Author Archives: David Steen

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.

Meet Roxanna, GIA’s new chairperson

Former Trustee Roxanna Mandryk new chair of Gulf Islands Alliance
September 14, 2015

The Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) is pleased to announce that Roxanna Mandryk, a former Islands Trust trustee for Denman Island, has been elected its new chairperson.

A trustee from 1992 to 1996, Roxanna replaces Dave Steen of Thetis Island who had served a three year term.

“GIA is a passionate supporter of the letter and spirit of the Islands Trust Act,” she said. “Preserving and protecting these beautiful Gulf Islands is a simple yet powerful mandate.
“GIA’s role is to encourage islands residents and Trustees to cherish and honour the legislated goal that sets our islands apart as a special natural environment.”

Before moving to Denman in 1991, Roxanna lived in Banff where she witnessed the negative impacts of high tourism on a small community.

“GIA, and, we believe, most islanders love where we live, especially its beauty and serenity. We ask those folks to join with us to help keep things as they are.”
In her term as trustee, Roxanna chaired the Trust’s planning committee and was a member of the finance committee.

From 1996 to 2002 Roxanna served as an elected area director for the Comox Strathcona Regional District, which has since split into two regional districts.
Over the years Roxanna has chaired the Denman Conservancy Association, Denman Island Residents Association, and the Dora Drinkwater project to save a heritage house as a community arts centre.

She’s also helped organize the Christmas Craft Fair, Denman Island Home and Garden Tour, the Denman Island Arts Studio Tour and the highly successful Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival. She also serves on the Comox Valley Ducks Unlimited committee.

Her career in business included being a CBC Television production assistant and marketing at 1988 Calgary Olympics. She enjoys travel, bike riding, and cooking.

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.

Don’t just plan there, do something!

(In this June 24, 2015 presentation, prepared by Deb Ferens and Dave Steen, GIA asked Trust Council to transform its expensive and cumbersome strategic planning process. See story above for specifics.)

Baseball fans know that pitchers don’t win because of their wind-ups. Success rides on delivery.

GIA is concerned that your wind-up — specifically, your strategic planning — could get so exhaustively complicated that it will mess up your delivery.

GIA is asking hard questions about your strategic planning.

Does it sap trustee energy and time without corresponding gains? Does it give taxpayers good value? Are thick agendas with all those graphs, flow charts and boxes showing who’s doing what with whom when and where really needed? Are you frustrated by its bureaucratic inertia? Its reduced capacity to respond forcefully to the unexpected?

And our big question. Is strategic planning taking your eye off home plate? The Trust mandate?

As you begin anew, GIA asks you to craft a 4-year strategic plan that is clear, robust and based on the affirmative duties to manage the Trust Area natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations.

GIA saw that past strategic plans:

– were complex, dense, and mired in busy-ness, taking up too much valuable Trustee time at council meetings.

– served operational/administrative needs more than the Trust’s purpose.

– were long grocery lists of issues that tugged in all directions, scattering energy stores and stretching human and financial resources.

– and largely disengaged citizens and failed to gain their enthusiastic support.

GIA has no quarrel with strategic planning. Our concern is that preoccupation with process can obscure purpose. How much breaking down by area and priority is needed when the Trust Act says the whole Trust Area is a biodiversity priority. You are trustees of the natural environment. The legislation, courts, GIA’s expert legal opinion, and the majority of islanders and British Columbians confirm that. So the primary goals, tactics and actions of a strategic plan must be to defend it against injury and restore what is damaged.

Our communities are vulnerable to climate change, natural hazards and development activities that carve up, degrade, chop down, uproot and pave over natural spaces and put an amazing biodiversity at risk. Your strategic plan could easily focus on ecological protection alone and still keep you busy and productive. Adding industry, commerce, housing and density and all the attendant landscaping, services and infrastructure is at the expense of the natural environment. One committee’s goal to improve the economy and reduce our environmental footprint is wishful thinking.

Please cut back on using strategic planning sessions:

To conjure up a new Trust vision. It already exists, the Trust mandate itself.

To consider other governance structures such as municipalities, a Gulf Islands Regional District, or north and south divisions.

To bother too much trying to “improve cooperation and integration with other levels of government” – the same other governments that encourage clear-cutting, tanker traffic, massive expansion of fossil fuel industries, and erosion of farmland.

Resilience strategies that protect a vibrant natural environment, essential to fundamental human development and values, are already part of the Trustee framework. No need to invent more. Devote your human and financial resources to ensure the inalienable right to healthy seashores, ocean waters, tidelands, the forests that cover the islands, the wetlands and streams, seaside cliffs, meadows, and wildlife habitats.

