Marc Answers Jim's Questions

In the August 19th Discovery Islander, retiring Area C Director Jim Abram posted a list of questions for candidates running for the Regional Director position. Here are Marc’s answers to his questions:

How do you plan to develop a good working relationship with all levels of government, and with the entirety of Area C people?

This is essential for getting things done. Thanks to decades of political involvement, I know what it takes to develop relationships with elected officials and their support staff, with journalists who help us all stay informed and connected, and with community members. 

It takes being accessible and responsive so that we can deliver as much as possible to help meet people’s needs.

It also takes being open, honest, and direct.

My first phone call upon deciding to run for this position was to Jim. Despite him being a potential political opponent at the time, it was important for me to ensure a good working relationship with him based on mutual respect. 

Mutual respect is my approach, even in the toughest of situations.   

Another key way to develop relationships is finding common ground. This helps break the ice initially and builds trust over time. Trust is vital for respectful dialogue and solid working relationships. 

Being accessible, responsive, open, honest, direct, finding common ground, and working for mutual respect. These are also the foundational principles in relationships with community members – because in a democracy, we chart our course together.

Speaking of common ground, I have three friends who are also regenerative farmers and running for office elsewhere in BC. If we’re all elected, we’ll start our term with a network of common interests already in place.

How about the Union of BC Municipalities, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities? Will you pursue a position on one or all of these associations on behalf of the greater good of Area C?  

Absolutely… eventually. My first priority as a new Director will be to thoroughly understand the lay of the land in Area C, the culture of the Strathcona Regional District Board, the interpersonal relationships with the staff and other SRD board members, as well as the complexities of the job. Once that foundation is built, I will, where appropriate, volunteer to represent Area C within these organizations. 

The pockets of people living in the “outer islands” are the salt of the earth…How will you balance the challenges of keeping in touch with them, and their needs and desires? How will you convince a sometimes reluctant Board and staff to deal with their issues as they would those of Quadra?  

Lots of questions there.  Politics is all about building and sustaining relationships.  One of the great things about a competitive race is that you have to put in the effort to reach out and begin these relationships.  I have to agree with you about “outer island” people being the salt of the earth.  As part of this campaign, we have been to Read Island and have had conversations with people from a variety of the other outer islands.  Keeping and building these relationships is important and something I am already endeavouring to do. In fact, the organization and community-building skills of the Surge Narrows Community Association which just secured a 2 million dollar grant underlines that larger communities can learn from smaller communities and follow their example.

As for convincing the sometimes reluctant Board and staff to deal with their issues, the answer is to find common purpose.  In my experience, most everyone who steps into a public role is motivated by community and community enhancement. Sometimes other factors distract from the main goal.  The role of any community leader is to focus on, highlight and remind decision makers and influencers to concentrate on a community-building culture.  I have sat at many board tables where the culture occasionally strayed away from this key pillar but with time, persistence, and relationship-building the proper focus returns.

I know the history of the area and am pretty much the corporate history of the SRD and CSRD before it.  Will you delve into that long and tedious chore of familiarising yourself with same? 

No new Regional Director will be able to walk into the role with the breadth of knowledge that Jim has. I see Jim as an important resource and will not hesitate to call him and other advisors with more knowledge than me when I need background on an issue.

Would you use your discretionary fund to help fund the hard-working community groups that help make Quadra and Area C desirable places to live?

In short, YES! And much more than that. Working with these essential community organizations to help connect these groups, providing them with resources such as grant writing expertise, capacity-building support, and so much more, to empower them and avoid volunteer burnout, is a huge part of how I see the role of Regional Director.  

This is one of the foundations of my campaign. Along with discretionary funding, finding ways to strengthen these groups would become a major focus of my tenure. 

Will you continue to encourage people in Area C to sign up for this service and support the general concept of a locally owned and operated High Speed internet system?

I fully support the drive for people to sign up for this service so that it comes to our region. This project has passed all regulatory hurdles and is subject only to the residents of Quadra signing-up in the numbers that warrant the investment by the company. Islands such as Cortes have already hit the required threshold to have this service offered in their community.  Getting more internet competition, and hopefully a more stable connection to the world, is one that is crucial to so many islanders to continue to work and live here.

If you haven’t already, signing up is easy, and it’s FREE, and comes with no obligation. I might as well start encouraging now. 

