Progress stumbles on process

Response to Islands Trust Draft Strategic Plan 2015

Submitted by the Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA)
August 2015


At Trust Council’s meeting in June on Galiano we asked Council to draft a 4-year strategic plan that is clear, robust and solely based on your duty to manage the Trust Area natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations. (See following story.) We saw that a preoccupation with process, evident in the previous strategic plan and the present draft, serves administrative interests at the expense of fully achieving the Trust’s legislated purpose. Now GIA congratulates the Trust for reaching out to the public for input. Please regard our critical suggestions with the positive understanding that GIA exists to celebrate and advocate for the spirit and letter of the Islands Trust Act.

GIA’s board met on August 13 to review your draft strategic plan and makes these general observations/suggestions:

1. The initial 3-week response time, occurring in mid-summer, was too short for some individuals and groups to offer highly useful input.

2. The draft plan contains several ‘insider’ phrases such as ‘resource efficiency’, ‘economic sustainability’ and ‘organizational resilience’ that are open to wide interpretation and appear to bias the process in favour of growth and development. The plan could be made more citizen/reader friendly.

3. The wide scope of activities in the plan — some that appear inconsistent with or outside the Trust mandate — blur the Trust’s focus. The impulse to please the greatest number of people is understandable, but if acted upon too freely will weaken your required role. Attention to peripheral matters implies that Council’s priorities are guided by more than the Islands Trust Act and Policy Statement and can be compromised to accommodate other interests. The Act clearly states that all Trust actions must accord with the Act. GIA is concerned that the plan (see ‘Potential Objective 11. ‘Have a vision for the Islands Trust Area’) and some other recent trustee activities open the door to amending the vision of Trust Act itself.

4. Islands Trust is more than a special kind of local government. It is an idea rooted more in the future than the past. Its legislated duty invites and inspires actions to improve care for our natural environment and our place in it. GIA encourages the Trust, through education and advocacy programs, to do more to tell its story and be a model for a better world. We note that some advocacy initiatives, such as protecting our shorelines and limiting ferry fare increases, have failed to bring desired results. The plan should call for a re-examination of advocacy practices, including follow-up measures, and the formation of ad hoc committees or a task force to create effective advocacy.

Comments on specific sections of the Plan…

1. Protect the natural environment of the islands

While this section represents the best of the Trust’s unique purpose and work, we see that 8 of the 15 identified initiatives are to be assigned to the Trust Fund Board.

1.6 (Reduce greenhouse gas emissions etc.)

We strongly support measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of climate change, which the Trust previously identified as the single greatest threat to the Gulf Islands. (Also, see item 5.5) We are pleased that the Trust, in support the Blue Dot campaign, joins other enlightened governments and agencies campaigning for constitutional recognition of the human right to a healthy environment. The most obvious and tragic abuse of this right is human-induced climate change. Most recently a Dutch court ordered its government to reduce emissions by 25 percent over the next five years. Claiming public ownership of the atmosphere and cleaning it up are top requirements of the Public Trust Doctrine, a universal common law principle — beyond the discretion of any government to remove — that GIA has been pressing the Trust to adopt into its Policy Statement.

1.8 (Advocacy re protection of ecosystems)
All deer, not just fallow deer, are an ecological problem in the Gulf Islands. This is one example of serious ecological challenges, such as shorelines being destroyed by industry and agriculture, that deserve greater attention by the Trust.

2. Preserve and protect coastal shorelines and marine areas

2.2 (Participate in planning for National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, NMCA)
The province owns the ocean floor. This gives the Local Trust Area the right to zone into the marine environment. NMCA advocates the transfer of this right to the federal government. This would forfeit the Trust’s regulatory authority over marine area uses. This serious matter should be the responsibility of the Executive Committee.

2.3 (Advocate for protection of the Salish Sea and Howe Sound re shipping safety, derelict vessels and industrial activities)

There is nothing new in the plan here. Protecting the Trust’s marine areas deserves more attention. Changes to administrative structures and practices and the establishment of a task force(s) are needed to bring to marine issues the same level of expertise the Trust has for dealing with land-use issues. More can be done to connect with and assist the groundswell of individuals and groups working to prevent the Salish Sea from becoming a ‘carbon corridor.’

3. Reduce our ecological footprint.

This essential goal of environmental protection is given a passing nod in the plan, with examples of ‘efficient and sustainable transportation systems’ left ‘to be determined’. Please step up your work with islanders who are already engaged in exciting projects to reduce our ecological footprint.

