Islands Trust Council made steps toward prioritizing protection of First Nations cultural heritage while also resolving that protection of healthy and inclusive communities is part of its core mandate during the March quarterly meeting.
Council approved a budget of $9,059,919 with a $7,079,771 general tax requisition that includes significant spending for Salt Spring projects at the March 9-11 quarterly meeting, which was held over the Zoom platform. The requisition amount marks an increase of 4.37 per cent over the previous year. Salt Spring taxpayers are additionally responsible for a $75,500 special requisition to fund water protection work.
Salt Spring trustee Laura Patrick said she was happy to know housing and Ganges village planning projects can now proceed as planned.
“Salt Spring’s budgets are intact and we’re going to buckle down and go to work,” Patrick said after the meeting. “It’s all systems go.”
Housing and Trust policy were major topics of conversation throughout the three-day meeting. Trustees expressed some frustration and disagreement on how to fulfill the Trust’s primary object of preserving and protecting the environment and the “unique amenities” of the Gulf Islands, as well as what that part actually means.
In response to motions raised by South Pender trustee Steve Wright, council fully supported defining “unique amenities” as being inclusive of the cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples within the Islands Trust Area, and agreed protecting these aspects be prioritized in policy work.
Council voted down including “the natural character of the environment” in that definition, however, since protection of the environment is clearly stated in the mandate in the first place. They also failed to support Wright’s motion to exclude housing policies from the Trust Policy Statement, and another motion to remove items associated with housing from the strategic plan.
Several trustees noted the programs committee is in the midst of a policy statement review process that started in September 2019, and Wright’s proposed changes were not included in the public consultation part of that work. Draft policy amendment changes are scheduled to come before Trust Council in June.
“I’m concerned this narrowing is happening too early in the process — it’s a short-circuiting of the process we’re in,” commented Bowen trustee Sue Ellen Fast.
Council voted instead to approve two alternate motions raised by Gambier area trustee Dan Rogers, affirming the Trust executive and its programs committee will continue to work on improving policy on affordable housing and sustainable communities. Rogers noted Trust Council had received a huge amount of correspondence related to these motions.
Elizabeth FitzZaland of Salt Spring Solutions, a group dedicated to tackling the housing crisis on the island, said she was “relieved and deeply appreciative that our local trustees — Laura Patrick and Peter Grove — along with a majority of trustees from across the region, voted down the motions that sought to undermine the Islands Trust mandate to plan for sustainable communities.”
She added that “While I am troubled that this keeps presenting itself as a possibility at our regional Trust Council, I am heartened by the leadership of those who understand that we cannot confront climate change and protect the natural environment without simultaneously and proactively planning for healthy and inclusive local communities. This is the calling of our time. I am also grateful to the over 100 individuals and organizations from across the Islands Trust region who took the time to write letters to Trust Council.”
Much ado about a word. So housing is in the policy statement. Does that give the Trust the authority to do anything? No. What can the Trust do about housing? Pay more for a consultant to do some reports . . . that’s about it, so, ya, take housing out of the policy statement and save us money, time and energy.