Open letter to Islands Trust candidates

(This open letter to Islands Trust candidates was published early in the election campaign in the fall of 2014.)

Dear Islands Trust Candidate

Congratulations on making the bold decision to run for Islands Trust. There’s no higher calling than serving others. When good people do good things for their communities, as they have for the Gulf Islands for the past 40 years, the result is a better place to call home. Well, it’s not just ‘better’, it’s magnificent and inspiring.

Our Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) — we got started 9 years ago — is a profit group that supports the ‘preserve and protect’ goal of the Islands Trust Act. Although we don’t endorse candidates, we do confess to being partial to bright community-minded people who vigorously defend the Act’s environmental goals. Like all institutions, the success of Islands Trust rests largely on dynamic leadership.

Forty years ago the designers of the Islands Trust vowed not to let the islands, “this precious jewel”, slip through their fingers. The threat then was from folks taking advantage of weak local government to over-develop. A few years ago GIA commissioned an expert legal opinion that confirmed a judge’s declaration that the Trust Act’s goal of preserving and protecting this beautiful natural environment has a ironclad footing in law, that it’s “not a mere piety”.

If you’re elected, you will be entrusted to uphold this wonderful vision. Beyond seeing that any growth and development strictly conforms to the Policy Statement, you will face other challenges, including many that GIA has been busy identifying and encouraging the Trust to tackle. Here are a few:

  • One frustration you will encounter while campaigning is that too many islanders know too little about the Trust. GIA believes the Trust should do more to robustly tell its story. Widely broadcasting its goal to keep the Gulf Islands a beautiful place to live and visit would help to distinguish the Trust from traditional local governments and discourage initiatives that would weaken or even break it up. Uninformed islanders are less likely to defend their unique governance system. GIA feels thankful when we consider what the islands would look like if there had been no Islands Trust.
  • It is imperative that the Trust improve relations with the 30 First Nations groups with ancestral claims in the Trust area. The absence of agreements with 93 percent of them and a lack of Trust presence at the treaty table unnecessarily contributes to community discord, as seen with shellfish aquaculture activities on Denman Island, an industry set to expand on other Gulf Islands.
  • Local ferry service has declined and fares have escalated more than 100 percent in a decade, squeezing the economic life of coastal communities. The Trust must continue to aggressively demand that ferries be returned to the provincial highways system.
  • Even fossil fuel investors — and that includes just about everyone whether they know it or like it or not — don’t want oil lapping their island waterfronts. Environmental losses and clean-up costs from an oil tanker spill are unimaginable and lasting. Trustees must continue demanding no increase in tanker traffic in the Salish Sea.
  • Bylaw violations often involve environmental damage and long term friction between neighbours. The Trust must provide full and air bylaw enforcement.
  • Rising sea levels and other climate changes pose the greatest threat to the Trust’s mandate. While shoreline and energy initiatives must continue, the Trust’s more important role is advocacy. GIA has proposed that the Public Trust Doctrine be incorporated into the Trust’s Policy Statement, as a model to the world clamouring for ways to fight climate change. The doctrine insists that life-sustaining elements such as the atmosphere and sea belong equally to everyone and must not be damaged in order to serve other interests.

From all of us at the Gulf Islands Alliance