4. Protect quality and quantity of water resources

Assuring the availability of sufficient clean water is essential to sustainable living in the Gulf Islands. The draft plan appears to give it token consideration.

4.2 (… ensure levels of development are consistent with a sustainable water supply)

Obviously, development should not occur in the absence of a sustainable water supply. But the presence of sufficient water should not be allowed to trump Policy Statement principles when considering approval of development proposals that don’t adhere to those principles.

5. Enhance protect/restore community socio-economic diversity and economic sustainability.

The Trust mandate is to regulate land use. It does not give license to promoting economic development.

5.3 (Use land use planning tools to promote economic sustainability) and 5.6 (Work with other agencies to advocate for and promote economic sustainability)

Much more attention in the draft strategic plan is directed to promoting economic development than honouring the Trust Act’s objective. On some islands commercial properties sit idle because of our recessionary economy and senior government policies, such as expensive ferry service. Creating more such land won’t fix this. So Trust Council should not push Local Trust Committees to ‘amend land use bylaws to ensure an appropriate supply of land zoned for emerging industrial and commercial needs’. And more important, the Trust should not promote the establishment of industries that are incompatible with reducing greenhouse gases and our ecological footprint.

6. Strengthen relations with First Nations

We commend the Trust for advancing the priority of First Nations relations but note that the recommended role of Trust Council committees in this is minimal as most of the work is assigned to Local Trust Committees and the Executive Committee.

7. Improve organizational cost effectiveness and resilience

7.1 — (Amend TC meeting Procedure Bylaw to enable electronic meetings)

Electronic meetings and decision-making are not just a bad idea, they are not democratic, and probably not legal. Do your public business in public.

7.1 — (Begin preliminary investigations into the possibility of forming a Gulf Islands Regional District.)

GIA understands that the challenge of persuading the province to realign regional districts was discussed and discarded by a previous Trust Council. Revisiting this issue will likely render the same result; it’s better left to other jurisdictions ‘on their dime’.

7.2 (Investigate the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution and/or mediation in bylaw enforcement)

By-law enforcement continues to be a sensitive issue. Non-enforced bylaws are next to useless. We believe leadership on enforcement should come from Trust Council rather than relying on staff. If it’s strong, then there will be an expectation for staff to follow through. Council could avoid the traditional timidity in attempting to resolve some delicate and potentially costly bylaw matters by hiring people who are highly trained and confident in dealing with legal issues.

7.3 (Prepare Islands Trust organization to adapt to the potential incorporation of Salt Spring Island.)

If this action plan is approved, the Trust will be seen to be favoring incorporation proponents. Some will see any action that hints at favoring incorporation as the Trust shooting itself in the foot because incorporation will weaken or possibly lead to the Trust’s demise. While it’s good to prepare for the worst, it’s bad if that preparation contributes to bringing on the worst. Wait until decisions are made and votes counted before deciding whether to spend tax dollars on this. The Trust has been overly cautious in exercising its mandate, seemingly out of fear it will enflame the ill will of residents whose complaints about it are used to increase pressure for incorporation.

8. Improve cooperation and integration with other levels of government.

For some issues, cooperating and integrating with other levels of government would be a disservice to the Trust mandate and Gulf Islanders. For example, the Trust should not cooperate with the federal government in its disrespect for the environment and phony promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

8.3 (Explore opportunities and benefits of working with UNESCO and the Trust Fund Board and others in seeking nomination of the Trust Area as a UN Biosphere)

Importing and overlaying the Trust’s existing designation as a remarkable environmental area with a second, possibly weaker set of principles and standards is an unnecessary distraction. If it appears that adopting the UNESCO plan could enhance the Trust mandate, a citizen group, not Trust staff, could be invited to further investigate it.

9. Improve community and agency understanding and support of the Islands Trust

9.1 (Engage communities and agencies in review/update of the Islands Trust Policy Statement)

The Trust has a protocol for reviewing and updating the Policy Statement. It needs to be observed.

9.3 (Engage communities and agencies in development of updated land use bylaws)

This is core work for Local Trust Committees, not a strategic planning option.

10. Improve community engagement and participation in Islands Trust work

Sometimes there’s a disconnect between the Trust’s noble declarations about community engagement and participation and what actually happens in its interactions with constituents. Remedies often can’t be forged by strategic planning; they’re simply functions of good will and wisdom.
One common complaint is that some local trust committees give too little respect to advisory planning commissions.
We suggest that the word ‘stakeholders’ be deleted from this section. The word gives the distasteful impression that some community members have a stake and others don’t have a stake in the workings of Islands Trust.