Let other agencies follow the Trust lead – they are going to have to sooner or later – the earth won’t wait, survival of hundreds of species on the brink of extinction can’t wait and our own children depend on us now to deliver the future intact, undiminished and livable.

If a strategic plan can be transformative, simplified and walked back to the Mandate by applying principles of public trust in coastal planning management and decision making, Trust Council can spend a lot more of its time focused on effective governance, have shorter council meetings, devote more time to communicating with islanders.

Our islands are precious gems dotting the Salish Sea, each separate yet linked by the waters that surround them, the beaches and shores that give entry and welcome, the forests that shelter, the land that provides nourishment and abundance to all its inhabitants.

All of us, Trustees and island residents, visitors and neighbouring communities share a duty of care owed to the environment.


GIA received a copy of another response to Islands Trust Council’s draft strategic plan, from former Pender trustee Steve Wright:

To Islands Trustees:

We are approaching the first year of your election as a local trustee. There was
an expectation by many throughout the Trust Area that during this term, Trust
Council would bring about a change within the Trust to make it more relevant,
more effective, and more focused on the mandate.

It is extremely disappointing that the Trust has after 40 years, found itself with so little accomplished in terms of the fulfilling it’s object. Development continues to degrade the environment, ecology, and rural character of the islands. In spite of provincial legislation, the Islands Trust’s efforts and initiatives to work in concert with senior levels of government to achieve the mandate, have come up short or have failed. Local
bylaws are largely ineffective due to the lack of enforcement and loopholes.

The election of Peter Luckham as Chair was to ensure that the status quo would be
continued. Council has to realize that the status quo is not an option anymore.
Looking at the Policy Statement one can find little success in materializing its
objectives. Instead, the Trust has decided to “protect” communities, culture, and
economies, delving into housing issues, ferry fares, and any other issue that
floats by on the newspaper.

Your credibility is becoming laughable. A majority of residents and property owners are doing as they please without regard to the ecology or the environment and in the process urbanizing our islands. There are no differences developing on these “unique and sensitive” islands than anywhere else in Canada.

Your inaction and lack of focus is losing the support from your best friends. Those
who have believed passionately in the mandate feel betrayed and are beginning
to wonder why they continue to support you financially and emotionally.

A prime example for this coming Council Meeting is your Strategic Plan. Does
anyone really believe this? Give us one plausible solution to any of these issues.
What is the Trust planning to do about the loss of sea birds and songbirds? What
can you do to protect bottom fish from recreational over-fishing or the harassment
of Orcas by commercial enterprises? What strategy do you propose to rid the
islands of Norway rats or invasive plants?

The fact is that Council has some incredibly difficult and complicated issues
before it, let alone the political implications. I need to know if you are up to the
task, or whether you should simply admit defeat and pack the tents. Stalling for
more time is not acceptable. You need to make your stand now.

I suggest you throw out the strategic plan for the useless paper it is, define your vision of these islands, determine what you can realistically get done this year, and ask for help from the people who want you to succeed.

Good luck and thanks,

Steve Wright


‘Pope Francis, your 10 minutes are up’

By Dave Steen
I had a dream that Pope Francis showed up to urge Islands Trust Council to keep up the good work preserving and protecting the Gulf Islands, a designated and natural paradise.
The dream occurred the night after I had made a presentation to Council at its quarterly meeting, held last month (June, 2015) on Galiano Island. Speaking for our Gulf Islands Alliance, I asked for a reform of the Trust’s stuffy and expensive strategic planning process.
Of course, the Pope was to talk about a more lofty matter — how his encyclical letter to the world “on care for our common home” could enhance Council’s duty to uphold the “glorious” Islands Trust Act.
The Pope declined the Trust’s invitation — issued to all presenters — to consider withdrawing his talk and simply giving them the text.
Also, he said he visited the Trust’s website and studied the tips for addressing council. (“Take a slow, deep breath … it will help you relax.”) And he admitted being puzzled that he would be allowed both 5 minutes and 10 minutes for his presentation.
Council agreed he should have the full 10 minutes seeing as how he had traveled so far. (A warning light would be flashed after the 9th minute.)
The Pope started, reading from his letter:
“We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
He quoted Pope Paul VI, from 1971: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.”
He quoted another, Pope Paul II, who warned that humans frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.”
His predecessor Benedict XVI pleaded for the correction of “models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.”
Pope Francis said, “These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups.” More than improved technology, fixing the ‘disfigurement and destruction of creation’ will be made on the ethical and spiritual journey from what we want personally to what the world needs.
In a nod to the trustees and other environmentalists, he said, “I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home we share.”
Noting that no one “can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis”, he called for a “new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
(At this point the red light flashed, indicating the Pope had only 1 minute left.)
“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.
“Change is impossible without motivation and a process of education.”
He added that the “need for forthright and honest debate” is linked to “serious responsibility of international and local policy.”
With only seconds left, the Pope mentioned climate change: “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat warming… The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions of human life.”
When the Pope sat down, one trustee proposed a motion, under ‘new business’, that, “Trust Council study possible implications of the Pope’s encyclical letter on Islands Trust policies.”
Unfortunately, time ran out before new business could be considered. The motion was scrapped. The meeting adjourned

