Wednesday, July 24, 2024
July 24, 2024

Opinion: Salt Spring governance confounds

BY PAUL MCELROY

With no disrespect to the fine reporting by Robb Magley of the recent Islands Trust’s Committee of the Whole meeting — (COW. Really?) — and despite reading it through twice, I put the paper down with the disturbing sense that I’d just fallen into a black hole. A Committee of the Black Whole.

What in the name of God were they talking about? For hour after hour, round and round in circles, looking for a policy to define a policy to define a policy. Or rather, to “discuss the process by which it will be considered.” After all these years, the Islands Trust is still trying to work out what the hell it’s for, what its “object” is. To quote Deb Morrison, one of the Trust’s worthy from North Pender Island: “We don’t need to get into the weeds about having a consensus vision of the object because the Trust Policy Statement is our consensus vision of the object.” Well said. Now, what on earth does this piece of Orwellian gibberish mean?

The rest of the meeting could have been in Klingon for all the sense it made. Bowen Island trustee Judith Gedye put her finger on it. “I think the Section 3 mandate discussion that we have to have is important … but I don’t want to hold up this process.” Er, what process is that? Processing a process? Processing the process to process a process?

In any ordinary small jurisdiction, local councilors meet to discuss dogs fouling the play areas, whether to appoint a school crossing attendant or to buy a new computer for the library. Not so the Islands Trust. It never seems to decide anything because it’s far too busy trying to figure out why it exists in the first place.

I cut my journalistic teeth on council meetings, admittedly in the U.K., but in rural Buckinghamshire — Long Crendon, Princes Risborough, Little Missenden, Quainton, Aston Clinton, Tring — long, dull evenings in villages where the only exotic thing about them were their names, but where local councillors dealt with local issues. Planning permissions, tree preservation orders and parties on the village green. They argued, of course, but in the end they got things done. What they didn’t do was spend hours trying to establish what their mandate was.

Meanwhile, just across the page from the COW nonsense, the cockerels were having their day in front of another entirely pointless branch of Salt Spring governance, the Local Trust Committee. A bunch of chicken fanciers were up in arms about the persecution of a noisy rooster and its owners and wanted the LTC to do something. Fat chance.

Never mind that the rooster owner was claiming that his little plot was agricultural and that he was so far facing seven counts of bylaw infractions, the chicken people wanted a resolution: “That livestock noise wasn’t something you could complain about . . . .”

Needless to say — and whatever you think of this absurd and entirely undemocratic resolution — it went nowhere because the LTC doesn’t have the authority to do anything. Still, all was not lost, the LTC plans to take it up with the Capital Regional District, which should ensure it goes nowhere even faster.

And then there’s the new fire hall, or to be more accurate, the large hole in the ground where the new fire hall might eventually get built once the proper permits come through. Building For Tomorrow, it says on the site notice board. Building For Today is presumably just wishful thinking since the fire trustees can’t seem to even be on the same page about how big it’s going to be.

As ever, local governance on Salt Spring is a hopeless case. It doesn’t work for the many of us who despair at the clumsy anarchy that passes for management. If we ever get the chance again, a properly constituted municipality is the only obvious solution. An elected mayor and elected district councillors, with defined wards . . . and defined jurisdictions.

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