Saturna trustees urge more public involvement in Trust Policy Statement process

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Missing Threads: The Islands Trust Policy Statement Review

By LEE MIDDLETON

Saturna Island Trustee

My fellow trustee, Paul Brent, has eloquently written elsewhere in this issue about the problems with lack of community consultation and seemingly from-the-hip policy making of the current draft of the Islands Trust Policy Statement review.

I want to explain here why I don’t think this draft document works for islanders and the environment of the islands in its current state. Why the need to explain the draft rather than reject it? Well, as one well-known islander recently put it to Paul and I: “This happened on your watch!” How did this state of affairs come to pass?

Basically this “revised draft” of the Policy Statement is almost entirely new. It is no longer an evolution of a previous document, which is a guiding policy document with a defined reference role that adjusts to the times through incremental revision — and as a new document has become divorced from its purpose. What is the purpose of the Policy Statement? It is a set of principles and strategies which the Trust puts on record as the preferred means for achieving the preserve and protect mandate: preserving and protecting the Islands in the Salish Sea for residents and for all British Columbians. The current version of the Islands Trust Policy Statement was written in 1994 and is serviceable but admittedly out of date in some areas such as adapting to a changing climate and consulting more meaningfully with First Nations as part of a broader-based Reconciliation initiative.

Many trustees, and I dare say the majority of trustees, have always viewed the policy statement as a document to update rather than fully revise. Incorporating climate change response policies and Reconciliation policies has always seemed quite doable for a time when the organization needed policy not contemplated in the 1994 document. The appetite for wholesale revision during the past four terms of trustees — almost 13 years — has been pretty minimal. It just wasn’t a priority as the way it was written really wasn’t negatively affecting the business of the Trust day to day. I’m sure there are trustees who would disagree with this statement but the fact remains that three terms ago the trustees voted to turn down funding of several hundred thousand “gas tax” dollars to engage in a review of the policy statement. At the time, and Mr. Brent was one of the dissenting trustees, it just didn’t seem like the best use of tax dollars — the revision wasn’t seen as urgent. Subsequent interest from trustees has been low. But staff — no doubt for their own good reasons some of which are articulated in the draft — have continued to be very eager to revise the policy statement. In fact that project did get budget approval about four years ago, but in the face of lukewarm trustee interest the only way the initiative received funding was through the projects’ inclusion in an omnibus funding bylaw. I don’t believe a project solely focused on a wide-ranging review of the policy statement and not wrapped in other work and initiatives would have ever received majority council support. I’m not sure that the review project at this late stage even now enjoys majority support, as it has largely unfolded in the background and behind the scenes without close involvement of the politicians who must pass it into law on behalf of their constituents. How did that happen?

The review was begun as a wide-ranging outreach to islanders to solicit their views on what they wanted the Islands to look like in 2050. Some of you may remember a widely distributed survey and public outreach in 2019. The results of this outreach were reported on and the general view of islanders was that in 30 years they wanted to see healthy communities thriving in an intact and healthy ecosystem. It’s a view islanders 30 years ago would certainly have recognized and endorsed. At this point I think trustees were expecting these views would be drafted into a revised Policy Statement as an incremental revision of the largely sound 1994 document. The work was interrupted by the pandemic and trustees’ attention went elsewhere while staff worked behind the scenes authoring a revised document under the guidance of a committee of trustees drawn from the Trust Council. This committee wrestled with updating priorities and from what I understand spent considerable time debating the balance of community supports with environmental protection — not an easy task. All of these activities — whether welcome or not — at least resembled a politically connected policy development exercise. However, what was subsequently revealed as a draft for consideration by the Trust Council in May — apparently already having been reviewed by First Nations Government contacts and other stakeholders — was a radical departure in many ways from what had gone before. It is very hard to see how the Islands 2050 consultation was taken into account in the drafting of this revised — really completely rewritten — policy statement. Because of this it is hard to see islanders’ views broadly reflected in this document and as a result it is hard for many trustees to explain and back it with the confidence of knowing it was a document carefully shaped through consultation. The priorities of the Islands 2050 consultation, ostensibly to guide the Policy Statement review, just flatly didn’t make it into the revised draft document now being considered for first reading.

