The Bowen Island Governance Travelogue - Alcyonenews

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Posted December 18, 2015

The Bowen Island Governance Travelogue

It had to happen, for without it the Governance “Studies” of SaltSpring would be incomplete and accordingly inconclusive.  Mr. Peter Lamb and his wife Ms. Jean Gelwicks sailed to the only island within the Trust archipelago which has incorporated itself and has lived  since some 15 years ago schizophrenically,  like  a Sinner in Paradise, or a Saint  in Hell.

The pair, Lamb and Gelwicks, respected citizens of SaltSpring,  took the ferries to Bowen.  There for four days they busied themselves looking over the performance of that hybrid Municipality-Trust Colony arrangement, seeking to discern the devils in separatism from Mother Trust.  I say that because Peter and Jean  are Trust devotees and this bestows credibility to finds to Trust’ governance and omissions of  consideration of pivotal aspects of the matter, which result support for the  the status quo.

What they brought back from that, their voyage of discovery,  information and omissions, I find unconvincing, as I will reason out shortly.

Their travelogue is published in the December 10, edition of the Island Tides paper, signed by Ms. Gelwicks, but she indicates that she speaks for Mr. Lamb, as well.

As it happened Mr. Lamb spoke to the Driftwood on the same subject, that of SSI governance  and was published on the December 9, 2015 edition the day before the Island Tides appeared  with “their” travelogue.

I will review Peter Lamb’s s contribution briefly and then move on to the Bowen I. Travelogue. This after expressing my hearty appreciation for their efforts to fan the flames of debate that would help us set the course our  island will sail into the Future.

December 9, 2015: Peter Lamb in the Driftwood

This edition of the Driftwood presents an Interview with Peter Lamb bylined Sean McIntyre and titled “Former LTC member questions process”. Lamb is a former Trustee and has authored a brief history of the I. Trust.

The Lamb  interview is a welcome contribution to what I view as being a sluggishly-moving, if not standing still governance debate and, therefore, it begs response. I will do that, and I would  welcome Lamb and/or others to do the same to my counter-point.

I will begin by challenging the assertion that the “preliminary incorporation study is moving ahead “too fast to enable a comprehensive discussion of what is at stake”.

This invites questions because the progress has been erratic in respect to speed and that is one aspect of it. Another is that the “Study” – euphemisms aside,  is moving underground. By “underground” I mean that it is done by a contractor who labours beyond the public eye and a committee who tells us little, about the work of the contractor, perhaps because even they do not know more.  I suggest that the structuring the “study” underground is what prevents “enabling  a comprehensive discussion of what is at stake”.

Is the  “study” indeed “moving too fast”, or merely crawls along?  How did Lamb clock its speed and how did he pronounce it, “fast”?

Arguably the process of  charging the society with information and fueling the debate necessary to understanding the issues, is lethargic and this may not be incidental. Both the Macpherson and the Aston Committees have been and are, respectively, moving slowly and have failed to trigger OPEN DEBATE, to “engage” the public MEANINGFULLY I mean.  Both Committees staged the token cosmetic public meeting in the fashion developed by modern PRopaganda peddlers. Neither of the Committees set the stage for a good, society-wide  “Town Hall” type of discussion,  to unfold in front of the Public Eye and within reach of the Public Ear.

They have been keeping the people quiet,  waiting for something to happen, giving out bits and pieces, as if to keep the people peaceful as they await the “next treat”, forever isolated, leaving them without a forum to exchange views and debate aspects of the matter, forever awaiting the next “consultant’s report”. The Reports by which the “contractors”  tell the Committees what we, the people, want, so that the Committees would turn around to tell us what the surrogate thinkers “reported” to them as being what we, the people, long for.

The public unrest that led to the current governance consideration has been brewing for a long time; it flared up with the Trust handing of the SSI Coffee Co file but since then the fire flickered but  has not burned out. The  then Trust’s top guns  Linda Adams and Sheila Malcolnmson went on a firefighter’s mission to cool off the agitated islanders, They had some success but  they failed to address the causes of the peoples’ disdain for the Trust. Worse than that really, they boosted what the people seek to escape by billowing the smokescreening of trust operations, driving the society away from the Trust . The demand for a Review of the Trust and the peoples’ thirst for  relief from the governance they mete out to us, are lodged fast in the mind of many islanders.    

The current “study” commenced in early 2012. A committee was struck by the current Trustees who by then had started assimilating into the Trust. The Committee was to add some coleur locale and hues of grass root movement to the operation which has incipiently been taken away from the People and is controlled through strings pulled by the hands of those with an interest to drag the process in a certain direction.

