Viewpoint: Local Community Commission will make a positive difference

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By BRIAN WEBSTER

We’re just a few weeks away from a chance to significantly change local government on Salt Spring Island. On Oct. 15, island residents will vote on whether to establish a local community commission (LCC). 

But what does that actually mean?

An LCC is a locally elected body that — if we vote to create it — will have authority over 14 of our current local government services. It would replace four existing unelected Capital Regional District (CRD) advisory commissions with one elected body that would have full administrative powers over 11 of those services. That means the power to make all decisions on these services up to — but not including — final approval of bylaws. 

For these services — everything from parks and transportation to economic development and recreation — the Salt Spring LCC will set priorities and policies. It will also establish the annual budget, which will then get sent on to the CRD board for its sign-off. 

In the past, some members of our community expressed doubts about whether the CRD would agree to delegate meaningful decision-making authority to Salt Springers. Those doubts were answered in July when the CRD board voted to approve two bylaws that will give a Salt Spring LCC significant powers over a range of services if we vote YES on Oct. 15. And once established, an LCC could take the lead in working toward further consolidation.

An LCC will increase democratic representation on Salt Spring by bringing more elected voices to the decision-making table. It will improve coordination of services by giving one elected body responsibility for a variety of services, streamlining our current patchwork of commissions and other decision-making bodies.

An LCC will open up local government decision-making and make it more accountable by requiring decisions currently made behind closed doors by a single elected person (the electoral area director) or by the CRD board in Victoria to instead be made on Salt Spring at regularly scheduled meetings open to the public.

Establishing an LCC will address concerns Salt Springers have had about local government and it will do so without reopening past divisive incorporation debates.

Would a Salt Spring LCC instantly solve all of our community’s problems? Of course not. But it would be a big step in the right direction. 

Creating an LCC does not affect the Islands Trust or its role. Like every other community in southern B.C., we would remain in a regional district. It would neither block nor further the aspirations of some island residents who want our island to someday incorporate as a municipality. It would not automatically create any new services or eliminate existing ones. But it would create a single locally-elected council with meaningful power over a range of government services and with a mandate to look broadly at what Salt Spring needs and make sure we have the local government services we need, delivered effectively and efficiently.

Ultimately, voters get to decide on Oct. 15 whether to carry on with the status quo or say YES to an LCC and take a positive step toward better coordination of local government decision-making, increased accountability and more diverse elected voices at the table to make decisions on our behalf.

The writer is a Salt Spring resident, farmer and business owner who helped develop the LCC discussion paper.

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