Further, from the consultation that did take place with First Nations who have an historical attachment to the Trust Area it is also hard to see how First Nations’ input has shaped the revised draft as a policy document: the aspirations of First Nations in the draft appear more as visionary statements than concrete principles to guide policy. In regard to First Nations endorsement of the principles in the draft, the language is so broad as to permit everything and permit nothing using criteria drawn from ‘social science,” “local knowledge” and “Indigenous Knowledge Holders” — terms repeated frequently but rarely linked to a specific direction policy should take acting on these types of broadly defined “ways of knowing.” I’m not sure how such broad wording gives First Nations a meaningful place in the document to guide future policy development but this is something that would be very helpful for the cause of Reconciliation to go into more detail on. 

The current draft document reads as divorced from any kind of context that public, stakeholders and trustees can use in order to make sense of it, learn from it and hopefully embrace it, for surely that must be the goal of the Trust’s foundational policy document. There is a barrier to the average reader’s making sense of the document raised repeatedly throughout this draft; this is the writer’s attempt to be highly inclusive, as mentioned earlier, of different types of knowledge about the natural environment: criteria are presented for deciding on what is evidence that should lead to action that ranges from “best available science” through “social science” through to “Indigenous Ways of Knowing.” Including these differing varieties of knowledge for every decision area generally makes it very hard to understand what the document is actually proposing to do in the face of climate change or community sustainability or Reconciliation. In my view and I’m sure the view of some other trustees, this means the document lacks needed clarity and will require a lot of work to bring it into the “realm of the possible” where it can actually affect policy decisions. Some of the draft’s goals are commendable, some read as arbitrary without an included rationale, and all need sharpening with a reference to actually proposing specific policy guidance based on evidence —however defined. Engaged and considered consultation would have helped draft a more purpose-fit document and that is what must now happen.

In my view, getting a workable and publicly endorsed document from here means taking the principles outlined in the draft to the islands and their communities, inclusive of Indigenous Peoples, for consultation; further explaining how First Nations see benefit through this document to help gather support for principles of Reconciliation on the islands and just generally working very hard through public engagement to bring this work back into the context that the 1994 policy document framed, and connect the threads of past aspirations with a hopeful future vision. Only then will we have something whole and serviceable that islanders can support. 

Right now, despite perhaps best intentions, we have a document very much divorced from the needs of the islands’ ecology and people that cannot serve as a policy guide to 2050. Please make your voice heard on this. It is important consultation that should happen in as broad a manner as possible and that won’t happen without a broad spectrum of islands speaking up for the best possible policy to guide the islands we all love through the next 30 years.

Warning: Graphic and Disturbing Content

By PAUL BRENT

Saturna Island Trustee

I know, that is a strange and provocative title, but it’s used purposely, because I want people to pay attention to this. 

And “this” is the Islands Trust process to rush through a colossally modified “constitution” equivalent  — the Trust Policy Statement — without truly any meaningful dialogue with our islands.

You may have already seen some correspondence regarding concerns voiced by other islanders regarding the massive changes envisaged by the Trust’s draft policy statement first unveiled last month. It’s a document with the potential to cause a tectonic shift on how our lands (and waters) are managed on our islands.

The Islands Trust Policy Statement is a 30+ page document that guides what our official community plans should/shall contain, and from there, how our bylaws must be constructed. The significant changes to the policy statement being proposed by Trust staff will make major changes to our OCPs, particularly as the existing draft policy statement moves to directing that which must be, rather than that which should be. And that is but one of many elements the draft policy statement is changing.

Saturna’s OCPs were arduously crafted through huge community efforts over years. The current OCP will change if the Trust has its way, and in a process that negates the early and meaningful consultation we all have come to expect for even the most minimal of bylaw changes.

Yes, the Trust introduced the first draft of the 37-page revised policy statement to a public meeting of a working committee of the Trust early last month. It was sent back for rework, noting that community and other key elements were notably absent, notwithstanding that trustees had pointedly advised staff to include it in the revised policy statement. The second draft was released on the web on Friday, June 11 after 5 p.m. for review by that same committee on June 15 so that it could be brought before the Trust Council (all 26 Islands Trust representatives) for first reading. 

Yes, that’s right. The foundational document upon which the Trust uses to guide its policies was introduced May 3 and is now to first appear (on Zoom) to Trust Council on July 8 for first reading. 

Why the rush? In their May 14 briefing to the Trust Programs Committee specific to timing, the Islands Trust briefing document says: “Staff also wish to highlight that First Nations have been working within the timelines outlined below for the last two years and have an expectation that the bylaw will be adopted during this term of office.”

