Islands Trust must adapt if it is to survive

Times Colonist, Saturday, March 10, 2012

Forest-lot families on Galiano barred from building homes for 20 years.

The Islands Trust, Canada’s blue-chip experiment in conservation government has decided not to take a $250,000 Gas Fund grant to review its policy statement. Gulf Island residents heaved a sigh of relief.  Was the Trust actually considering the will of its subjects?  Could it be that the Trust was finally listening to people who were not fanatic supporters?  Could the Trust learn, grow and even survive?

The Gulf Islands have roiled in discontent for many years.  The lack of proportional representation, the inefficiencies caused by the fact that, with one exception, none of the islands have a local government, and the seeming elevation of place over people – means that government on Canada’s Gulf Islands contravenes Canada’s founding principles. As a result, some of the messes have been spectacular.  If the Trust is in a responsive mood, cleaning up some of those messes should be top of the agenda.

The disaster it might start with is the plight of 90 odd forest lot families on Galiano island, who have not been able to build even one house (legally) on as much as 160 acres for twenty years.  As far as train wrecks go, this is spectacular, unless you enjoy the sight of aging middle class people begging, tears in their eyes, to have a house, swearing allegiance to environmental values, and spending all their money in futile efforts to conform without losing all their self determination. Health has been broken in this 20 year long fight, family wealth gutted, educations foregone, holidays not taken, family gatherings bleak. The island is locked in a Hatfield/McCoy battle,  shameful in 21st century Canada.

The Trust has not been able to find a solution.  In fact, on the evidence it appears that the Trust does not want a solution unless property owners cede many of their rights.  While the rules change perpetually, a forest lot owner could have a house on their 160 acres, but the Trust decides on the site, the Trust decides on the house size, and owners have to give away 75% of their land.  Recently an additional 21 pages of regulations that would control activity on those lands and houses have just been written.

B.C. taxpayers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars funding the many Galiano court fights, as well as paying for the thousands of hours bureaucrats in various ministries spend trying to find a solution.  Last week, those bureaucrats reached for yet another solution.  Eleven hundred hectares of Galiano’s forest lots lie under the Private Managed Forest Lands designation.  Nowhere else in the Province are forest owners not permitted to live on their lands.  The point was made to the island trustees who essentially, shrugged. Galiano is “unique”, it was in the Trust area, it required special treatment with special legislation.  Yes, said the Ministry, but you cannot prohibit a house.  All right, fine, said the Trust, but we can regulate, we are the Trust.  And with that, the can was kicked down the road for the two years it will take to write special legislation the Trust demands for Galiano.

By the time the Galiano forest lot owners receive permission to build a house, they will all be dead.  Which means, conservation government?  Epic fail.  If the Trust is to survive, and most of us want it to, it must address its human catastrophes.

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