ASK Salt Spring with five of the seven candidates for Salt Spring’s two Islands Trustee positions

Twenty-five, including five of the seven candidates for Salt Spring’s two Islands Trustee positions, gathered in the United Church Meadow to discuss the Islands Trust and candidates’ plans if they are elected. (Note: Election day is Saturday, October 15, but you also have two advanced polling opportunities on Wednesday, October 5 and 12, 8-8 at the Library, Community Gospel Chapel, and a Saanich location.

Candidates Islands Trust for our local election are:

Ben Corno,
Gary Gagne,
Jamie Harris,
Donald Marcotte,
Jenny McClean,
Incumbent Laura Patrick, and
Elissa Poole.

If you would like to see the nomination documents and some biographies of our Islands Trust candidates, please see the Islands Trust site.(Note: While only five of the seven candidates were able to join this ASK Salt Spring gathering, all seven were invited to participate.)

This gathering in the Meadow was a soft campaign launch for some. It was also one of many opportunities to learn about our seven Islands Trust candidates, including Driftwood and Exchange articles and two debates:

A Zoom debate focused on climate and housing issues sponsored by Transition Salt Spring and Salt Spring Solutions on September 28. The Driftwood/Forum debate at Artspring on October 6.

Question: After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we began by asking each of the five candidates to tell us a bit about themselves and why they would like to be one of our two Islands Trustees.

Their responses were:

Ben Corno has lived on Salt Spring for 12 years and operates Heavenly Roots Farm on four leased acres at Burgoyne Valley Community Farm. Loving his life as a farmer, he also realizes that, while his time interacting with customers at the Tuesday Market nourishes him, as a Trustee, he would better utilize his creative and facilitation skills to help many more Salt Springers.

Laura Patrick, our incumbent, is standing for re-election. In her four years as a Trustee, she's found that her life skills have prepared her well for the job. She enjoys connecting with others and working together to develop solutions. Just returned from the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference, she is clear that our issues on Salt Spring are not unique. If elected again, she will will continue to work on integrated solutions with our community and seek lessons learned from other communities

Elissa Poole, a professional musician who has been here since 1978, sees herself as an environmental candidate. Passionate about saving our wetland and forest areas, she has been dismayed by the difficulties of conserving land on Salt Spring. Shouldn’t it be easier to protect our precious forests and watersheds? she asked. While she recognizes the importance of addressing our housing crisis, if elected, she would insist on assessing environmental damage before supporting any development.

Gary Gagne has spent his life using his diverse skills on the front lines advocating for environmental issues. His involvement and arrest in the successful Clayoquot protests, are among his proudest achievements. Having learned a great deal as Trustee of the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) as well as one of the authors of the Climate Action Plan, 2.0,if elected, he will seek consensus on complex issues. He will also advocate to add Restoration to the Preserve and Protect mandate of the Islands Trust.

Question: Candidates were asked what they would do to address the intolerable volume of traffic on Salt Spring.

Jenny began by agreeing that our transportation systems are inadequate. While understanding the barriers to expansion, she envisions a bus system that serves every one of our far-flung rural roads. As one who has been dependent upon buses at times in her life, she would like to begin with a 100% increase in our transit system. She also envisions roads that are wide enough to also safely accommodate cyclists and pedestrians.

Laura reminded us that we created our car dependencies and that we can also address these issues. We learned that the Letter of Agreement, which sets road standards and guides consultation between the Islands Trust and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), was created in 1992. Laura believes that there are many transportation game-changers, like eBikes, that can be supported through improved infrastructure such as bike lanes. We simply have to do better in creating modern solutions to address long-standing transportation concerns.

Ben would like see a bus system more focused on local needs instead of being driven by the ferry schedules. He also echoed the importance of committing to a more cycle-safe island, respecting that this is a big challenge with so many stakeholders. Concerning parking, he reminded us that any densification of housing in our villages will also require parking. He used the example of parking underneath our library as a good example of creative parking solutions.

Elissa cited the absence of any public transportation on Isabella Point Road - with no school bus service there for decades. She would love to see robust carpooling systems to avoid the plethora of cars crowding the rural road as parents rush to get their children to school. She also told us that she appreciates dirt roads, reminding us that they slow folks down.