Of utmost concern is that the thus selected sequential committees, operating under the watchful eyes of their makers, have done nothing of more significance than serially  “selecting” a contractor, Urban Systems Inc, invariably the same contractor,  to do the Committees’  professed “job”. At least thus far that is all they have done. I hope that writing the paper at hand would trigger the Aston Committee to attempt something more than the serialized release of the parts of the Urban Systems Report, which they have been dishing out piecemeal lest we choke if we try to swallow it whole.

Incidentally, nobody reasoned that a committee has to be changed midstream, (as from Macpherson to Aston)  but the consultant is permanent as the rock of Gibraltar, and serving both “adversaries” in the dispute ...

The ephemeral Committees and the universal and permanent consultant have been wasting valuable time – time that would have been highly productive if devoted to a public discussion of the matter, at least from the perspective of the the people who want to distance the society from the Trust.  One fears that near the end of the process those who “manage the system”  will feed us, sugar-covered the stuff they want to pass though us and which we could not conceivably scrutinize in the short time left.

Urban Systems moved leisurely, or rather in a random stop and go fashion and I suspect the accelerations and the decelerations are not incidental. For example,  their schedule handicapped the exposure  of the matter at the 2014 election stage which, of course  is more than merely “a pity”.  Then, at the “right” time they  surfaced to report,  that they had unearthed a public desire for further studies. The surrogate thinkers are now carrying on, for as long as there is a purse to buy  consultant services to apprise us about what we desire and laced what they love.

To this date Urban Systems have tapped in to the $200,000 the Ministry has granted to SaltSpring to help us discover what our hearts desire. In that Driftwood article there is a worrisome quote from Urban Systems’ Mr. James Klukas,  as he makes reference to a new purse of consultant’s fodder, in transitional to municipality funding” – this has a potential to be a whooper ...

Moving on,  I will quote the  sidebar of the Driftwood article, ostensibly the pinnacle of the message,  reads:

The Islands Trust was not created with an expiry date or to solve a short-term problem.


Former trustee,

SS Local Trust Committee”

The truth to be told, the Islands Trust was concocted and imposed on us specifically “to solve a short-term problem”, namely to prevent the spread of Magic Lake Estates, after it occurred in Pender Island.

That it came without an “expiry date” could be due to it being born past its “expiry date”. This because  there were other systems established in the society and readily available for preventing the spread of Magic Lakes without producing and imposing the new layer of government that the Trust is.

In any event,  the demise of any entity this side of a deity is a certainty –  that which has a “beginning” invariably has an “end”  as well. Look what the microchip did to photographic film!

That the Trust,  as it has morphed,  is a relic, to say the least,  is attested to by the resistance of the Trust Brass to a review of its usefulness – after all the Trust Brass  are in a position to know, and  they do not want to be made to go ...         

December 10, 2015: Jean Gelwicks in the “Island Tides” newspaper

Ms. Gelwicks, is the spouse of Mr. Lambs and vica versa. Her piece,  coming in the wake of Mr.  Lamb’s Driftwood interview, is very interesting. They had sailed together to Bowen, sharing the curiosity about the politics of Bowen and they came back loaded with information for us. But we do not know of whether the voyage of discovery preceded the interview.

Ms. Gelwicks article is titled:

“Anecdotes From a Small Island That Incorporated”

Ms. Gelwicks does not identify  the people she and Mr. Lamb met and spoke to on Bowen. Without insinuating that she has done it purposely, I would say that quoting anonymously is prone to serious pitfalls, especially so when one quotes out of context and the audience has no means of checking out the resource person.

Then, there are  issues with the process, such as the acuteness the astuteness and the objectivity of those whom Lamb and Gelwicks approached for enlightenment on the politics of Bowen. Adding to fears of objectivity shortcomings is the lack of assurances from Gelwicks and Lamb that the individuals they talked to are representative of the majority of Bowen Islanders.

Certain is that there is no unanimity on Bowen, as such exist neither in the World nor in History. Let’s  not forget that even the Devil has a following, the size of which one may guess by looking at the height of the church spires we have  built to help God in his/her fighting the Devil’s followers.  And that is fine with me, for it is through thrashing out diverse hypotheses  that we may get a theory.

An indication that Lamb and Gelwicks were after ammunition  to use against those who seek “less Trust” and to that they had gone to the right people for it, are the quotes they brought back to flash before us.  None of them indicate that they spoke to people who would give them “the other side of the story”. Indeed I found none of the quotes they brought to us to be in-between the “two sides”, let alone being of the opposite perspective; all are expressions of affection for the Trust and enmity of incorporation. I will visit some:

“One councillor started our interview by asking, ‘Honestly what do Salt Spring Islanders want, that you do not already have? Most of us are envious of all you have done”

Ms. Gelwicks does not inform us about her answer – but this is what I would have said in  an open debate:

We want freedom from lies;   freedom from intrigue and machinations;  freedom from colonialism;  freedom from paternalism; freedom  from secretly scribed fictional skits played on stage to create optics of open governance; and freedom from other  stuff we get from the Trust ; we want democracy and that is that.