Yet in their June 15 briefing document, Islands Trust staff write this:

“It is important to note that First Nations have been working within the timelines outlined below and have an expectation that the new Policy Statement bylaw will be considered for adoption during this term of office.”

Which is it? Adopted this term or considered for adoption? Words are important.

If the Islands Trust staff speak on behalf of First Nations, we need to know what First Nations want. Does the Islands Trust speak on behalf of all First Nations in the region, or only those they’ve consulted with? 

The other point Islands Trust staff has made in favour of this accelerated process was that if the new policy statement were not adopted (first, second and third readings, blessed by the Executive Committee and then signed by the Municipal Affairs Minister for receipt and final adoption) this term (by October 2022), they would have to “educate” new trustees. That must be a big hill to climb, and some trustees might wonder who works for whom, and whether education might be a two-way street. 

But would delay of first reading to a later date preclude adoption this term? No, ample time still exists to do so. And were the draft policy statement to go through to third reading and off to the minister in, say, September 2022, would this change the minister’s mind about final adoption in the months thereafter? Highly unlikely.

So where is the issue? Is there consensus amongst elected officials on the timelines? Certainly not from the meeting on June 15 with 10 of the 11 Trust Programs Committee trustees present. At that meeting, half the trustees voted to delay the policy statement going to first reading to allow resident communities to have their say. And half were opposed. Hardly a consensus.

And to illustrate the lack of consensus, at the same meeting, a vote was taken to remove “housing” from the draft policy statement. Half the trustees also voted in favour of that. Again, half opposed. So ask yourself, is this truly a document that has been thoroughly vetted and ready for first reading?

You might also ask, why wasn’t the draft policy statement introduced for discussion at the full meeting of 26 trustees at Trust Council on June 8, 9 and 10? That was a decision of the Trust. In my view, it reinforces the bizarre nature of this process, which seems more focused on pushing this bylaw through as quickly as possible without considering the public interest.

We are hearing concerns from residents about this draft policy statement, about the Trust’s focus on diminishing the role of agriculture and taking control of all forestry and tree-cutting activities, banning private docks and forcing OCP changes on islands. You may hear that the Trust has deemed the defining of words and phrases in the Trust Policy Statement as in need of change and “has suggested a move away from fixed academic (mostly colonial) ‘definitions’ in favour of more context-specific ‘interpretations’.” 

These are all directions that may or may not be what islanders ultimately wish to embrace. But first, we need to have appropriate public consultation, ahead of first reading so that we, like the First Nations whose territory we gratefully live upon, can provide our early comments on both content and timelines, before it’s brought to first reading.

I urge you to write to Premier John Horgan and relevant ministers (see below) to request that the Islands Trust engage with the residents and property owners of the Trust area prior to pushing this to first reading, respecting the early and full public consultation we have come to expect as a normal process. Only by this measure will we protect the public interest of the constituents of our islands.

Premier of BC, John Horgan – john.horgan.mla@leg.bc.ca
Minister of Municipal Affairs, Josie Osborne – josie.osborne.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Lana Popham – lana.popham.mla@leg.bc.ca

Minister of Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation, Murray Rankin – murray.rankin.MLA@leg.bc.ca

Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development, Katrine Conroy – FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca

2 Comments
  1. George Harris says

    Thank you Trustees Brent and Middleton for trying to inform islanders about what is being proposed.As a past Trustee and present board member of societies trying to get the Trust to move forward on rezoning applications for desperately needed housing I can see now that the Trust can move quickly when they decide to. Tragically, secure housing solutions do not get the same level of efficiency. On Galiano we have spent (excluding the cost of land) in excess of $300,000 and years of work on studies, consultants, engineers, hydrologists, lawyers, etc., etc., etc. but still wait breathlessly for a first reading. The credibility of the Trust is at stake. Without broad support from islanders the Trust’s mandate to protect these precious islands is in real danger. So take a deep breath Trustees and rethink this new Trust Policy document.

  2. Julie Johnston says

    Without having read the Draft Policy Statement — but after having read a handful of missives against it (including that funny one that thought “removing residents and health care” from the draft meant removing residents and health care from the islands) — I find myself wondering if the IT staff understand something that most of the public hasn’t yet grasped, which is that due to the converging emergencies of planetary climate chaos and global biodiversity loss, we as a species are facing extinction. Knowing this makes an awful lot of other considerations moot.

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