Gary, a cyclist for 40 years who worked on the Transportation sections of the CAP, 2.0, recognizes how difficult and expensive it is to build bike lanes. He believes that slowing cars is an important and immediate safety alternate to keep cyclists safer.

Question: A participant reminded us that the Islands Trust was at the forefront of environmental action in the 1970s. He asked candidates what they would do to recapture Islands Trust leadership in its preserve and protect mandate.

Gary agreed that the Trust is lagging. He also supports an overdue update for the Official Community Plan. He would like to be a part of that OCP update process, strongly advocating for the restoration of Salt Spring’s ecological health. He concluded his answer by reminding us that a fire in the Maxwell Lake watershed could be devastating to the thousands who depend on its lake for their drinking water.

Elissa commented that many or our Trust bylaws were created in the 1970s and that we have not been as successful as we might think protecting our environment. She pointed out that everything we do has an impact upon our precious water supply even something as seemingly simple as creating a new driveway and more ditches. She would like better educational outreach to newcomers as well as partnerships with organizations such as conservation agencies and universities.

Ben agrees that the OCP needs to be updated, engaging our local experts who have extensive knowledge to contribute. He is also a strong advocate of a provincial review of the almost-50-year-old Islands Trust Act so that there is clarity about the mandate of the Islands Trust.

Laura supports a provincial review of the Islands Trust’s mandate, governance and structure. She hopes that the province will listen to Islands Trust communities to learn what is working and what is not. Laura is also pleased that Trust Council is working to implement suggestions from the recently-released governance review. She concluded by saying that There is so much to do! Did you know that the OCPs of almost all of the 12 Local Trust areas are in need of updating along with the land use bylaws?

Jenny has attended Islands Trust meetings consistently for a number of years. She has concluded that these meetings are much like being in court in which the OCP and Land Use Bylaws are applied to each application. While she understands this process, she would like to see a more modern, collaborative approach to decisions. Recognizing that Trustees have spent a great deal of time and money to modernize Trust procedures over the years, she still believes that more modernization is sorely-needed.

Question: Candidates were asked if they support the Trust governance structure based on equal representation for all islands rather than population, resulting in only two local Trustees for Salt Spring. (Note: We learned that there are 26 Trustees representing approximately 25,000 residents, two of which represent Salt Spring’s nearly 12,000 residents.) Also, do candidates support the fact that the third member of the Local Trust Committee is not a Salt Springer?

(Note: The author of The Islands Trust Story was with us. We learned from him that most believe that the referendum offering Salt Spring four Trustees was rejected by Salt Springers largely because incorporation proponents feared that additional Trustees would make incorporation more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.)

Jenny does not support the current governance structure and would prefer representation to be based upon population rather than equal representation for each island. She questions the current equal vote to a Trustee from another island.

Laura questions the fairness of allotting Salt Spring only two of the 26 Trustees on the Trust Council. But, she reminded us that issues such as representation and structure must be addressed through the provincial review, as only the province can amend the Islands Trust Act. She explained the role and the challenges of the off-Island Chair. Each Local Trust Committee (LTC) is a legal body of three chaired by a Trustee from another island. This LTC Chair must both understand complex local issues as well as sharing information from other LTCs to assist the decision-making process.

Ben would like to see Islands Trust representation based upon population. He is not concerned about the third, off-Island member of the Local Trust Committee, believing that it is important to have an ear from the Executive Council. He also believes that this off-Island Chair places more importance on our Trustees working to reach consensus on issues.

Elissa was not as convinced that the off-Island Chair is a good idea, concerned that this Chair could give preference to regional rather than local solutions. She added that, in her opinion, the problem is not with our representation but with the inadequate number of Islands Trust staff resulting in slower-than-needed progress.

Gary supports four Salt Spring Trustees, concluding that the power of this off-Island Trustee would be significantly-less with four local Trustees.

(Note: Jenny had to leave at this time to go to work.)

Question: A participant offered his opinion that the Trust, was seemingly there to stop things from happening rather than solve problems. He asked candidates how they would, instead, be part of the solution by creating needed workforce housing.

Elissa began by reminding us that two recent bylaws designed to add homes to our rental market simply did not work, adding only a few new rental homes. She believes that Bylaw 530 is not the right answer, citing First Nations concerns about far-flung population increases. She suggested, instead, creative solutions to make more rental accommodations available. She cited programs supporting employees and landlords that are working in other communities. She also believes that successfully-addressing the currently-illegal Short Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs) is imperative to addressing our workforce housing concerns.

