Twenty-three gathered via Zoom to welcome MLA Adam Olsen and his staff to listen and learn about the issues that matter most to them. After a heartfelt territorial acknowledgement, we asked Adam to begin by sharing what was on his mind.
Seeking to identify those things that excite and delight him, he spoke with enthusiasm of finally being able to be in his legislative office, the lovely old wainscoting making a satisfying background for this Zoom gathering. He also shared his enthusiasm for the new, street-level, Sidney office he will soon occupy. Across from Tanners Books, it is a new building that is estimated to be complete by April.
He is looking forward to being back in the Legislature March 1 and to begin debating the budget, postponed from its normal February timeline. He spoke of drafting the long-anticipated Private Members Bill on tree-cutting on the Southern Gulf Islands. The bill will not necessarily prohibit logging but will add default protections and give tree-cutting authority to the local governments that do not currently have that authority.
Adam is also watching carefully the issue of rural designation, seeking inclusion of the Gulf Islands in this appropriate and important designation. We learned that the Minister is considering his options, leading many to hope that there will soon be a good news briefing.
Adam acknowledged Francine Carlin, Chair of our Community Economic Development Commission, for her tenacity on the issue. He also credited her for identifying the need for business licenses in the criteria for a current grant opportunity. (Gulf Islands do not have a system for business licenses.) As a result of her attention to detail, the province is rewording the grant criteria so that the Gulf Islands will not be excluded.
Adam also expressed his enthusiasm for this wonderful season as the earth shifts from winter and into a welcome spring.
The first conversation concerned the removal of some of the Burgoyne Provincial Park multi-purpose trails, and the request that they be reinstated. A popular trail network for horse riding as well as walking and cycling, there was a high degree of concern about the loss of these well-used trails. Adam was familiar with the issue and has met with BC Parks staff hoping to find a solution that works for all. While BC Parks staff recognize the importance of multi-use trails, complaints of trespassing by adjacent property owners seemingly limited their options.
We learned that it was a complex issue, also including CRD’s No Trespassing sign. When one asked how CRD could limit access to property taxpayers own, Adam reminded us that there are numerous examples of government-owned property to which citizens do not have access. There were also concerns over the new bridge which was estimated to be far closer to the salmon-enhanced stream than the previous one, so low that steps were required on both sides, severely-limiting accessibility.
One participant concluded that much of the problem stemmed from confusion among those making the decisions. She welcomed Adam to walk the Burgoyne trails with her to get a fuller understanding of the ownership patterns and impact of the assumptions and decisions being made.
This issue has been on Adam’s radar and, while he understands BC Parks’ requirement to listen to the concerns of adjacent property owners, he is hopeful that a satisfactory compromise can be reached. This was reiterated when a participant reported that she had also spoken to Gary Holman that morning and had hope that this issue can be solved, with some good news in the works. Before moving to another conversation, one horse-enthusiast suggested that the Burgoyne Park was a very large area offering plenty of space for horses, even the perfect location for a covered arena.
Adam was asked where his attention had been when ICBC determined that their profits would be returned to those insured in checks averaging $190. Why ever, Adam was asked, was that money not being allocated to fund active transportation? Why are we funding drivers rather than working to get folks out of their cars? Adam explained that the rules of this Crown corporation likely designated allowable uses for their categories of income. But, ICBC does designate a significant amount of funding for local safety initiatives, money that will not be impacted by this rebate. We learned that ICBC is working with the Transportation Commission to get some needed traffic calming initiatives in place. These include funding for a Signage and Safety Markings study, support for welcoming speed boards at the entrances to Ganges, and a partnership with RCMP for a volunteer speed monitoring program. Despite this potentially-good news, the participant was still baffled by the reasoning behind giving motorists rebates.
(Note: An Island Pathways Director has been consulted about a drive to encourage motorists to donate their rebate to this amazing group of volunteers, with 100% utilized for pathway development. Stay tuned. . . .)
