Civil Politics on the Gulf Islands | BC

Civic politics…on the Gulf Islands this means the Islands Trust.

Every three years, throughout B.C., one elects mayors and councillors, if the area is a municipality.

The Gulf Islands are not municipalities. In 1974, the provincial government created the Islands Trust…its mandate is “to preserve and protect the environmental beauties of the Islands, for the benefit of all B.C. residents“.

Strict zoning/density bylaws were brought into being to control growth.

Two trustees were elected for each Island. 

The “water access only islands” were tied to a ferry accessed island, when it came to specific bylaws, particularized for each island, over and above the umbrella items that apply overall to all Gulf Islands.

The Trust’s mandate is to oversee land use bylaw issues.

Things like building permits, septic installations, etc., were under the control of the CRD (Capital Regional District), if close to Victoria. Vancouver and Vancouver Island have their equivalent bodies. The CRD would oversee all unincorporated areas close to Victoria, including the Southern Gulf Islands.

Over time, the OCP (Official Community Plan) for each Island would have been amended to reflect a particular Island’s concerns.

On Salt Spring, after many years, an OCP review took place in the 1990s, and another one in mid-2000s.

In the 1990s, reflecting a time where the government was needing to offload some costs generally, the then NDP government came up with the idea of creating a Gulf Islands Municipality category. 

Under this, the Trust would remain in place, with 2 elected Trustees, but the CRD position (also an elected office, at civic election time) would be replaced by an elected council, and the Island choosing this specialized form of municipal structure would be more autonomous with costs. This would, of course, save the government money.

The two islands approached about this type of municipal structure, due to their population and infrastructure growth, were Bowen, in Howe Sound, and Salt Spring. Both Islands turned down the proposal, in a referendum, chiefly out of fear that taxes would rise. 

In a second referendum, at a later date, Bowen voted yes, and that Island does have this Gulf Islands Municipality structure in place.

On Salt Spring, a group called Islanders for Self-Government has recently been attempting to get the government to approve a second referendum, to allow Salt Springer’s to reconsider their earlier “no” to the proposal. 

In the intervening years, taxes have risen sharply, under the Trust/CRD format, and further costs are set to escalate. The current Trustees have enjoyed a second term, and have put in place many bylaw amendments, re-interpretations perhaps, that are meeting with opposition from many Islanders.

This is an election year, and in the Fall two trustees and one CRD director will be elected. For many, the desire to see a referendum offered, on the issue of incorporation, keeping the Trust but replacing one CRD director with elected councillors, and the Island being responsible for itself, is paramount. 

If you’re a property owner on Salt Spring, it’s very important to keep up to date. Several changes or re-interpretations do appear to be underway, and many of same will affect you. Whether you’re a seasonal or a full-time resident, be informed!

Check out the Trust’s website, and read all of the proposed changes. Pay attention to requests to raise taxes to implement some ideas. Apathy is not an option!

Ask the ISG (Islanders for Self-Government) group to explain their ideas. Again, just “be informed”.

Ask the Chamber of Commerce to be accountable, too, in their mandate (which is to lobby the government on behalf of small business…to give local business a voice). A strong business community is the marker of a lively and enriching overall community. Salt Spring’s Chamber has ignored this duty in the past, by choice.

So many shifts and changes lately, and Salt Spring is not exempt. Important to listen to alternative opinion, and to speak one’s own calmly…courtesy is an aspect of strong community spirit, too.

This is an important year in the Island’s “life”…it needs all the Islanders to step forward and to “act” for the Island’s best interests.

Being informed is a start….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *