Some weeks, my calendar tells a story in a snapshot. This has been one of those weeks.
The week began with two very different approaches to bringing about change. I spent much of Monday at the Forest Hydrology Workshop, which was put on by the Cowichan Watershed Board. We heard from experts on climate, hydrology, and forestry practices, and engaged in an abundance of solution-oriented discussion around how to ensure a balance between forestry and long-term protection of watersheds.
From there, I went to Victoria to attend a vigil against the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion. Hundreds of citizens came together to peacefully convey the message that the conditions we face in the world today necessitate a transition away from fossil fuels, and that the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline is a step in the wrong direction. Expanding Kinder Morgan not only poses a serious risk to the coast and the coastal wildlife populations, it contributes to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we need to be investing in renewable energy alternatives and dramatically reducing our fossil fuel emissions.
While it is daunting to realize that we are facing extraordinary challenges, I am filled with hope and optimism to see the willingness of so many people to tackle these issues in a variety of ways, whether through informing ourselves of the most recent science on watersheds or sending a message to our government – what’s clear is that people are invested in having a say in the future of our province and our planet.
On Tuesday, Blaise attended the climate change discussion at CVRD while I prepared for an interview with Global TV about the recent changes the Ministry of Environment has made to the Contaminated Sites Regulations – changes that have included some decreases in allowable levels of contaminants, but also some extraordinary increases in other levels. These changes have raised concerns not only among local governments, particularly in rural areas, but also among scientists and environmental advocates.
While my interview didn’t make it to the 2-minute news clip, I was most pleased that our local scientist Bernhard Juurlink was a part of the piece. Bernie has broken down some of the increases that have been brought in with the new regulations.
I have called on the Ministry of Environment to provide independent, peer-reviewed science that justifies these increases in allowable levels. At a time when we know that toxins have infiltrated our ecosystems and are showing up in our bodies, it seems hard to understand why a government would want to raise levels of contaminants, and it begs the question of whether or not we are seeing a similar situation to the one in the US where industry lobbying has resulted in increased allowable limits of chromium-6. A recent report from Environmental Working Group revealed that over 200 million Americans have unsafe levels of chromium-6 in their drinking water.
Ultimately, we need government to recognize that it has a duty to ensure the long-term protection of the citizens of BC and the ecosystems that we rely on for our survival.
Wednesday was a series of back-to-back meetings at the CVRD – ranging from conversations with MoTI about plans for Shawnigan’s roads in 2017 to meeting with stakeholders to discuss the potential of tourist accommodation in Shawnigan (I will share more on this possibility in the coming weeks), to learning about the next proposed steps for a South Sector Liquid Waste Management Plan. We also had three CVRD meetings – Special Board meeting, Regional Engineering Services, and Regional Services – during which we discussed matters that included invasive species, solid waste disposal, economic development, airshed protection, and the Trans-Canada Trail.
Thursday and Friday were set aside for CVRD budget meetings. We’re back in budget season at CVRD (the year’s second – the first budget season is in late summer), which means that the Directors need to approve each one of the budgets for CVRD’s 176 service functions. Some of these functions are relatively straightforward, while others – solid waste, for example – are large and complex budgets that encompass a variety of activities.
It is one of the most challenging parts of the job, to try to find a balance between the vision of the Board, the recommendations of the staff, the desires of our communities, and the very real need to ensure that citizens are not subject to overly burdensome tax increases. One of the factors exacerbating this challenge is the ‘downloading’ from higher levels of government. Tax cuts at provincial and federal levels can often translate to local governments being put into a position of trying to fill in the gaps created when cuts are made to services that impact the lives of people in our communities. Local governments are also increasingly bearing the economic brunt of climate change. In the Cowichan, we’re having to deal with flooding as well as drought, and we’re also taking very seriously the need to assess our water supplies and the potential threats they face. In Vancouver, the city is planning a long-term strategy for mitigating impacts from climate change, and recognizing that the costs will be significant – one recent news story outlines some of these challenges.
We have four full days set aside for budget discussions, and we have agreed to add another to review the overall impact and look for ways to try to reduce the requisition while ensuring that we are maintaining important services.
Thursday and Friday evenings brought opportunities to embrace the festive season. We attended the very rainy Ladysmith Light Up on Thursday evening, and then the much less damp festivities in Duncan on Friday evening. Both events were incredibly well attended and very enjoyable.
I am very much looking forward to the Shawnigan Village light up on Sunday December 4th from 3:30 – 6:30.
In amongst all the meetings and festivities last week, there were dozens of phone calls dealing with everything from the Elsie Miles revitalization to Ministry of Transportation plans and issues. There are also hundreds of emails, many of which need follow-up; everything from ongoing concerns with what is happening at the contaminated landfill to appointing a new commission member. I also needed to write an article for a local publication, do a live interview on CFAX on Thrusday and a recorded interview with Juice FM on Friday about the changes to Contaminated Sites Regulations, making the case that the province needs to create a proper plan for the contaminated soil that protects the water and soil of all communities, rather than creating unnecessary risks, particularly in rural areas.
On Saturday, it was lovely to attend the Shawnigan Lake Craft Fair and to see the incredible array of local businesses offering extraordinary and exceptional items. We are truly an entrepreneurial community, and I am always amazed at the talent and innovation we have right here in our own neighbourhood.
So what are my reflections at the end of this busy week?
I am grateful to have the support of my husband, and I am also grateful for my Alternate Director Sierra Acton, who helps out in many ways and took on the task of organizing the annual CVRD Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. I am also incredibly grateful for the support and kindness of so many in the community who help out in many, many ways (particularly the good fairy of coffee, who keeps me appropriately caffeinated, and the many good food fairies who are helping enormously). My friends keep me laughing and feeling cared for, and my kids bring me joy.
With the many busy days in a row, I found myself truly enjoying and being present for quiet moments with family, hearing about the kids’ days at school or enjoying a meal together. And while it can at times seems like there are a lot of balls in the air – and a lot of items on my to-do list – I feel fortunate and grateful to be doing work that serves the community and provides me with a true sense of purpose.