Are we approaching a “Tipping Point” for our community?

By Richard Walker, Salt Spring Resident.

Salt Spring Coffee was forced off the island some time ago, and now the last remnant of that unique success story, the RoCo cafe, is closing its doors.  Tree House is open and operating, but the bureaucratic hurricane that surrounds that venerable landmark may eventually take its toll.  The Source has closed its doors, as has Moonstruck Cheese.  Persnickety Children’s Clothing will cease to exist in a few days.  Moby’s recently had to close the kitchen a few days a week due to lack of staff.

Business decisions?  The realities of the market?  Perhaps.  But the impact on the community cannot be ignored. I believe we are starting to see the failure of some of our vital systems.

There are indicators – like the canary in the coal mine – that should serve as a warning that something in the community needs change.  Like the climate change deniers, some of the “No supporters” will say that these small incidents are merely anomalies. I don’t think so.

The 2015 Salt Spring Economic Development Report warned that, if we did not immediately move to make changes, we would continue to lose young families and skilled professionals. Have we ignored that warning? Our inability to attract and retain service workers, technicians and medical professionals should be a signal.  Our Ultrasound Technician and two new physicians came, and went. We are now seeing business close and jobs disappear.  Who will be here to provide services to our growing population of seniors?

The report predicts that by 2021 “relative to a typical community in B.C., Salt Spring will have a third fewer children, almost twice as many seniors, and about 20% fewer working age people.”  The impact of that will be felt in staffing numbers at the hospital, schools, the grocery stores and pharmacies on the island.  It is in the community’s best interest to address these issues now!

Children need to grow up in clean and safe homes; parents need good paying jobs with stable, year-round employment so that they can provide for their families; seniors need young workers to provide the care and services they count on.

Salt Spring families with children at home earn 27% below the provincial average when compared to other B.C. families.  We have a significant population of young people living at or below the poverty line, in substandard accommodation, sometime illegally converted cottages, sheds and farm buildings.  That is not a healthy environment in which to raise children. This is as much a seniors’ issue as it is a crisis for young families.  

Salt Spring exists in a symbiotic relationship where each part depends on the health and survival of the other parts.

Mental health issues on Salt Spring generally go unnoticed until there is a situation in the library or another young life is lost.  Community Services report that the incidence of stress and anxiety related mental health issues among youth on Salt Spring is double that expected for a community our size.  Counselling services are underfunded and resources are stretched to their limit.  We need leadership on these issues – Community Services cannot do it alone, they need our support.

The Islands Trust cannot address these issues on its own and the Capital Regional District isn’t built to manage and administer a small community like Salt Spring.  We need a locally elected council of islanders who will take on these and other issues in a coordinated and strategic way, to work with the Trust to enhance their policy initiatives, strengthen the health of the community and protect and preserve our island culture.  A municipal council, working in concert with the Islands Trust can be more effective and more powerful than what we have now, and Salt Spring can begin to reverse some of the systemic problems that are causing social, economic and infrastructure concerns.

Is a municipality a perfect solution?  Perhaps not, but it gives us the tools to deal with these and other challenges.  Doing nothing – remaining with the status quo and ignoring the canary in the coal mine –  will only lead us closer and closer to our tipping point.

If we vote “No” and do nothing, we will continue to lose young families, businesses, services and employees.  Care givers, nurses, technicians and doctors in our hospitals, and support professionals in our schools and Community Services will all be impacted.  Children, young adults and seniors will all feel the impact.

Leaving these issues to the CRD is not an answer.  The concept of a Local Community Commission as being suggested by some is a false hope.  LCC’s are designed for very small, remote communities – under 500 people, not a community like Salt Spring.  An LCC would operate as an administrative arm of the CRD, and the last thing we need is to add another layer of CRD management and cost.

The worst outcome would be to ignore the warning signs, not treat the underlying condition and wake up one day to find it’s too late.  Saying “Somebody should have done something” after the fact is not the answer.  The answer is to vote for improvement, vote for saving our community, vote for the future of Salt Spring.   

On September 9th please consider voting Yes.

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