For the love of our islands, offer a survey, please

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BY EMMA-LOUISE ELSEY

Over the next while, our Islands Trust Council will be working to update the policy document that guides the future direction and priorities of the Islands Trust over the next 30 years. So this is obviously important for everyone who lives here.

In late July, the Islands Trust Council released a report called What We Heard Islands 2050: The Future of the Trust Area, which summarizes the public’s input and apparently “captures the ideas and thoughts of more than a thousand people from across the islands.”

So far, so good. And before I share my thoughts, I have a request: please don’t pigeonhole me. 

I’m an environmentalist and avid naturalist. My parents grew food and raised chickens in a beautiful part of the world that had many tourists in the summer. I’ve lived on Salt Spring for 12 years, and have built a successful online business employing local people. I fundraised for a local abattoir even though we’re largely vegetarian and somewhat vegan. I was on the CRD’s Community Economic Development Commission when we (and I) voted not to support The Cottages at Bullock Lake’s commercial rezoning request because of concerns about the impact on local residents’ water supply, and various concerns about impacts on Bullock Lake itself. 

I believe in the Trust’s preserve and protect mandate, and believe it’s been heavily applied to nature, and that we have forgotten to preserve and protect our more vulnerable homo sapiens.

I am an “and” person. And it’s hard to see so much polarization on this beautiful island of Salt Spring: for or against the Islands Trust, for or against X, Y or Z. It creates a divisiveness that seems to just pit people against each other, and leads to people getting increasingly fixed in their positions.

So I ask that you read this with an open mind. Right now, it’s hard to make myself sit here and write this after a long week working on a computer, when I want to be thinning apple trees, weeding the garden and checking on the dehydrated chorus frog we rescued this morning. But this is important. It’s our future.

Back to the topic at hand: the “What we heard” report from the Islands Trust Council. 

It’s a beautiful report, with icons, easy to follow and read. And I have some serious concerns about the value of the data reported. I have four main concerns:

First, we have no information on whose views have been collected: there is nothing at all to suggest that a broad variety of people have been engaged with. 

For example, what were the respondents’ ages, financial and work situation, marital status, family size and education levels? Do they rent, own or have a second home among our islands? 

In particular, before we set the future direction of our Islands Trust, do we know the priorities of young families? Vulnerable elders? Low-paid workers? Independent business owners? Retirees? Single parents? And what has been done to engage with the young, who are the people who’ll live on our islands 30 years from now?

Second, the way the majority of feedback was collected (an app called Thought Exchange) was somewhat random, and rife with “confirmation bias.” Thought Exchange is rather like Facebook where we see people reinforcing views like their own, while other voices are not seen, or don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Specifically, when I went to Thought Exchange, I found it unstructured and confusing. And I felt uncomfortable sharing different views, and decided to wait until a survey was issued. 

Third, the only question asked that looked at people’s concerns over the next 30 years was a leading question, framing everything in the context of climate change. 

Yes, climate change is incredibly important. As is our coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem. And so are the people living on our islands.

The direct result of asking, “In the context of a changing climate, what concerns do you have for the next 30 years?” is that affordable housing doesn’t even make it onto the list of 17 concerns for the future of our islands.

I ask (as you keep an open heart and mind) if it seems right that out of a list of 17 concerns for the future of our islands, that the topic of affordable housing is excluded because it’s not a climate change issue?

Lastly, this feedback was gathered last fall — before COVID-19. As COVID ravages our economies, island amenities and the livelihoods of those who live and work here, I wonder if people may now have different priorities.  

I recognize that our trustees and planners work hard, have a tough job and that their work is often thankless. So a huge thank-you for all the work you do.

And I am calling for Islands Trust Council to hold a survey, which of course these days can be done online. I ask for crucial demographic information to be gathered, so we ensure that everyone’s voices are heard, including our youth. I ask that we remove the leading question about climate change, and I ask for this survey to be widely advertised so as many people as possible are included.

This is our future. What do you want it to look like?

The writer is a Salt Spring Island resident and digital entrepreneur.

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