Our island is one of the most desirable parts of the country which many would argue is second to none. In addition to its natural beauty and relatively mild climate, it is blessed with a supportive and caring community. It lies right between the two largest population centres in the province. Local farm production is increasing; the arts are thriving; our schools are highly regarded; the Lady Minto Hospital provides us with superb healthcare with fast access to larger hospitals if necessary; we have the fastest growing rural transportation system in the province; we have three ferry terminals and the service is improving; the IT community is thriving with more and more people working from home; we have more electric cars per capita than anywhere else in Canada; tourism is at record highs.
However we have some harsh realities to address. We face a housing crisis, with a severe shortage of affordable homes for those who wish to live here and contribute to our economy, and for an increasing number of homeless who are living in unacceptable conditions. The lack of housing affects our essential services directly. We are feeling the effects of climate change with more extreme weather: Colder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. Water management must be a priority and we need to require rainwater catchment systems for all new builds; we must lobby the provincial government to support the use of rainwater in multi unit developments (Islands Health makes it difficult except for individual residences) and to change our building codes to allow for such. There is no shortage of water on our island. Our needs can be addressed through improved storage, accessibility and distribution of rainwater.
Climate change is already affecting sea levels. BC Ferries is actively addressing the issue at its terminals. We can no longer afford to ignore those parts of our island which are vulnerable. We must also strengthen our defences against forest fires.
The Foundation’s recent Vital Signs study is illuminating. We can expect the island’s population to continue to increase. It is also aging rapidly. We must ensure housing for seniors and young families alike. It is essential that we make it possible for those who provide services to live here.
We must also care for those who are less fortunate. We have a serious need for more mental health support and help for the homeless. Community Services provides essential services and needs our continued support, together with numerous volunteer groups for which we are grateful.
And there are significant projects underway: There are currently close to 250 units of affordable housing at various stages of development; working with the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation the provincial government is considering improvements to our hospital; North Salt Spring Waterworks is developing a plan, together with the CRD, Islands Trust and SSIWPA, for future water services; Harbour House hotel has re-opened with enhanced facilities; Ganges, Salt Spring and Fulford Marinas are at various stages of improvement, to list a few.
I am hopeful that 2018/19 will see the long awaited new fire hall. In the perfect world the building would house a number of services both reducing costs and increasing efficiency. This could include the ambulance centre, emergency services, the Islands Trust and the CRD offices. Improving coordination and communication among agencies is one of the clear messages from the recent incorporation referendum. Shared space would certainly help.
And that brings me to some of our more recent highlights. The incorporation referendum was a major event for our island. With a high level of engagement and passion we were involved in debates, social media exchanges, articles and letters in the press, gatherings and discussions…The community was alive with the issue of whether to incorporate or not. It was stimulating and valuable to be a part of it.
The Islands Trust has already begun a process of reviewing its role and what might be done to strengthen its mandate, through changes to the Islands Trust Act. We will also be exploring ways by which it might serve as the coordinator for local government services. Community groups are discussing governance issues and what might be done to improve on what we have.
The need for affordable housing has reached crisis point. In addition to doing what it can to support and encourage the projects noted above, the Local Trust Committee (LTC) is considering more immediate action in in the form of legalizing seasonal cottages for full time rentals to residents. We must also address STVR’s and B&B’s, to ensure they are being used as intended by existing bylaws and not detracting from the full time rental market.
It is time to take a fresh look at our official community plan (OCP). It was last reviewed in 2008. It is the closest thing we have for a long term plan for the island but does not include those services provided by other agencies, including the CRD. We are badly in need of an integrated strategic plan for the island, involving the Trust, the CRD, the Improvement Districts and other relevant agencies.
Your LTC has recently completed the review and update of Industrial zones and its project to protect rural watersheds which had slipped through the RAR bylaws. I would also hope that we will complete a plan, with the CRD, for the harbour walk along the Ganges seafront. It is clear that the majority of those who have participated in the debate so far do not want additional commercialization of the water front and most seem to support a simple pedestrian walkway.
Whatever we do and whatever we plan needs to be done in consultation with First Nations who are fittingly playing an increasing role in island life.