Gulf Island communities leading sustainability

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.

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3 comments On Gulf Island communities leading sustainability

  • Having also attended the Forum, I agree with you Adam, that the opportunity for people from the entire region of the Salish Sea to offer their ideas on appropriate economies was welcome and beneficial, if not overdue. The discussion was varied and insightful and I hope will be continued. The purpose of any economy should be to benefit the entire community and be inclusive of First Nations. I would expect that any proposals for specific business plans, by any group, be presented to the communities in which it is to take place to ensure the benefits are maximized and the implications/impacts are minimized. Without the support of the local community, the long term sustainability of that plan would be questionable.
    One of the keywords in any successful and long term investment, either personal or in business, is diversity. A single economic driver is open to risks, as we have seen in several rural communities, provinces, and countries, whether based on natural resources or tourism.
    I would encourage everyone, not just those with business interests, to participate in exploring the economic opportunities that best suit their communities and lifestyle, and in developing a management plan with involvement from local governments and First Nations, that not only outlines their goals and objectives but also includes concrete actions to fulfill their vision.
    The Forum was a fine example of the creativity, resourcefulness, and the expertise of many within our communities. We should take advantage of it.

  • Many thanks MLA Olsen for your support of the Rural Islands Economic Forum as a means for facilitating collaborative community led initiatives that will empower our rural and remote communities to become sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change. We are grateful for your offer of support and guidance to help us effectively connect with the provincial government as partners in this quest. Onward with gusto!

  • Adam, I am one of your biggest fans but I take issue with this blog.
    Your ancestors had accountable governance, the Islands don’t. We are governed from afar by board and locally by “single actors”. This is not working, all Trust Islands have housing and homeless crises, poverty and water issues.
    You say regarding sustainability “This is not something that the provincial government can lead, it’s strength is in the community leadership”. The province gave us the Islands Trust which ultimately limits our ability to govern ourselves. I should also note that Trust is supposed to be for the benefit of the province, yet we pay for it. A growing bureaucracy of duplicated services that see over 4 million local tax dollars being paid in salaires, pensions and benefits to folks who rarely set foot on the islands they govern.
    Also tourism is killing our islands. We can not build affordable housing because of water which is allocated to a massive influx of tourists in the summer. Families are leaving, we are becomiing gated communties. The province can defiantely do something…they can audit the Trust and take over it and return 7.9 million trust budget back to the islands so we can create our own government and fix our problems. An economic forum is yet another group using up tax dollars to point out problems that we are already painfully aware of.

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