Just over a year ago a handful of people across the islands launched the Gulf Islands Alliance. The organization grew out of two recent inter-islands gatherings of over 100 people each on Denman and Salt Spring Islands. Delightedly, we’re learning just how much people love and yearn to maintain the island environment and rural communities. We want to appreciate and encourage the remarkable talent and wisdom of these people.
The Gulf Islands Alliance is also learning that many community challenges are similar across the islands. We share information and strategies to meet these challenges. Our mission supports the mandate of the Islands Trust to ‘preserve and protect the Trust Area and its unique amenities and environment.’ The Trust was formed in 1974 and specially structured to recognize and keep the Gulf Islands as a unique and fragile treasure among the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
Because the islands are near major and expanding urban populations and vulnerable to intolerable damage from unplanned growth, the Alliance constantly reminds island trustees and Trust staff of their vital role and responsibility to honour the conservation goals of the Islands Trust Act.
The Gulf Islands Alliance believes that many people across the political spectrum view themselves as stewards of this beautiful place and want to protect it from harm.
Problems such as water contamination, forest clear-cutting and poorly planned subdivisions are often easy to identify. It’s more difficult to show how little abuses, such as bylaw breaches, can gather momentum and lead to unwanted results. With thoughtful planning and management, the downsides of growth and change can be avoided. Here are some popular misconceptions that, if believed, discourage essential public participation:
Misconception: There are no threats to the Gulf Islands.
Reality: The Gulf Islands are too attractive for their own good. Without land use precepts that carefully shape and limit growth, the serenity that attracts people here will disappear.
Misconception: The Islands Trust is weak.
Reality: This myth diminishes respect for the Trust’s noble goals and good efforts. The Trust must work harder to explain its purpose and authority. Some complain when their land-use ambitions are foiled by the Trust’s preserve and protect obligation. Some even agitate for a conventional municipal government with greater allegiance to economic interests. The Alliance commissioned a legal opinion that tells trustees that they are trustees, more than politicians, and their actions must comply with the spirit and letter of the Trust Act. Although the Trust has been criticized for lax bylaw enforcement, closer examination reveals that enforcement often founders on poorly-written or poorly-interpreted bylaws.
Misconception: There are more deserving things that need our attention.
Reality: Promoting peace and good health in distant places doesn’t excuse us from serving our community. Having a peaceful island neighbourhood inspires us to be better world citizens.
Misconception: What happens next door is none of my business.
Reality: Official plans and bylaws express each community’s vision. They interpret and give force to the Trust Act. By insisting on sustainability and separating incompatible land uses, they are instruments of civility. Just as you have the right not to breathe polluted air, you have the right to quietly enjoy your home in the islands free from disruption.
Misconception: I can’t make a difference.
Reality: Mother Teresa said ‘we can do no great things only small things, with great love.’ Telling others of your love for these islands is a small thing that will make a positive difference. You may have thoughts about how to help preserve and protect this very special place. People listen and act on good ideas, especially ones from caring, thoughtful people. Just as it’s sensible to maintain your car, the islands need your attention.
If you haven’t done so already, the Alliance invites you to become part of a growing community of people who are actively working to preserve and protect the Gulf Islands’ unique and wonderful environment and communities. We welcome you to join us and become a member of the Gulf Islands Alliance.
Chair, Gulf Islands Alliance (2006 to 2008)