Thinking back to my first campaign to be the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Saanich North and the Islands, it was a brief introduction to life on the Southern Gulf Islands.
In the time between my first run and my second run my awareness grew. It's only after my election and two years as the provincial representative responsible for the Southern Gulf Islands, have I began to understand the complexity of Island living, of Island governance and of Island politics. I’m learning every day.
I remember back in that first campaign when my local government colleague, Southern Gulf Islands CRD Director Dave Howe, said the focus of his work is building a year-round economy on the islands.
Boom and bust
His comment caught my attention. Knowing the ancient history of the Islands, my response to him was that a year round economy has always been a challenge in the Salish Sea. Historically, the W̱SÁNEĆ people spent the late-Spring through to the early-Fall on the Islands developing their most important resource, salmon.
Much like the current reality of the Island communities, the economies were traditionally boom and bust. When the salmon were running times were good. After the salmon run, between late-Fall and early-Spring, life was difficult.
The W̱SÁNEĆ split time between our winter villages on the Saanich Peninsula and summer fishing sites throughout the Salish Sea. The Oceanspray's bloom on the peninsula is the signal that our relatives the SĆÁÁNEW̱ (salmon) were nearly home to our territory and the families began to move to our fishing sites in the Islands.
This week, I attended the Rural Islands Economic Forum at Poet's Cove Resort on Pender Island. The focus of the forum was to bring people and stakeholder groups together to discuss ways to advance “enduring local and regional economic resilience and community economic health,” and “to collectively address long-term community economic health all within the context of climate change.”
Tourism is a critical industry for the rural island communities. Recently the economies have developed around curious travellers and, much like the history with Indigenous fishing families, during the summer the population of the Islands swell for a brief few months.
Leaders in sustainability
Island resources are fragile and limited. There are real issues that need to be addressed like water shortages, aging infrastructure like roads and a lack of affordable housing for workers and families, to name a few.
The challenges are not new; they are ancient. Even with technological advances that have helped establish the largest year-round populations that have ever lived on the islands, the challenges are basically the same. Despite the limitations there is an exceptional opportunity to harness the incredible capacity of the people and to show how by working together rural (and remote) communities can invent (and re-invent) themselves to be sustainable and resilient in the 21st century.
This is not something that the provincial government can lead, it's strength is in the community leadership. That is why the Rural Islands Economic Forum is an important initiative and I am excited it has come to fruition. Many creative initiatives were discussed and I look forward to working with Islanders to help connect them with the provincial government as partners supporting people and communities.