Will you insist that the Team and not the Staff lead the ICSP (Integrated Community Sustainability Plan)? 

The ICSP is going to be a very important document for the future of Area C, and I see direct community leadership as essential for this project. I have encouraged representatives from Read Island to join the team to ensure that their community is well represented. The team composition is currently a little weighted to the male side of the equation, so I have also reached out to ICAN to see if any of the dedicated and community-focused people within that organization might also like to join the team.

Certainly, the SRD staff provide key expertise, support, and momentum as we develop the plan, and I also value their role but I agree this does need to be led by the residents of Area C.

This process is moving fast and underlines the main message of this campaign.  We need to be organized and have the infrastructure ready so that we can ensure the ICSP addresses the consensus voice of our community.

The ICSP process underscores one of the challenges we currently have in Area C.  Those who have been asked to represent our communities in this process were simply those who answered a call for volunteers. The world is run by those who show up, but what guiding principles should they follow?  What needs, wants, or vision should the ICSP process follow?  The answer is, no one knows.  We currently have no community-focused institution where we can discuss these questions. 

This is why we need to get ourselves organized to the next level.  We need to have a process for how to choose the people who will act as our representatives on things as overreaching and important as the ICSP.  This current ad hoc governance by those who happen to show up is not the path to our best future.

Are you willing to put the hours and energy into the OCP (Official Community Plan) renewal process?

Yes. We have a lot of work to do before we tackle the OCP renewal. First, we need to ensure that we have methods set up to welcome, hear from, and collaborate with as many community members as possible, not just the most vocal or motivated.  In essence, the same answer as the previous question.

Regarding getting an acceptable water study and system for Q Cove….can you chase large, multi-million dollar grants?  What will you do to break the stalemate with the provincial government regarding this issue? The people within the water service area certainly cannot afford to pay for the annual operating costs so how will you deal with that? 

Writing and coordinating grants is something I have a long history of doing.  In a prior role, my organization received well in excess of a million dollars in grants to help revitalize aging infrastructure.  Just this month Quadra was granted, through ICAN, a food security grant that I had a large part in writing.  My campaign is founded on creating the infrastructure, process, and capacity to increase our ability to seek out and obtain grants.  No one person can do this alone but with the energy of an entire community focused on a goal, there is no limit to what we can achieve or the grants we can obtain.

How will you tackle the renewal of the Q Cove sewer plant?  

This is a prime example of something that can not be done by one person, elected or not.  I don’t have the answer here.  I don’t have a magic wand to make this happen.  I do have the vision and the experience to establish the institution which would have the capacity to make progress on this issue, amongst a long litany of others.

Will you lobby the SRD to be a part of the Federal and Provincial Marine Process that I am appointed to do by the Board?

Truth be told, I have no knowledge of this. I will commit to asking Jim in our next conversation, I will talk to affected residents and the appropriate SRD staff in order to develop a fulsome picture of what this means.  

Will you be doing everything creatively possible to create long-term rentals and affordable housing?

Yes, based on community-endorsed direction. This involves conversations around future community development, possibly even new zoning ideas. That’s going to take a lot of consultation and public input to develop a community-endorsed direction. I would work to bring people together to help tackle this complex issue.

The recent SRD report on housing shows:

  • Proportionally, the population is shrinking in every age bracket with the exception of the over 65’s.
  • The rental vacancy rate is effectively zero and rents are skyrocketing.
  • Resident middle-income seniors have no options once maintaining 5 or  10-acre properties becomes impractical
  • The workforce is shrinking by double digits and continues to trend downward
  • A growing number of current residents can no longer afford their properties if they had to buy them today

That report underscores the urgent need for us to make collective decisions around housing, including how to best provide diverse, affordable options for people today, while also anticipating challenges to come. 

Our current approach of fighting ad hoc battles against individual developments, while relying on a plan crafted when homes were affordable, rentals were available, and the workforce was stable, guarantees that our Islands will become unrecognizable.  We are currently on a path that resembles in part what happened to Bowen Island and in part what is happening to Salt Spring Island.  Only an organized collective voice with a clear vision of how to address these challenges (and so many more) will be able to ensure we have a place to call home.

Will you encourage the creation of more high-paying jobs so that people can afford to live here?

