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Transparency & Accountability
In Governance

the following was presented at the Islands Trust Council March 9th, 2011, Galiano, by the TAG Team represented by Julia Lucich
watch the video presentation

Transparency and accountability are fundamental to our democratic process. These principles are enshrined in the Community Charter and the Local Government Act.  The Islands Trust should be operating within a framework that honours those principles.  There are far too many examples that suggest otherwise.

One needs look no farther than the agenda package for this meeting.  In a digital information age, one can only wonder why this is unavailable electronically to anyone who wishes to see it.  Yet, short of paying $20 for a photocopy of 210 double-sided pages (so much for concerns about waste) or spending hours at either the Salt Spring or Victoria offices, no access is provided to the public.  Minutes of prior meetings which are posted to your website offer scant indication of what you are pursuing on behalf of the 25,000 residents you represent.  Where are the staff reports?  Where is a synopsis of the verbal reports you consider?  You presume to have a mandate to enact anything that occurs to you.  Why?  How would you know?  You endorse matters which have yet to be introduced for discussion within our communities (e.g., the Green Shores initiative).  How can this possibly demonstrate public participation or consent?
 
The Trust's policy statement says:
“Public involvement in decisions that affect a community is also critical to the health of that community.  Participation in the decision-making process influences whether an individual or group is able to realize aspirations, satisfy needs or cope with change.”

The Trust's 2008-2011 strategic agenda sets goals of:
"strong public involvement in decision-making" and
"cultivating community engagement and participation in land use planning".

This is admirable rhetoric, but experience suggests that it is empty.  Trust Council meets mid-day and mid-week.  Each of the Local Trust Committees meet mid-day and mid-week.  These times only serve that segment of the community that need not work for a living.  This policy essentially and deliberately disenfranchises the majority of the community.  On Salt Spring Island this is also true of the various advisory committees.  Certainly, if meetings are held at times convenient for those who work, and they choose not to participate...  if they are too apathetic, too complacent, or too busy... then there is no one to blame but themselves.  But if the deck is stacked, if the participants are pre-selected, the issues pre-determined and the answers pre-ordained, then we have a different matter... one that flies in the face of an open, participatory process.

When, as documented on Salt Spring, committees are engaged in proposing changes to our Land Use Bylaws and our OCP, yet are able to meet secretly, you should not be surprised when the public questions your commitment to democratic principles.  When the names of these committee members are withheld from the public, you should not be surprised when the public expresses outrage.  And when it is finally learned that the membership is comprised primarily of ardent supporters of the trustees, you should not be surprised to hear cries of "cronyism".

Over this last year there has been a rising tide of discontent expressed across the communities within the Islands Trust.  A rally on Salt Spring last summer saw a crowd of several hundred people expressing an array of concerns.  An on-line petition (coupled with hard-copy distribution) urging review of the Trust Act has resulted in well over one thousand signatures.

Even the most cursory reading of comments on this petition brings to light some pervasive concerns about fairness vs. favouritism; arbitrariness vs. consistency; fiscal restraint vs. empire-building; accountability vs. omniscience.  Rather than acknowledge the legitimacy of these concerns, there has been an overt effort to be dismissive of them, and to marginalize dissent by framing the argument as being about environmentalism vs. development.  This characterization is a lie.  There are concerns that you have become entrenched in preserving and protecting not just the islands, but the bloated bureaucracy of the Islands Trust.  The concerns are about process and democracy.  If you fail to hear that, you are not listening.

We too believe there is a need to discuss Climate Change.  I am not referring to GHG emissions or rising seas, things over which the Trust has little if any actual influence.  I am talking about the climate of our communities and the role you play.  Island communities are experiencing a climate of apprehension, as an increasingly regulatory environment is foisted upon us. There is a climate of secrecy, as public documents and public meetings are hidden from public view.  We are experiencing a climate of ill will and suspicion, as neighbours are encouraged to report on each others' regulatory infractions.  There is a climate of entitlement as the Trust increases expenditures year in and year out, in disregard of their communities' ability to pay.  There is a climate of ideological intolerance, evidenced by an unwillingness to give more than lip-service to voices of dissent. And most appalling of all, there is a climate of divisiveness fuelled by the certainty that a select group is on the side of righteousness while the hidden agenda of any critic is to despoil the land.

Ultimately, you are accountable to all of us... not just to those who echo your own persuasions.  If you don't begin to acknowledge the complaints and concerns of your communities you will also be accountable ---- for the demise of the Islands Trust.