Gary also believes that creative support for landlords and employees is a viable solution, telling us that NSSWD is already testing this option with two properties they have acquired. Expanding this program to other employers seems to him to be an important avenue to explore. He is also supportive of Salt Spring’s inclusion in the Speculation and Vacancy Tax. He told us that its imposition in Vancouver has resulted in an addition of 20,000 new rental units as owners seek to avoid this tax. While some would prefer not to rent their homes, Gary told us that locals to whom he has spoken would rather rent than pay the high tax.

Ben is also open to exploring the Speculation and Vacancy Tax in conjunction with other BC municipalities whose economies are driven so meaningfully by tourism and seasonal residency. He also reminded us that the Trust is not a developer. While having a specific role in housing, the Trust has neither the capacity nor the mandate to take on all housing initiatives. In his opinion, the Trustees’ responsibility is to create viable and implementable village plans and identify proper zoning for certain areas, rezoning as needed. He recognizes Bylaw 530 as a laudable attempt by the Trust to use its tools to add much needed housing and applauds our current Trustees for requesting significant revision be made to the bylaw consistent with the concerns highlighted at the Public Meeting.

Laura linked community well-being to adequate housing. She reminded us that we need thousands of workers to maintain the institutions, services, and businesses upon which we depend. The 2020 housing needs assessment projected that 600 housing units are needed on Salt Spring; Laura fears that this number is even higher now. While we have recently completed some long-awaited housing projects like Salt Spring Commons and Croftonbrook Phases Two and Three, applications for these housing units far exceeded supply. We need more multi-family housing but must resolve water supply challenges. She believes legalizing accessory dwelling units will help to create more rentals for our workforce.

As 1:00 was fast-approaching, our conversation concluded with the question: What is an issue within Islands Trust’s jurisdiction that you would want to address if you are elected?

Elisa began with a plea for fewer studies and more action. She cited the almost $100,000 allocated for the Ganges Village Task Force, wondering why that money couldn’t have been better utilized to implement rather than study. In her opinion, if we had adequate Islands Trust staffing levels, we could get the information we need far less expensively than hiring outside consultants to create study after study.

Ben would like to see two things: better conservation mapping so that long-term map-based conservation could continue. He would also like to see better conservation education for property owners so that they could more effectively tend their land and collaborate with conservancy groups.

Laura would like to complete the LTC work developing a Wildfire Hazard Development Permit area that includes stewarding healthy, fire-resistant forests. Fueled by the energy and commitment of Firefighter Mitchell Sherrin, this Development Permit Area would be different from others, offering a greater emphasis on the education of property owners in wildfire-vulnerable areas.

Gary’s high priority is to continue the Maxwell Lake Watershed study, focused not only on fire protection but also wetland protection. He would also continue the Islands Trust project of groundwater monitoring. In Gary’s opinion, more Trust time needs to be spent on water issues, including creating the infrastructure we need while also preparing for large, unexpected uses of water like the enormous number of gallons needed to suppress the Windsor fire.

Our time together over, we bid a grateful farewell to our guests, thanking them for taking time from their busy day to answer our questions, offering their hopes and visions for a more trusted Islands Trust, and having the interest and courage to offer to be our next Island Trustees. (Thank-you Laura, Jenny, Elissa, Ben, and Gary!)

Please join us this Friday, September 23, 11-1, to welcome our roads experts from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) and Emcon, our roads maintenance contractor.

While we plan to gather in the United Church Meadow, please check asksaltspring.com if it is raining for the wet weather location.

What would you like to ask them?
While we appreciate the painting of many our centre lines, can you explain how painting decisions for Salt Spring are made?
Can you tell us your maintenance priorities for Salt Spring. . . as well as maintenance issues that simply cannot be addressed this year?
What are you top priorities for Salt Spring’s roads in 2023? How can we help you achieve them?
What are your biggest challenges on Salt Spring . . and, again, how can we help?
Compared to the other areas of your responsibility, is Salt Spring more - or less - challenging and why?
And. . . .?

Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer. We love your receipts! Remember: #15 Our Partners... Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library - is being paid for by Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant. Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer. What a team! Gayle Baker ASK Salt Spring

September 21, 2022 8:26 AM