Look back to look ahead

Reflections on ‘Visioning’

Gulf Islands Alliance presentation to Trust Council September 2016

Delivered by Graham Brazier

The Gulf Islands Alliance believes there’s great merit to visioning. It raises citizen appreciation for how our community is managed and invites exploration of ways to do it even better.

In fact the very existence of the Gulf Islands Alliance is the consequence of a visioning session involving more than 100 island dwellers that took place in 2005. More about that later.

But you, islanders and Trustees, already have a compelling, comprehensive vision, the Trust mandate, and we ask that you make sure future visions don’t eclipse it but rather embrace and re-affirm it.

Proof of its worth and popularity is that it has endured growth pressures, an indifferent provincial government, the influence of planners and entrepreneurs with an urban bias, and various criticisms from inside and out. The urge to protect the islands’ natural environment and rural communities predates the Trust Act of 1974. It springs from people’s love for the islands as a great place to live, visit, view and just walk around.

That love was the inspiration for the remarkable ROOTS gathering on Salt Spring exactly 11 years ago. Talk about visioning, one sub-group there called for a declaration of islands independence, ‘a light at the end of the present tunnel of error’ that shines on a new ‘participatory egalitarian rational society’ that does away with private property and recognizes the rights of nature.

Most of the proceedings weren’t quite so radical. Some of you were among 130 islanders who came together for three days to look at ways “to strengthen and invigorate the Islands Trust preserve and protect mandate”. Participants determined the “mandate is ours, as islanders, as much as it is the trustees” to maintain our Eden on Earth.

Today we highlight a few of the gathering’s many findings that we hope will contribute to your visioning adventure.

There were recommendations to forge model bylaws to save duplication on each island, limit house sizes to 3,000 square feet, educate realtors and newcomers not to trample on our treasures, promote slow and even no growth, enforce bylaws better, and impose zero tolerance for environmental destruction. One suggestion was to create an Islands Trust ombudsman position to help citizens and groups sort out their conflicts with trustees.

A heads-up to Salt Spring: one study showed that when a community gains a tipping-point population of 10,000 ‘the perceived need for urban planning outweighs that for rural.’ Urban symptoms include trading higher densities for greater services and attempts by government to be all things to all people. Observing that the Trust has no fiscal responsibility for infrastructure, one session group announced that ‘incorporation models should be resisted because they put local government in the role of seeking increased tax revenue through development.’

We note a younger Peter Luckham participated in a session that determined First Nations have “a lot to teach us in walking lightly on the earth. We belong to the land. We need to ‘grow’ people who understand and love the land.”

Another session with future luminaries Linda Adams, Gary Holman, Kim Benson and Sheila Malcolmson reached a general agreement that the Trust Policy statement “should be strengthened to ensure that key policy ‘bottom lines’ … can not be violated by individual islands.” We’re still waiting.

A recurrent observation was that your mandate “is not much understood, acknowledged or respected by provincial agencies such as highways and forests. Islanders should secure exemptions from any provincial legislation that’s contrary to the mandate.”

A prominent theme was to improve communications … between trustees and constituents, the Trust and the province, the Trust and First Nations, and between all islanders. “Decisions made on one island could really impact or assist decisions to be made on other islands.” Tony Law worked on a recommendation to ‘Establish a lobbying network to support the work of Islands Trust. (And) explore ways to improve understanding between the Trust and islanders.’ Another ROOTS session group said ‘trustees need to assure people that their views are being taken seriously.’

A session about the role of trustees — it included then chair David Essig — said the word ‘trustee’ is legally and perceptually much different than ‘councilor’ or ‘administrator’ and calls for a “higher, broader responsibility”. (GIA adds that trustees, like their counterparts in the private sector, make long-term wise life decisions for the noisy now and the quiet future. Consider that in 10 or 1,000 years folks will look back and say those guardians of the Gulf Islands sure had a strong vision and the did the right thing.)

Another ROOTS session determined that trustee duties reach beyond their home island “to be more pro-active in ensuring that decisions on all islands conform to the mandate.” There was strong support for raising trustee salaries and even for islanders to pitch in to provide trustees with child care, housework and ‘free veggies.’

A final ROOTS recommendation was to form an inter-island group of volunteer citizens to support the Trust mandate and to praise trustees for doing the same. That was the Gulf Islands Alliance, officially launched a year later. And still going. Here today.