Sunday, April 14, 2024
April 14, 2024

Trust and CRD candidates face public at meeting

With 10 hopefuls on stage — and just two hours at their disposal — candidates faced bright lights, strict time limits and pointed questions from a nearly packed house at ArtSpring’s main theatre Thursday, Oct. 6.

The all-candidates debate, co-sponsored by the Driftwood and Salt Spring Forum, welcomed three candidates for Capital Regional District (CRD) director — Jesse Brown, Kylie Coates and incumbent Gary Holman — and seven vying for two seats on the Islands Trust — Ben Corno, Gary Gagné, Jamie Harris, Don Marcotte, Jenny McClean, incumbent Laura Patrick, and Elissa Poole.

Throughout the event, candidates sought to reach voters on a personal level; many spoke to their “island roots” — whether born here or more recently transplanted. They proffered evidence of their relatable life experiences, and offered assurances of engagement for the traditionally under-represented. And they presented their résumés of accomplishments, whether in public office or in their personal lives.

Moderator Aletha Humphreys held candidates to a tight format, giving each just two minutes for an opening statement, then launched the event directly into audience questions. And while it might have seemed there was an agreed-upon list of issues critical to Salt Spring, the candidates nonetheless had different ideas about how to address them.

Unsurprisingly, the first questions out of the gate were directed at Islands Trust candidates and concerned housing — specifically the recently-put-on-hold Bylaw 530, meant to add to the rental housing pool by allowing additional secondary units on properties. Corno said he liked the idea, but agreed it needed more “accurate language,” specifically addressing whether properties would be bus-serviced.

Gagné said he felt 530 was a “nuclear option” that shouldn’t be used until other ideas failed, such as getting Salt Spring included in the Speculation and Vacancy Tax, or enforcing against illegal short-term vacation rentals.

“Change zoning and small areas to allow equal density and see how it goes,” said Gagné. “If it’s successful we can do more of this.”

Harris, who is running as a slate with Marcotte and largely spoke for the pair, felt Bylaw 530’s problem was that it didn’t go far enough.

“We would either amend or create a new bylaw, for all suites and cottages to be legalized without restrictions,” said Harris, “other than the ones in the existing building code and Vancouver Island Health Authority regulations.”

McClean reminded the audience that a big reason 530 was put on hold had to do with opposition from the Tsawout First Nation, so addressing their concerns — and those expressed by the broader public — should come first. She also had misgivings about the idea of spreading density all over the island.

“The idea that was around for awhile was actually to have [focused] density around Ganges,” said McClean, “which was supposed to cut down vehicle traffic, so people can live near services.”

Patrick said 530 was never likely to solve the housing crisis on its own, citing BC Housing data showing single-digit uptake of accessory dwelling units when permitted in rural communities.

“This form of housing is already legal in all the other Southern Gulf Islands,” said Patrick, “and they’re not seeing runaway use of their cottages and suites.” Patrick also spoke about legalizing existing suites “in a way that works,” and bringing in business licences for some short-term vacation rentals.

Poole said she agreed 530 wasn’t going to be the answer to the housing crisis, going a step further to say she believed it was a “waste of time for us to be arguing about.”

“Already over the past 10 years, the Trust legalized 2,000 properties or suites and long-term cottage rentals, and it made very little difference,” said Poole. “We should be working on the things that will be the answer, pilot projects in the appropriate areas.”

A question on adapting to climate change was directed at both Islands Trust and CRD candidates, offering the latter their first opportunity to respond to a crowd largely focused on potential trustees. All three, asked whether they were planning for rising ocean levels, agreed climate change was an enormous problem that would affect Salt Spring.

“It is the overarching issue of our time,” said Brown, “and it’s the reason I got into politics in the first place.” Brown added he felt Salt Spring Island could be a “miniature model society” in its response, and hopefully be inspirational to other communities.

Holman pointed to climate-change-focused initiatives that took place during his service as the incumbent, when he spearheaded gas tax funding for both the Climate Action Plan 2.0 and agricultural food plan.

“It shouldn’t just be about mitigating [greenhouse gas] emissions, but actually adapting to changes that are already baked in,” said Holman. “Moving the fire hall uphill was part of that. I’m looking at the feasibility of relocating our government [offices] into the middle school — again, on higher ground.”

Coates said his experience with the Department of Defence had made clear to him climate change — “not Russia,” he quipped — is the number one threat, not just for Salt Spring, but for all of Canada.

“We as a community should — and will — show the rest of British Columbia that we can get this done,” said Coates. “But we have to tell Victoria — and we have to tell Ottawa — to get their act together, because we can’t just do it as a community, we have to do this as a country, as a continent, and as a world.”

Trust candidates were less concordant about the impacts of climate change for Salt Spring; Patrick pointed to her record and the importance of preparing for sea level rise, while Poole pointed out current trustees approved a development permit for Vortex, “a development on a flood plain, known to be in a storm surge area.”

Corno said part of long-term planning should include “imagining what moving the town would look like”; Gagné said he’d learned “our land is rising at about the same rate as the sea so far,” so he was less concerned about rising waters than potential wildfires and drought.

Harris agreed fire was the primary climate impact for the island, saying it was the result of “decades of mismanagement of our protected forests” and particularly called out those who might disagree with him on other matters to collaborate on wildfire mitigation.

And his running-mate Marcotte was more direct.

“The climate’s been changing for millions of years,” he said. “I remember being a kid and they were telling me, ‘Oh, the oceans are gonna rise.’ Well, I’ve been here 50 years, and they haven’t risen.”

For her part, McClean said she believed cooperative, community actions could be as powerful as legislation.

“More than just focusing, as we always hear, on emissions trading and electric cars, I feel that the more that people can share and work together, the less energy each person will individually use,” she said. “It really comes down to the commitment of people, and a heart and willingness to work with each other.”

A video recording of the evening can be watched here.

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