The opportunity for on-island employment is important to help our young islanders remain islanders. Local employment is also important for vibrant community businesses, and for local access to goods and services. But along with jobs, we need affordable housing options for the diverse people living here. Concentrating solely on high-paying jobs could increase the demand for high-end properties. Like any complicated problem we’re trying to solve, we need to carefully think through the consequences of our good intentions.

What will you do about the problem-solving at Granite Bay park and Hoskyn Channel Dock that is ongoing? 

I can’t profess to have a deep knowledge of this problem.  My approach here would be much the same as for any number of issues.  Consult with those most knowledgeable, discuss the issue with the decision-makers, and make a plan to achieve the goals of the community.

Do you agree with the creation of a new Wharves service that will be more expensive and give less control to the residents that maintain them and more to SRD staff?

I have not yet had the chance to engage with many of the most affected people, but I’m working to do that. 

Based on a 90-minute conversation with our Area C Director and some research online, I have no reason to disagree with Director Abram on this controversial issue.

I must also say that, for me, the Alternative Approval process being used by the SRD for Bylaw 461 is an inappropriate decision-making mechanism. 

I have checked with friends of mine in a variety of municipal governments across 2 provinces, and the Alternative Approval process is not used by any of them. In fact, most of them are shocked that it is even on the books as a possible way to make important budgetary decisions. Find out more about the alternative approval process here:  

Are you in favour of assisting residents in the outer islands and Northern Quadra Island to establish volunteer fire brigades?

I believe firmly in local decision-making. If these communities wish to come together and do the work, I will certainly use any influence that the Regional Director position provides to assist and empower them to get it done. Being a volunteer firefighter is something I am very proud of, and I know how important fire protection is for the community. This volunteer role has also taught me how complicated it can be to set up fire protection. Then again, engaged, empowered, and supported people can accomplish many things.   

Will you continue lobbying all levels of government for wider roads/shoulders, and better ferry service even if it is outside of the jurisdiction of the Regional District?

Yes.  Amplifying the voice of the community is the role of any elected official. Building relationships with people at all levels of government helps bring our concerns to the attention of those typically dealing with larger populations. In short, every tool that can be used, should be used to promote the interests of our communities – including our transportation concerns and service needs.

Are you willing to make yourself available to your constituents by phone, email, public meeting, and more?  

Absolutely. That is the job. 

Will you report regularly through the media to your constituency so that they will be aware of what is going on in the Area and how you are dealing with it?

Yes, I will continue making Director reports and writing position pieces in local media where editors permit. In keeping with leadership reports I’ve written in the past, either as a Chair or a President, I do my best not only to talk about the role of the Director, but to also highlight the work of others in our community. My reports will share issues directly related to the Director position and shine a light on the incredible work being done by the people and organizations of Area C. They are the ones that truly make this place amazing. 

Will you protect and preserve all of Area C as the most beautiful place on earth and not allow any industry or situation to destroy it?

My family lives this value every day as regenerative farmers. We farm so that land and the soil are improved year after year. Protecting and preserving Area C is too big of a task for one person, and it takes a collective effort, it takes an engaged and organized community.  In short, it will take all of us to develop and fight for a vision of our community.

This is what I want to help create for Area C: that the collective influence, work, and voice of a unified and organized community will accomplish much more than a Director advocating on behalf of the community.

I commit to working hard to help organize and ensure as many people as possible have influence over the beautiful place we call home and what makes us all proud to live here.

Why do you want the job?

I want the job because I have the political and Board level experience to ensure that Area C is well-represented.

I want the job because there’s an opportunity to take this important role to a new level, and I have the knowledge, experience, desire, and energy to do that. 

I want the job because I see where bridges need to be built or mended, and alliances to be made. I have the skills to accomplish this.

I want the job because I believe in the potential of our communities, and I know I can help make them even better.

I want the job because it is important that it be held by someone who can effectively represent this place at the Board table, by someone with the decades of experience it takes to know how to navigate the complicated rules of order and Parliamentary procedures.

I want the job because I know how hard and how important it is for communities to get organized in order to come together and plan for important future challenges such as climate change and food security.

I want the job because 3 generations of my family now call this place home.  I want to work to ensure this is a place where our seniors can find the support and the care they need to live out their days here if they so choose.  I want to ensure this is a place where families can raise their children. I want to work to ensure that our children have the opportunities to call this place home now and have the option to establish their own families here.

I want the job because I believe in this place.  I see its potential and I believe I can help that potential become a reality.