Wednesday, May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

Policy Statement draft trims mandate interpretations

The islands’ land use authority has given notice and offered a first look at possible changes to its core guidance document, 30 years after the last time the Islands Trust’s Policy Statement was meaningfully revised. 

The Trust’s Executive Committee last month directed staff to arrange the first-ever Islands Trust Council “Committee of the Whole” (COW) meeting, where they plan to receive the new draft of the Policy Statement and “discuss the process by which it will be considered,” according to a resolution, after which the EC will hold a special meeting “for consideration of next steps.” 

A special electronic meeting of Trust Council’s COW is set for Thursday, May 30, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The posting of that meeting’s agenda on May 7 marked the first time trustees have seen the proposed changes to the Policy Statement, right alongside members of the public.  

It’s a novel bit of public policy tradecraft hoped to help avoid re-igniting public rancor; in 2021, Trust Council hit pause on the revision process after a posted agenda included a proposed draft amendment bylaw — and that prompted backlash and a petition over worries trustees were moving forward without sufficient public input.

Trust Council reacted then by sending staff back to the drawing board, to incorporate what became a significant amount of feedback — hammered out into 32 resolutions — into a new document. That work has been done and a document was produced, which before May 7 had been shared only with nine First Nations representatives and staff at the Agricultural Land Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Bowen Island Municipality and the Island Trust Conservancy for their feedback. 

The proposed changes are unsurprisingly plentiful and would have mixed consequences.  

The structure and readability of the Policy Statement is improved, staff believe, and they noted several significant changes from the 2021 draft, including the deletion of “preamble language” about interpretations of the Trust’s Object — also called the “preserve and protect” mandate — and the removal of advocacy policies, including one about desalination plants and another about the Trust seeking tree-cutting authority for local trust committees.  

That last reflects a Trust Council motion from March 2023, when a majority of trustees voted to “promptly inform the province that it no longer wishes to proceed” with efforts that sought provincial authority to let individual islands enact tree-cutting bylaws. 

And on the object/mandate, staff suggested it simply doesn’t belong there. 

“There is no requirement to include a specific breakdown of the Object, [nor] to include a definition of unique amenities” in the Policy Statement, according to an accompanying staff report. “Indeed, the document has never had these definitions, but rather goals/objectives and policies.” 

Instead, according to staff, the Policy Statement read “as a whole” will offer Trust Council’s vision for the “future of the Trust Area, its understanding of the unique amenities it wishes preserved and protected, [and an] expression of how it wishes to balance the elements (unique amenities and environment)” included in the mandate. 

“For this reason, staff reflected on the challenges that the Islands Trust Object interpretation section presented in relation to the value offered, and comments received from First Nations,” read the report, “[and] are recommending this section not be included.” 

This would not, staff noted, preclude any LTCs from opening their own official community plans with a “context statement” on interpreting the mandate. 

Among the 34 Trust Council resolutions that guided these draft revisions, Resolution 4 — which instructed staff remove “commitments of Trust Council” from each subsection and replace them with more general guiding principles — is cited most often as the rationale for specific changes.  

And while those are essentially simple rewordings, the result may seem jarring. For example, a sentence that previously read “. . . the rate and scale of growth and development in the Trust Area must be carefully managed and requires limitation” now begins in the assertive: “Limit the Rate and Scale of Development: to define and maintain appropriate limits for the rate and scale of development in order to preserve and protect the unique amenities and environment.” 

The COW will include all trustees and was designed to allow a less formal structure for discussing complex issues — such as budgets, policy development or advocacy — without being constrained by rigid meeting procedures.   

And decision-making is off the table at COW meetings, according to staff and trustees, who believe rolling out the first discussions of the Policy Statement in such a meeting will help alleviate any concerns the proposed changes might be approved without public feedback.   

An update to the Policy Statement — to revise the guiding document to address issues such as the climate crisis, growing housing needs and the Trust’s commitment to reconciliation with local First Nations — has been in planning since at least 2019. 

The proposed changes to the Policy Statement can be found within the agenda for the COW meeting at islandstrust.bc.ca/event/trust-council-committee-of-the-whole/. Those interested can also join the May 30 meeting electronically at the same URL.  

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