversation.
Adam acknowledged two health emergencies impacting us today - COVID as well as an increasingly-toxic infusion of street drugs. Despite these extreme threats, Adam reiterated his deep respect for the constituency he serves. He is awed by our caring and thankful for the commitment, energy, and passion we bring to making our communities even better. He praised voter turnout, telling us that, in his riding, the remarkable percentage of seven out of 10 voters vote. He also wanted to celebrate our educators, bus drivers, and all those who are giving our children the opportunity to do the most normal thing that they have done in far too long.
Adam is also personally celebrating that he is now the Deputy Leader of the Green Party as MLA Sonia Furstenau is now the Leader of the Green Party. He is pleased to be able to get back to governing again rather than a focus on politics.
He is hopeful that an election will not be called so that he can continue doing the important work on his long list of priorities. During the pandemic, partisan politics decreased as parties worked to address the crises. An election will again fuel this partisanship, likely impeding the work that must be done. He is also concerned about the trappings of an election: politicking and voting in these times when social distancing is essential. (The decision about an election this fall should be made soon. Stay tuned. . . . )
Some of this work that is so near to Adam’s heart is the decriminalization of street drugs. As the Police Act is currently being reviewed, this may be an opportunity to alter the directions given to police concerning drug incidents. Adam would like to see a Citizens’ Assembly to assess support for decriminalization. Already, professionals nearest to his problem are supporting this decriminalization, including our Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Adam would like to see heavy investment in the resources to deal with the toxic supply of street drugs throughout our communities. This street supply has become even more dangerous due to the border closing, forcing forced dealers to cut their supply with even more toxic poisons than their normal mix. In addition to providing safe drugs, Adam hopes the resources devoted to this decriminalization will also be used to create paths of outreach to these users - even if it begins as a simple conversation from the pharmacist handing out the drugs.
Shifting gears to old growth forests, Adam told us that recommendations of a panel as well as a detailed, comprehensive, scientific study have recently been released. The enormous amount of information reiterated what Adam is told over and over again: So many British Columbians want to save our old growth forest and the vital ecosystems they support. If we do not act fast, they will soon be gone forever.
The Legislature has this information, but much of the action that has been demanded - and is now supported by scientific evidence - has been deferred. While there have been some short-term reprieves for some old growth, the difficult decisions have not yet been made. For many who are working so hard to protect our forests, this deferment seems irrational. As an explanation, Adam reminded us that we British Columbians carry with us our history as Hewers of wood; Drawers of water.
Beginning as an outpost for the Crown established almost solely to produce resources, our attitude toward our natural resources has not changed much. While we may no longer be producing for the Crown, we are sill a province dominated by fishing, timber, and mining interests. Deeply ingrained in too many British Columbians is the perspective that our resources are only there to be harvested. Without a totally-different conversation, nothing will really change.
Concerning funding for the Salish Sea Trail (bike lanes from Fulford to Vesuvius), Adam announced that $1.5 billion in Stronger BC funding was announced yesterday. (There is no clarity about how to access this funding yet.) Adam reiterated that safely moving Salt Springers by active transportation is his top priority. While he recognizes that this trail is a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) responsibility, he believes strongly that the province must step forward to help address this clear and present danger to those on our roads. He believes that it is not enough for MoTI to retain control; they must also provide the resources to make them safe.
While safe transport for all is a BC responsibility, local planning and advocacy as well as the power of volunteerism are also important components in achieving this goal. The province cannot do it all but must listen to its communities and support their good ideas and volunteer efforts whenever possible.
This led to a related topic: accessibility. He shared us that in 13 municipalities, there were 13 different standards for accessibility. Adam agreed that there is a dire need for province-wide accessibility legislation so that those with challenges can safely navigate our roads, paths/sidewalks, and buildings.
Frustration was again brought up about the danger to pedestrians along Lower Ganges Road during the construction of the North Ganges Transportation Project. While there is clarity that the responsibility lies with the contractor, Don Mann, there is bafflement about why consistent complaints about the danger of parked cars in the construction zone that force pedestrians into the street appear to be ignored. One participant asked if she could call RCMP to tow the two cars that have been illegally-parked there for days.
With no solution to this danger, the conversation moved on to questions about our RCMP. Adam was asked whether we have our full compliment of officers. Instead, he expressed his concern that, even if we were fully-staffed at this time, our allotment is simply not large enough.
We do know that there have been times when Salt Spring has had less than their allotted number of officers, in part due to the difficulty of finding homes for them. This brought the conversation to the challenges of renting on Salt Spring. While the reasons for that are many, Adam spoke briefly about the BC Tenancy Act and the difficulty of balancing the needs of both renters and landlords when crafting this act. As a result, the current law does not offer a lot of flexibility to address local problems, especially those of owners fearful of renting their properties.
Concerning housing, Adam spoke of the need for all to have housing but not the need for all to have large structures. Somehow, our society seems to equate large homes, many cars, and lots of space with the Canadian Dream. What about changing the conversation to a new model in which housing and resources are shared to create a multi-generational, multi-family living system in which everyone’s needs are met? Adam shared his living arrangement in which his wife and he share parenting duties with his sister.
What is wrong when our laws will not allow a group of senior citizens to share a home?
Why does BC Housing make it impossible for a recipient of funds to have a roommate?
Why are so many in-law suites illegal?
As a result of this disconnect between laws and needs, we find our communities housing folks in the parks, despite an overabundance of underutilized and vacant housing. And, as long as our government depends upon the funding streams from developers and land transfers, it is unlikely anything will change. . . . Adam believes that a first step toward solving this critical issue is a Housing Symposium in which problems are identified, solutions sought, and legal impediments to these challenges addressed.
As a first step in this direction, Adam is hosting a virtual Town Hall for Salt Spring this coming Tuesday, September 22, 2020. To request the link to this meeting, simply click: https://saanichnorthandtheislands.com/events/2020/9/22/fall-2020-salt-spring-island-community-meeting.
As 1:00 approached, Adam was asked by a participant why so many believed that COVID was real and offered to share the proof that it is a hoax. Adam replied that he was familiar with this theory but that does not agree: he and his family have been severely-impacted by this pandemic. He knows that his experiences are shared by too many for it to anything but devastatingly, tragically real.
While Adam and this proponent of the hoax spoke, others gathered to continue other conversations. But, not before we applauded Adam for his enthusiasm, wisdom, patience, tenacity and the satisfying reality that he does truly enjoy coming to be with us every month for ASK Salt Spring. We left smiling, remembering his joy when he said near the end of our gathering: I love meeting in the Park!
Interested in participating? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering this coming Friday, September 25, from 11-1 to welcome our Islands Trustee, Laura Patrick.
If it rains as predicted, we will gather in the Portlock Picnic Pavilion, and masks may be required. If the weather folks get it wrong and it is not raining, we will gather at the United Church Meadow.
All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.
Socially-distanced chairs and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.
No time to sit in the Meadow? Any question, anytime: email@example.com