Islands Trust policy session precedes council talk

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Elected officials and staff from the Islands Trust who are reviewing the Trust’s policy statement gave a presentation last Tuesday evening showcasing some of the contemporary issues that may influence a future version of the document that has not been updated since 1994.

The Islands 2050 project is exploring how to “preserve and protect what is most valued in the Islands Trust Area” into the next few decades while focusing on three priority policy areas: reconciliation, climate change and affordable housing. Consultation with First Nations and the general public along with analysis by elected trustees and staff is to guide amendments to the existing policy statement.

As Trust programs committee chair Deb Morrison explained during the March 3 online open house, these policy amendments have yet to be created. The committee hopes to have a draft bylaw ready to present to Trust Council for first reading at the June quarterly meeting. They have also asked council members for input on how “directive” they think the policy statement should be in guiding the actions of local Trust committees.

Early questions during the March 3 meeting, moderated by senior policy advisor Dilani Hippola, centred on that relationship. Dan Rogers, a vice-chair of the Islands Trust Council executive, Gambier Island trustee and a programs committee member, said directives in the statement will be up to local islands to implement through their own official community plans and land-use bylaws. That relationship won’t change without changes to the provincial Islands Trust Act.

“Local autonomy is definitely ingrained in the act as it stands now,” Rogers said. 

However, he said there are some issues that affect the Trust Area as an entire region and may best be met by a unified regional response. 

Lisa Wilcox, who is the Trust’s senior intergovernmental policy advisor, reported consultation with First Nations has found the same concerns arising again and again. Some things First Nations would like to see implemented Trust-wide are protection of the foreshore ecosystem and its resources including clam beds and eelgrass; protection of ancestors, cultural heritage and sacred sites; and protection of culturally significant plant and animal species along with the ecosystem as a whole.

The B.C. government has ordered that all provincial legislation must align with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, enacted last fall. The Islands Trust committed to a reconciliation declaration even before that. 

The need for sustainable island communities does not mean increased development is proposed, but more likely could mean a change in approach to land use. One of the principles guiding policy changes on climate change is “No more business as usual: It is time for bolder environmental protections and new low-carbon ways of life.”

In answer to questions from the public on what the Trust would do to solve the housing crisis, Rogers noted that since the Trust is not a service-providing organization its main tools are land-use planning and cooperating with other government bodies. He added the Islands Trust has a constituent that no other local government in B.C. has specifically named.

“It is the environment, and it can’t be ignored,” Rogers said. 

Morrison, a North Pender trustee, suggested that people moving to the Islands Trust area must accept a different standard of living than is available in Vancouver or other nearby places, and that housing could be defined to mean smaller dwellings built with green principles instead of 4,000-square-foot show homes, for example. Limiting house size but allowing more smaller dwellings on lots is one idea that’s been proposed. 

“We’re in a situation now when we may have to start implementing policies that are not popular on an individual level,” Morrison observed, adding, “We can be a model for how to live sustainably — but we have to choose to do that as a community.”

Consultation informing the Islands 2050 project so far has included online and in-person engagement processes starting in September of 2019. The first round of public feedback received was summarized in the “What We Heard” Report published in July 2020. A second survey open over the past winter sought feedback on the policy directions that were identified in the earlier process.

Morrison encouraged people to send in their unique comments and thoughts in writing, and to share materials with other community members who might not have been engaged yet.

For more information, including presentation materials and a recording of the open house session, visit the Islands 2050 page under Projects at islandstrust.bc.ca.

Islands Trust Council also had a full day of discussion on policy directions scheduled  for Tuesday, March 9, with notice of several competing motions on whether or not to include housing and sustainable communities in the policy statement itself or to address those concerns under local Trust committees and other areas.

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