Saturday, May 25, 2024
May 25, 2024

Trust Council blasted for closed ‘mandate’ meeting

The dust has seemingly not fully settled on the Islands Trust Council’s (ITC) recent interpretation of its mandate, with both the consensus reached and the closed-door process used to get there coming under fire at ITC’s meeting Wednesday, Dec. 6. 

In a two-hour-long closed-to-the-public discussion held on North Pender Island back in September, trustees had what ITC chair and Thetis Island trustee Peter Luckham called a “lengthy discussion” about the interpretation of Section 3 of the Islands Trust Act — commonly referred to as the “object” or “mandate” of that body.  

Upon returning to public session, Luckham said then only that ITC had “come to a conclusion” of how it wished to interpret Section 3 going forward, and that public release of that information and the interpretation ITC agreed upon would be forthcoming. Rather than a public release, the Driftwood — and the wider public — had its first look at an unofficial “consensus document,” dated the day of the closed meeting, when a link to it was embedded in a file published as part of the Trust’s Executive Committee’s Oct. 11 meeting agenda packet.  

“There has been some debate in the past about the meaning of unique amenities,” read that report. “Trust Council’s view is that unique amenities are broad-ranging and may include issues such as, but not limited to, housing, livelihoods, infrastructure and tourism.” 

As trustees met at the Coast Victoria Hotel last week, they were questioned during the public comment period on, as one person put it, the “how and the what” of that conclusion — specifically calling out the process for a resulting inability to hold individual elected trustees accountable. 

“We strongly object to a trustee discussion, and decision, on a subject so integral to the entire operation of the Trust being made in a meeting closed to the public,” said Galiano Island’s Jennifer Margison, speaking for the Friends of the Gulf Islands Society. “The public has been denied the opportunity to hear the views — and to know the voting record — of their elected representatives on an interpretation that fundamentally impacts how the purpose of the Trust is carried out.” 

Correspondence submitted by Margison and signed by society members on Salt Spring, Gabriola and North and South Pender islands also expressed concern that the Trust was — to the detriment of its mission, they said — under increasing public pressure to “provide more housing and community services, despite these responsibilities belonging to regional districts.”  

Blame for that, according to the letter, was partly due to what they characterized as the Trust’s mixed messaging on its jurisdiction — most recently exacerbated through the now-public mandate consensus document listing subjects like infrastructure and housing. 

“By including these new subjects as ‘amenities’ and equating them with the environment, how is the Trust now relevant as a ‘special purpose government?’’’ said Margison. “How is the Trust still a trust?” 

A second letter from society members further questioned why trustees did not simply issue a “rise and report” after the Sept. 26 closed session, then plan an open meeting to discuss and arrive at a new interpretation of the mandate. It also asked whether First Nations were consulted in the interpretation, and whether the text itself was presented to trustees that day in September as a draft created by staff, or by trustees. 

The letter also strongly suggested that the document released regarding the closed meeting seemed to use words such as “consensus” or “determination” — rather than “decision” — in ways that further obscure the already opaque process.  

“Is the ‘consensus’ a decision by trustees through a vote and, if so, was it unanimous or not?” read the letter. “If there was no vote, how was it agreed to?” 

Answers were not immediately forthcoming. At the end of ITC’s three-day meeting, as the disposition of delegates was set to be considered, chair Peter Luckham said he felt there wasn’t specific action needed on what they’d heard. Trustee Tobi Elliot did ask fellow trustees whether, given the public comments, they should consider addressing the matter, perhaps issuing a new report or taking other action.  

Bowen Island municipal trustee Judith Gedye, who chairs the Trust’s Governance Committee, said there was something “in the works,” but did not specify a date. That committee had prioritized the mandate interpretation since members were appointed in December 2022, to address what the released report called a “deep division amongst both trustees and constituents” on its meaning and implementation. 

“At the last Governance Committee, one of the pieces of ‘homework’ that I agreed to pick up was to try to re-draft something to bring to the Governance Committee,” said Gedye, “that would then go to Executive Committee. And I haven’t had the time to do that.” 

Section 3 of the Islands Trust Act — the “mandate” — instructs the Islands Trust to “preserve and protect the Trust Area and its unique amenities and environment for the benefit of the residents of the Trust Area and of British Columbia generally, in cooperation with municipalities, regional districts, improvement districts, First Nations, other persons and organizations and the government of British Columbia.” 

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