Put public interest first in climate change war

After two years of campaigning by the Gulf Islands Alliance, Islands Trust Council has agreed to take a serious look at acknowledging the Public Trust Doctrine in its Policy Statement. The doctrine “describes the ideal relationship between citizens and leaders, a refreshing way for the Trust to understand its work. It is the legal foundation of public governance.”

Following is GIA’s presentation to Council at its quarterly meeting on Gabriola Island, March 11, 2015:

The Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) joins Islands Trust in declaring that, long term, the greatest threat to the Trust mandate is climate change. We’re asking that the Public Trust Doctrine be acknowledged in your Policy Statement to provide the framework and motivation to apply the best solutions to climate change.

Your strategic plan once said climate change threats include an increased strain on social and economic systems, rising sea levels and storm surges causing saltwater intrusion of aquifers, infrastructure damage, and loss of biodiversity, habitat and cultural and historic sites. These are just first symptoms of what US Secretary of State John Kerry says is “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Climate change can only be subdued when we all join in on a world-wide response of equal or greater strength.

Carbon emissions have risen 60 per cent since 1990 and continue to increase 2.2 percent annually instead of decelerating by a needed 6 percent. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years have occurred this century.

An increase above 2 degrees in average world temperatures is considered dangerous; we’re on pace for 4 degrees. Greenland’s ice is melting five times faster than 20 years ago. Along with melt, thermal expansion contributes to rising seas. Other climate outcomes are more extreme weather events, drought, food and water shortages, species extinctions, and damage to social and economic structures, causing mass migrations and territorial wars.

These consequences are nature’s response to our abuses, reminding us that human and environmental health march in lockstep, that nature doesn’t always like being “balanced” against contrary human interests, and that the truth about climate change rests in science, not public opinion.

Because we see hints, not the worst of our future, many of us look away. ‘Not my business.’ ‘Heard these warnings for years and nothing’s happened.’ ‘I won’t be around if and when it happens.’ These attitudes don’t vanquish climate change. When do we jump off the track of an oncoming train? The world’s in denial, mired by cheap power and consumption. Zoom. Zoom. Will our grandchildren forgive us?

We treasure good relationships, with other people, our community, our world. Relationships thrive on trust and die for lack of it. The word ‘trust’ is everywhere, Trust Act, trustee, trust council, local trust committee, trust area.

The Public Trust Doctrine describes the ideal relationship between citizens and leaders, a refreshing way for you to understand your work. It is the legal foundation of public governance. The trust idea is widely considered the most innovative contribution of the English legal system. The public trust guarantees that every person has unrestricted access to gifts of nature such as clean air and water needed to sustain a healthy life. It says governments, as trustees, have a moral and legal duty to safeguard these gifts. The doctrine is the basis of current lawsuits that allege U.S. state and federal governments have failed to make honest attempts to help restore atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, the threshold to climate catastrophe. It’s now at 396. U’Vic’s Environmental Law Clinic says, “Courts are increasingly imposing liability on trustees for environmental degradation of trust property… The general public may also be considered the beneficiary, where the government is deemed to occupy the role of trustee.”

Testing the public trust in court is not GIA’s goal. Adopting it won’t restrict Island Trust actions; but it will add symbolic and moral weight to your vital advocacy work. The Trust Act invites you to advocate ways to better preserve and protect the trust area.

GIA shares the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot national campaign goal of acknowledging people’s right to a healthy environment. You don’t have to choose between us, we reinforce each other. Choose both.

