Saturday, April 20, 2024
April 20, 2024

Collaboration and enthusiasm on display at first LCC forum 

Salt Spring voters got their first in-depth look at potential future members of the new Local Community Commission (LCC) this week, as an online forum brought a preview of engaged, earnest candidates in front of the public — and each other. 

About 170 islanders tuned in to a Zoom discussion moderated by Transition Salt Spring chair Bryan Young and Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust co-chair Sheila Dobie. The two-hour event followed a tight format that included questions the nine candidates present had seen in advance, followed by several they hadn’t — and even an opportunity for candidates to ask questions of one another. 

And if that last was a test of the hopefuls’ capacities for respectful dialogue and collaboration once on the LCC, according to Young, the evening’s winners may indeed have been the voters. 

“I think we were prepared with the hammer to come down on everybody,” said Young, who noted that even in the back-and-forth allowed between candidates, no one spoke over anyone or cut other people off. “I appreciate your grace, and your patience with one another.” 

Public questions — and those from candidates to one another — were directed at individuals, and the most went to former Parks and Recreation (PARC) commissioner Brian Webster. Webster was quizzed on his own policy priorities, and his answers were unapologetically ambitious — outlining a plan to not only deal with Capital Regional District (CRD) services within the LCC’s current mandate, but a hope to expand to other services on Salt Spring. 

“Do you really think we should be talking about this when the LCC is so new?” asked fellow candidate Earl Rook. “The commissioners might need some time to learn the system before we go delving off into new and different things outside the mandate.” 

“There are pressing issues in the community that we need to be dealing with,” said Webster, pointing to challenges surrounding North Salt Spring Waterworks District’s moratorium on new water connections and housing for working people as examples. “We can’t wait around for the first term to pass before talking about [these] issues.” 

Rook himself had a busy night; a question from candidate Jennifer Lannan on specifics from the Community Economic Sustainability Commission’s March report on the island’s economy led to the political newcomer positing how the economic development portion of LCC responsibilities might naturally encompass policies to encourage affordable housing — and even additional commercial or industrial space in Ganges. 

“We need to support a diversified economy,” said Rook. “[Small businesses] struggle just to get a place on the island where they could make a go with their business. Young artists don’t have studio space, and in our farming community the price of land is making it terribly difficult for new people to enter.” 

Candidate Nejmah Guermoudi, who at one point led a lively discussion on a sustainable social and economic development framework known as “doughnut economics,” spoke to ways the LCC could encourage walkability and active transportation on the island as part of environmental responsibility.  

“We need the tourism,” said Guermoudi. “We want these folks to come over. But they’re all driving.” 

Guermoudi and candidate Eric G. March had a congenial back-and-forth — March said he was mostly a pedestrian on the island, cycling occasionally from his home “about 5K out” from Ganges. 

“We really need to find ways to support our workers and our vulnerable community members,” said March. “We need to build bike lanes, pedestrian pathways and better bus service — really get people out of their cars and lower that carbon footprint.” 

Candidate Gayle Baker pointed out it was “easy to say we need bike lanes everywhere,” but that collaboration with entities like the Ministry of Transportation or BC Transit would take effort. 

“As you all know, we don’t own our roads,” said Baker, who was the most recent chair of the Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission. “So unlike PARC, that can make some decisions, we have to partner, and we have to collaborate, and we have to have a good relationship. We’ve done some of that, but boy, we can do so much better.” 

Baker said she would use her collaborative experience to advocate for traffic initiatives, including better road markings, traffic calming and reduced speed limits in Ganges.  

Candidate Jennifer McClean pointed out the lack of public washrooms in Ganges, and brought a host of ideas to improve bus service on Salt Spring — a climate problem, she said, but also a socioeconomic one. 

“I think we have to look at the people who don’t have very much money,” said McClean, who said she thought the cost of transit needed to move toward greater equity. “They’re carrying the lion’s share of the burden to solve climate change.” 

Candidate Ben Corno spoke to a pressing need for reducing fire fuel load inside the parks that surround Salt Spring’s population centres — and how critical it would be in the future for local food growers to be supported by LCC policies as food security became a priority as the climate shifted.  

“When we plan our villages, we need to be considering how our comfortable existence here could go badly, and plan away from those weaknesses,” said Corno. “Empowering our local food system by supporting farmers and vendors of local foods, so that when we need them to step up, we have been supporting them to grow and become capable of making a difference.” 

Jesse Brown pointed to his own history working at the CRD — one of “getting things done” as a staff person working there.

“I want to bring that knowledge specifically around the economic development portfolio that is now under the purview of the LCC,” said Brown. “What I can bring is the knowledge of someone who’s a professional, who’s working, who’s raising children and who also knows Salt Spring.” 

Brown went on to a discussion with Lannan about how the experience of parenting impacts how one looks at community service. Lannan lamented what she had seen as division on Salt Spring, and hoped for ways around it. 

“There’s polarizing ideas, there’s a difference of background or socioeconomic issues,” said Lannan. “We have to look at all of what we go through with grace and humility — and we have to look to creating a safe and inclusive environment to make some changes. I hope we can all do this together.” 

The full debate is online at youtube.com/watch?v=UiDCcPaesCw. All 15 candidates have been invited to a second event, hosted by the Driftwood and the Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce, Tuesday, May 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Fulford Hall. A video recording of that event will also be available afterwards.

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