Adam had met with our new Minister of Transportation, Rob Fleming, and was happy to report that he is very supportive of multi-model infrastructure and is approaching the issue with flexibility and creativity.
When a participant asked if North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) could receive provincial funding if Salt Spring were finally designated rural, the answer was No. This began a discussion of Improvement Districts, with Salt Spring having the largest two in the Province, NSSWD and our Fire District. We learned that there is a great deal of pressure for all of these Improvement Districts to disband, merging with local government. One way to pressure them to merge with local government is to prohibit them from receiving any of the provincial infrastructure grants. This prohibition requires Improvement Districts to raise funds from ratepayers for all capital and operational needs.
While this does not seem particularly-fair, it was noted that Improvement Districts can be very small, with a few Trustees making important decisions for its ratepayers with neither oversight nor clearly-defined accountability. We also learned that our expectations for local government, such as referenda for tax increases and open meeting procedures, are not required for Improvement Districts. Despite these less-stringent governing requirements, it was clearly stated that, although the province continues to work to get rid of Improvement Districts, both NSSWD and our Fire Department are examples of Improvement Districts that work significantly-better than others throughout the province.
NSSWD and CRD are currently in communication to explore whether a unique relationship with CRD could be crafted, qualifying them for grants while also maintaining a large degree of independence. Stay tuned. . . . .
Recognizing Salt Spring’s need for more doctors, Adam was asked whether we would soon get a Primary Care Network (PCN). Markedly-different from Urgent Care Centres, this system is a team approach to health care, offering a full-spectrum of caregivers working together to address the needs of each patient. Adam has met with our Division of Family Practice professionals concerning both PCNs as well as their urgent mandate to recruit doctors to our island. Recruitment challenges they face include finding housing as well as the required Lady Minto on call hours.
In Adam’s opinion, the issue of remuneration for doctors must be solved before PCNs can be successful. A passionate advocate of the team approach of PCNs, he recognizes that the decades old agreement with our doctors that established their payment structure must first be reexamined. In that agreement, doctors must shoulder the significant costs of running their offices, including costs for staff, equipment, and insurance. In return, they get a set rate (currently $35) for every appointment. Until this is resolved so that doctors are compensated fairly in a team-based system, PCNs will face daunting challenges.
When asked whether Salt Springers have a role to help address these problems, it was Adam’s opinion that our enormous health care challenges fall squarely on the province to solve. Acknowledged for his wisdom and passion on this issue, Adam responded that this was at the top of the list of his constituents’ needs. His sister, a health professional, helps him learn as well as critiquing his creative solutions.
On a COVID-related health issue, a participant spoke enthusiastically of a simple way COVID-positive patients can monitor their oxygen levels. This monitoring device allows them to note a drop in oxygen level and get help before pneumonia takes hold. While Adam takes his responsibility to provide the support and funding needed by our health care professionals seriously, he is reluctant to advise them on promising medical practices. But, with the enthusiastic support from another participant, a retired respiratory nurse, these two participants will work together to make sure this inexpensive preventative monitoring device is more widely-known.
The conversation shifted to our need for more active transportation options. Adam and Gary are working together on a regular basis to address the issue of our roads, bike lanes, and pathways. Meeting on this issue that afternoon, Adam suggested we come to ASK Salt Spring next Friday to learn more from Gary about this complex challenge.
Adam is convinced that we need to change our conversation about our roads: our previous conversations have clearly not been working. One of many options is the concept of painted advisory lanes giving cyclists and pedestrians right of way, but also useable by motorists when vacant. In this system, motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians need to be aware and work together to keep everyone safe.
And, suddenly, it was 1:00 and time for us to follow other pursuits. We enthusiastically thanked Adam for joining us and wished him well until we see him again Friday, March 5, 11-1.
But, before that, please join us next Friday, February 12, from 11-1 to welcome our CRD Director, Gary Holman
Bring your questions, eagerness to learn from him and others, and enthusiasm to participate in a discussion of the issues that matter most to us. Join us on Zoom.