But if there were no distinctions in our approaches, we wouldn’t be here, except to support Blue Dot. Or they might be here just for us. A quick look at these distinctions:

First, we note that Port Moody Council quickly endorsed Blue Dot over objections by its mayor who wanted first to study its costs and diversion of staff time. GIA’s request doesn’t involve new responsibilities or deadlines for you. Among local governments, we regard the Trust already as Canada’s most environmentally progressive … in your own words, “the only government in Canada and, perhaps, the world, with a legislated mandate to preserve and protect a special area”.

Second, Blue Dot is petitioning governments for recognition of a right that the Public Trust Doctrine says already exists, a human and natural right not contingent upon laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable. And more, it insists on the highest standard of that right, a healthy environment that sustains life now and for future generations. (In fairness, this summary is overly-simplified because of time restrictions.)

Third. Blue Dot is rather soft on climate change, possibly a deliberate decision not to turn off potential supporters who are persuaded that engaging climate change threatens their jobs and our economy. The Public Trust Doctrine’s resurgence is owed to climate change. It’s a legal impetus to design and enforce solutions to climate change, to restore the atmosphere to its rightful owners, the public. Patience is no virtue here. Our greatest opponent is time itself. Next are the absurd arguments that climate change can be defeated while we grow our fossil fuel industries and that the end-use of the energy we export somehow doesn’t make us more complicit. Aggressive containment of climate change will also help a myriad of related environmental issues.

Both GIA and Blue Dot welcome anyone, in the courts and legislatures, who delivers on recognition of our right to a healthy environment. Amending our constitution won’t be a cakewalk especially in this election year. We note that the NDP’s pending private member’s bill to establish an environmental bill of rights borrows language from the Public Trust Doctrine. It asks that the Government “as trustee of Canada’s environment … preserve it in accordance with the public trust for the benefit of present and future generations.”

Climate change forces us to re-examine ideas of survival and justice on this shared planet. The Doctrine answers the essential question — whose job is it to preserve Earth as a liveable planet, for us, for vulnerable folks in poor countries, and for our children and future generations that have no ability to intervene right now?

Founded in 2006, GIA is a non-profit group of islanders dedicated to the letter and spirit of the preserve and protect mandate of the Islands Trust Act.

Tips for new trustees be more than political

GIA showed up at Islands Trust’s new council meeting in Victoria on December 5, 2014 to welcome and share a bit of old and new-fashioned wisdom with trustees at the start of their 4-year term.

I am here for the Gulf Islands Alliance. Call us GIA. On your third day — suffering information overload? — you already have enough to think about. So we’re not here to complain or ask for anything. We just want to congratulate you on your election and celebrate with you the 40th anniversary of the Trust and the amazing opportunity you have to do good things over the next four years.
When you stack up the Gulf Islands’ beauty, serenity, and security against a world festering in wars and other turmoil, we surely live in a most remarkable place.

And GIA, a non-profit, grassroots group, wants to help keep it that way. For nine years we’ve been vocal — with letters, deputations, islands tours and public gatherings — about growth, tourism, marine and forestry issues, bylaw enforcement, and other Trust governance policies and practices. Next year we plan to offer ideas for your strategic plan, such ideas on ways to reconcile with First Nations claims and cope with industrial waste, acidification and rising sea levels of the Salish Sea.

GIA lives to support the Trust Act’s goal. A few years ago we commissioned a legal opinion from a prominent environmental lawyer on the meaning and force of the Act. He concluded its purpose, to protect the islands’ natural environment, above all other considerations, is strong and has proven to be enforceable in court.

After an election campaign focusing on ways to best serve your constituents, new trustees now may be feeling overwhelmed by the bigger picture. From being a politician in pursuit of votes, here you learn you’re truly a trustee, with a duty of care for a special place, on behalf of your island residents and all BC people. Political thinking rarely goes beyond the next election. But trustees must consider this generation, and even the generations that follow. Native wisdom calls for us to be good ancestors. Given that life is fleeting, we’re more like visitors or tenants than owners on this earth. We shouldn’t be trashing the place. GIA sees you as a kind of strata council, held to the highest standard because this is luxury accommodation.

GIA has a few on-the-job tips for you. (We confess to shamelessly borrowing a few apt clichés):

1. This is your show. You represent your islands. You were elected. People like us, your constituents, your staff and other bureaucrats can plead and instruct, but you make decisions. Make sure they are yours. You may screw up now and again. When you run after a rainbow you sometimes get wet.

2. The best way to stay dry is to dig like a dog for the bone of truth, no matter how deep it’s buried. The road to good decisions is paved with facts. Measure ideas on their merit, not popularity. Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.