I will comment on another import  Ms. Gelwicks serves us:

“Upfront we were told by another to ‘Have a good look at what the driving forces for incorporation are and consider carefully if incorporating will get you what you want?”

This amounts to  serious  scaremongering. The anonymous savant she quotes invokes the fear of anti-Mega-Multinational-Conglomerate-Corporation. Imagine, those Scrooges bribing future municipal councilors for spots at the Saturday Farmers Market, so they may siphon away our wealth to distant tax heaven  bank accounts, imagine ...

Ms. Gelwicks and Mr. Lamb do not attempt to do a cost / benefit analysis that would determine the efficiency of the Trust relative to an incorporation arrengement. Such are not limited to pecuniary considerations, and many are  essential.  On that point I would observe that local governments, that all governments of free societies for that matter, exist to procure the services that the citizenry must, or simply choose, to buy collectively.

I will comment on another assertion of the travelogue, to wit:

“Bowen Island still has no hazardous slope protection, no shoreline protection, no sensitive ecosystem protection and no soil removal bylaws.”

Well, after registering my deep sympathies for the pains of thus deprived Trust brethren of Bowen, and after seeding the idea of a “regional disparity fund” to help the Bowen unfortunate under-governed people, I will turn around and point to a specific “care” case in our Island and ask:

Come here and take a look, dear anonymous “deprived” complainer, take a look at the huge Groyne stuck in the mouth of Booth Canal, killing its “shoreline”, choking that jewel of an estuary. And while visiting, stop by me to show you the pack of lies the Trust wrote to defend their inexplicable obsession with letting the Canal die. Who could not envy us for being cared for by the Trust like that?

Every cloud has a bright side. There is a gem in Gelwicks and Lamb’s  catch-bag from  their fishing expedition to Bowen:

“The projections in the 1999 Bowen Consultant’s Report on incorporation are not at all what ended up happening on Bowen. One councillor said, flat out, ‘Bowen’s report by the consultant was flawed.”

This is likely true: That the consultants report  would prove flawed was probable at the time the consultant wrote it. And it is safe to predict  a failure of the “Consultant’s Report on incorporation” of our island. Less likely this would be if “the” consultant who wrote the reports get to design the municipality, because it is bound to design, consciously or intuitively, the ensuing governance system to fit the consultant’s own  predictions.  But this would neither manifest  clairvoyance not it would ensure merit for the system.

In any event, such consultants predictions are soft, to say the least, for crystal  ball  reading is a dismal science – like the computer geeks say, the quality of the input determined that of the output.

In other words, what the consultants may say, it based on so many hypotheses and the personal predispositions of the Consultant, which fuse  to make their report of the type that should be taken with many grains of salt.

Enough said, methinks – enough on which of their findings Ms. Gelwicks released through her article. But that may not be all, she and Mr. Lamb learned in Bowen. This is indicated by her closing her piece with the following:

“We have asked the SSI Incorporation Study Committee, in the interest of informed decision making and discussion, to have a serious look at the Bowen Island experience and report on their own findings to Salt Spring Islanders.”

There is no reason to believe that if the Incorporation Study Committee junkets to Bowen will find different than what they will be looking for. I know that appointment  to a committee neither anoints one with additional wisdom, nor washes out from one’s cranium the accumulated biases.

Beyond that lies another hurdle and this irrespective of the spectrum of their collective predisposition and the quality of the information, they harvest on Bowen.  This is the “extrapolation”  of the Bowen “data” so as to make it a sound basis for making the decisions we are about to make in and for Salt Spring. This is a difficult task.

Evidently Ms. Gelwicks and Mr. Lamb have more faith in the Committee system than I have.  My faith in the pair of governance committees we have had so far, has been badly shaken by their aversion to making the process public which is essential to pondering a system of governance of anything. It is not because they do not know better, because I suggested to both Committees to take the Open Road and I got  no acknowledgment. From either committee ...

Tom Varzeliotis        December 15, 2015


The December 16, issue of the Driftwood carries a letter to the editor titled: “Feeble report”,  written by Mr. John Sprague.

He observes that the SSI Incorporation Committee

“did not test the overall predictions against  any observed situation(s). There is a perfect way to to carry out such a test:  find our exactly what happened to costs and taxes since Bowen Island incorporated 16 years ago!

Why in blazes has the committee not done that?”

Well, they may have done that but did nor report to us on it, or may have kept the best for last”, like the olive in the martini – who knows?

Anyway, Mr. Sprague may have by now read The G & L travelogue and may read my review of it.

Tom V December 18, 2015

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