Viewpoint: Environment’s protection sabotaged
BY MAXINE LEICHTER
Many of us have long assumed that the Islands Trust area is a special place where the natural environment is protected. This belief is a mirage.
Whether or not the environment gets protected is actually left to the discretion of locally elected trustees. If we elect trustees who favour development over environmental protection, that’s what we get. This means the Gulf Islands have no more protection than they would under any other local government.
How can this be? The Islands Trust Act clearly specifies that the “environment” and the “unique amenities” of the Gulf Islands are to be protected — but that protection has been eroded for years.
Our official community plan (OCP) contains mostly aspirational goals describing a utopia where every need, be it economic, social or environmental, is met. Even the few hard and fast mandates in our OCP, such as limiting the eventual population of the island to 17,000, have been ignored. For example, bylaws have been passed over the past few years allowing thousands of additional suites and cottages with no requirement that they be affordable, or even go to island workers. And now our trustees are considering rezoning the entire island to allow for even more secondary residences.
The Trust Act requires that island bylaws be consistent with a policy statement adopted by Trust Council. But this requirement was subverted when Trust Council adopted a policy that local bylaws don’t have to be consistent with the policy statement if there is “sufficient reason.”
To make matters worse, last year, during discussions on a new policy statement, Trust Council passed motions to re-define the object of the Trust to include “protection of healthy and inclusive communities including, but not limited to, housing and transportation.” How is that protecting the “environment” and “unique amenities” of the islands?
Motions to make protection of the natural environment a top priority were rejected by the majority, including our trustees. Some trustees even argued that the word “environment” in the Trust object should be interpreted to include “people.”
It’s easy and tempting to follow the same growth pattern as other communities. But that’s not what the Trust Act says. Those who wrote the Trust Act would roll over in their graves if they could see how the words “environment” and “unique amenities” have been distorted to enable, rather than limit, development.
The voices in favour of continuing the current trend speak loudly. Protections will decline unless the community objects.
The Islands Trust Policy Statement is being revised this year. I urge you to write to our trustees at email@example.com and ask them not to violate population limits in our OCP, and to support motions at Trust Council affirming that the word “environment” in the Trust Act means “natural environment” and that “unique amenities” means one-of-a-kind features that do not exist anywhere else.