3. Listen well. Larry King said he never learned a damned thing when he was talking.

4. (This is especially for your chair and executive committee.) Know what business you’re in. Don’t come to work not sure if you’re making widgets or what-nots. Keep the Trust Act and Policy Statement at your bedside. You’re protecting one of the most beautiful places on earth. You’re captain of ship; it can’t move forward if it’s going sideways. Keep bureaucrats and politicians at arms length. Public service isn’t about private gain. Be real. Better to be the lonely rider who dismounts from his dying horse than the dashing officer who promotes his dead horse to a supervisory position.

5. Speak up — shout — for the Trust. You have a great story and great idea to talk about. It’s no accident the Trust is misunderstood and most criticized in places especially where it lacks a champion. Make the most of your role as advocate to other levels of government. Your past chair Sheila was a strong Trust advocate, about ferries and oil tankers, to name two. The new Trust should do even more.

To conclude: The media of all sorts is a-buzz with alarming research and opinions about mankind using up natural resources and polluting the earth faster than can be sustained. One response has been a wave of constitutional changes in about 150 countries guaranteeing the right of citizens to live in a healthy environment. Many have resulted in significant improvements of environmental care. The Suzuki Foundation and the NDP want to enshrine this right in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With a mandate and practices that are a model for the world, Islands Trust should consider joining Vancouver, Richmond and other local governments in endorsing this initiative.

But we don’t want that confused — albeit it’s related — with GIA’s ongoing plea to Trust Council to adopt the Public Trust Doctrine into your Policy Statement. Simply, the doctrine says every person has the right to breathe fresh, unpolluted air. It’s not about values or amenities, it’s about a necessity.

Rarely used in Canadian courts, the Public Trust Doctrine is more relevant than ever, as a response to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, because it says:

— air and water and other life-sustaining provisions of nature belong equally to all of us and shall not be damaged or removed for any reason. Beyond any discretionary power of governments to remove, this is an inalienable human right.

— and two, all publicly elected officials and their government agencies are trustees of these precious necessities and are duty bound to preserve and protect them. As administrators of the public trust, they don’t have the power to abdicate their role as trustee in favour of private parties.

How does this apply to you? Unchecked, climate change is the biggest threat to the Trust’s preserve and protect mandate. It could put you out of a job. Confronting climate change is both a local issue and global issue. Your voice counts. Don’t wait for the other guy; he or she may be waiting for you to act first. And you have loads of support — an energized, enlightened population that will be delighted and motivated by your example.

By the way, 2014 is the hottest year on record.

(Delivered by Dave Steen, GIA Chair)


Footnote: In deputations and letters to Islands Trust over the past two years, GIA has pressed Council to amend its Policy Statement to embrace the Public Trust Doctrine (See GIA’s submissions in our ‘older news’ pages.) We are inspired by lawyer Mary Christina Wood whose work and book Nature’s Trust have aided the launch of numerous lawsuits, on behalf of children, against US states and the federal government for failing to take necessary measures needed to halt catastrophic climate change. She was interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS TV in early January, 2015. Her message and mission herald an exciting change in combating climate change and saving democracy.

GIA’s appeal to save Grace Islet burial site

October, 2014

To Steve Thomson
BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Re: Desecration of the Grace Islet First Nations’ burial site

The Gulf Islands Alliance urges you to halt a private development on Grace Islet (at the mouth of Ganges Harbour on Salt Spring Island) in order to save a First Nations’ burial site from further desecration.

We support the First Nations submission to you that noted the continuation of violations of various permit conditions and local bylaws on the site. As you are aware, staff at the provincial Archaeology Branch confirmed that bulldozer work on the site in 2012 violated the work permit.

Sadly, a permit for further alteration of the site was issued in 2013, leading GIA to agree with archaeologist Eric McLay, who said about Grace Islet: “There is a perceived fundamental discrimination against First Nations peoples in such bureaucratic decisions by the Archaeology Branch—that First Nations people and their deceased ancestors aren’t being treated like human beings, but objects that can just be dug up, bulldozed and built over with no consequences. The message sent to First Nations is that they aren’t equal, that their heritage sites—even their cemeteries—aren’t worth preserving, and don’t deserve respect, even long after death.”

GIA is a non-profit, grassroots group of Gulf Islanders dedicated to supporting the Islands Trust ‘preserve and protect’ mandate, particularly the Trust’s commitment to “identify, preserve, protect and enhance the natural and human heritage of the Trust area” (5.6.1 of the Trust Policy Statement)

Sincerely, Jan Slakov,
Salt Spring representative
Gulf Islands Alliance