Hugh Greenwood’s March 29 Driftwood contribution (“Water supply and incorporation: Are they compatible?”) invites readers to address a question that, as we see it, cannot be answered.
Hugh is concerned about the security of our water supply, as we all should be, particularly with the prospect of ever-drier weather in summer, the very season when the population of our island swells up with tourists. But then Hugh ties his question to his vote on incorporation. If we were to incorporate, he asks, would the new mayor and council have “the power and authority, in addition to the will, to draw up and enforce regulations and laws to safeguard our water supply?” He adds that, if the answer is “no,” he would be compelled to vote against incorporation.
The fact is that only a clairvoyant could know, at the time of voting in the referendum, who the key actors might be in a hypothetical municipal government — let alone whether or not those actors would have the “will” to address Hugh’s concerns. And when it comes to having the “power and authority,” that too is not knowable ahead of time, as it depends on what kinds of “regulations and laws” such a municipality might bring into effect once it were elected. It would presumably have the power to enact regulations and laws within its jurisdiction, provided such laws and regulations do not conflict with those of provincial or federal jurisdictions.
Does all this mean that Hugh should stay home on referendum day? Not necessarily! There is a much broader issue at stake than water or any other single issue at hand: namely, whether Salt Spring Islanders wish to “go it alone,” breaking away from our neighbours in the Salish Sea — the bioregion of which we are part — or recognize that our ecological, economic and social wellbeing is intimately tied to that of our neighbours on other islands.
All of the 12 major Gulf Islands, spanning from Denman Island in the north to Salt Spring, Saturna and South Pender in the south to Gambier and Bowen in the east, and the dozens of associated islands and islets attached to many of these, are embedded in the same bioregion. It’s an area that has become seriously impacted by human activities, and that most likely would be even more heavily impacted if it were not for the “preserve and protect” mandate of the Trust. All 12 local Trust areas face the same challenges: climate change; dwindling water supplies during the dry months; deforestation; increasing air pollution; ever more polluted local marine environment; threats to the marine environment from growing freighter and tanker traffic and proposed oil pipelines and LNG plants; ever higher costs of living, unaffordable housing, higher ferry rates, and not enough jobs to keep the younger population “on island.”
The primary question one must address is: In dealing with these very real and major issues, with very real and major consequences for our quality of life, are we better off with Salt Spring fending for itself, or as part of a united front?
Those who favour incorporation often decry the fact that the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee includes someone from another island, with authority to vote on issues that impact our island. That objection only has validity if one thinks of Salt Spring’s wellbeing as independent of the conditions that apply within our bioregion. That is clearly not the case: none of the major issues we mentioned, and many more, stop at Salt Spring’s coastline. The so-called “outsider” on the LTC really is not an “outsider” at all but rather a voice that reflects a bioregional focus — one that extends the notion of “community” to all of the islands under the Trust.
Isolationism and protectionism are visibly on the rise in North America and throughout the world. In our view, however, although rooted in very real social and economic unease, such attitudes are ultimately self-defeating. We Salt Spring Islanders are not a closed-off local community. We are inextricably also a regional and a global community. What we need is a governance structure that, while looking after the immediate interests of the local level, takes into full account the issues at the regional and global levels. To “act locally and think globally” is best served by locating ourselves within our bioregion and by working together with neighbouring communities to address the challenges cooperatively rather than selfishly and self-defeatingly, pitting ourselves against others.
David J. Rapport is an economist and ecologist who spearheaded the notion of ecosystem health — the thriving of ecosystems upon which our lives and wellbeing depend. Luisa Maffi is an anthropologist and linguist who co-founded Terralingua, a non-profit that works to sustain biocultural diversity — the diversity of life in both nature and culture.