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General News · 3rd September 2018
Richard Lawton
With very little time to get legal opinions and official confirmations, I cannot guarantee that everything in this article is 100% accurate. I've done my best with limited resources.

Imagine that someone empowered by a headstrong notion that "I AM CORTES" gets into the pilot's seat, locks the cabin door and, guided only by a ground crew that does not understand the aircraft, starts pushing buttons and pulling levers. The seat belt signs are off but the flight attendants are told to stay in their seats. All the toilet doors are locked. The cargo doors are wide open, flapping in the wind, with luggage disappearing all over the countryside. The trim on control surfaces is way off, putting the aircraft into a crazy, downward spiral.

And the passengers are expected to accept and deal with the chaos.

That pretty much describes the state of Bylaw 309 - a zoning update that governs our land use, taxes and much more.

There has been no public input since a very selective bunch of questions long ago plus a single public meeting with an equally narrow focus.

The APC (Advisory Planning Council - Islanders appointed to advise our director) has been the only player since.

And APC review of the bylaw was terminated by our director in May(!)

For the past 3 months Bylaw 309 has been adrift with no participation of the Cortes community.

It has undergone first and second reading amidst continued, ongoing modification.

There are more than 60 changes from where the APC left off.

With NO Cortes participation.

Some of the changes are minor. Many are not.

The staff have inserted/removed items with far reaching consequences, dutifully doing the bidding of other government departments with no apparent understanding (or concern) for the effect on us. Our own representative has participated and authorized everything.

Whenever other government bodies try to interfere with our affairs we must obviously assess the legislation governing them and compare it to their request and to our own needs, then 'negotiate' so that all parties are satisfied, NOT JUST BLINDLY COMPLY WITH EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING THEY REQUEST.

Why? Because this is OUR bylaw, not theirs!

But it's obvious that none of this was done. The lack of awareness and lack of concern for our wellbeing is astounding.

Here are just a few examples of some of the unacceptable, blatantly stupid things that are astray:

1. A seemingly innocent change of residences from 'Principal' to 'Accessory' use in commercial and industrial zones makes residence without some form of commercial use unlawful! (Read the ugly consequences of 'unlawful' starting at page 1... I got to page 27 before the stench of oppressive language gave way to a sentence that was more neutral. Nothing requires us to include this garbage. Penalties and prohibitions are our choice. We obviously need to make it known that we want positive expression of life on Cortes in documents we keep in our homes and abide by.) But back to accessory use, which goes much further. The assessment process used to determine tax is a complex legislated muddle in which the residential tax rate only applies if there is an occupied residence and NO commercial use. Otherwise the owner pays commercial tax at two and a half times the residential rate! OK, now let's follow that through again... anyone living on commercial land without commercial use is 1. there illegally, and 2. pays two and a half times the current tax...!
This colossal blunder shows a lack of understanding of Cortes history. Long ago when the original settlement plan was created, a generously large area was designated commercial (at Manson's) to encourage central social and business activity. It was never anticipated, or expected, that all, or even some, of the commercial land would become a business. Fast forward to 2018 when we've willingly handed control of our affairs to bureaucrats who know next to nothing about rural and Cortes Island affairs, to a community that is silenced so it cannot use its voice, and an to elected representative who does not identify and correct errors. Are we really going to penalise everyone who lives on commercial property?
The solution is simple, and obvious, but I suggest we don't want to merely alter a few words that remove the most obvious blunders, we want a properly executed bylaw update.

2. Supposedly at the request of parks (that's request, not legal requirement), a new "Marine Park" zone has been created, described in the staff summary as "docks will only be permitted with park use permit from the agency who has jurisdiction", which differs from the Bylaw itself, which states "Non-commercial moorage by permit issued by the authority having jurisdiction.". That's moorage, folks, not just docks.
Let's take a close look at what this means. Permits can be issued, delayed or denied, and renewal can be delayed or denied. If there is no intent to deny, there is no need for a permit. Thus the bylaw authorises denial of access, which violates a fundamental right to enter private property since many properties in Marine Park zones have no other means of access. That's a biggie. I have not yet received a legal indication of which higher statute it contravenes, but you can sure that something way above the heads of the SRD grants owners the right to enter their own property.
Solution: "Docks and moorage are permitted adjacent to private property. A permit is required if elsewhere." NOTHING else is needed (But I guess this illustrates the difference between a bureaucrat who seeks control and a stubborn Cortes Islander...)

3. Docks and moorage have magically disappeared all over the place. More fundamental rights removed without consultation.

4. Read Brian Hayden's article to get a glimpse of the latest aquaculture fiasco.

There's lots more of this stuff... LOTS MORE, from lot size changes, number of dwellings, density changes... on and on... all with no adequate notice, no disclosure, no consultation, no community discussion... let alone local approval.

Gabriel Dinim's "High Handed" article echoes the deep concern and annoyance that most of us must be feeling. But having dealt with local affairs since the 1980's, I don't share his pessimism that 'we can't fight city hall'. This is (thankfully) not Vancouver or Calgary. We CAN ask for, and EXPECT, full participation and control of the way we are governed. And the Regional District must comply, simply because there are powers above their heads. The Local Government Act, despite its boring exterior, very much puts power in our hands in a very positive way, with ample recourse to see it enforced.

We do, however, have to repair the communication damage by expressing ourselves.

I want to get this article published so there's time for you to digest it before the public hearing in a couple of days, so I'll skim through some of the following:

The Local Government Act requires that everyone is informed and has ample opportunity to participate and comment. Here's how it works:
The Regional District has four rural "Electoral Areas" (Quadra, Cortes, Nootka-Sayward and Oyster Bay) plus several urban areas (Gold River, Zeballos, Sayward Village, Tahsis, Kyuquot, and Campbell River.) The four Electoral Area directors deal with rural issues. They will attend the public hearing. All three visiting directors are experienced and open minded. They will make a recommendation to the Board (all directors) who generally trust their judgement, to adopt, reject or modify and adopt the bylaw. Our job is to express ourselves to these directors and and make our wishes and concerns known. If there is widespread dissatisfaction and it's obvious that quick changes are not the answer, the bylaw can, and should, be rejected and come back to us to do a proper job with whichever representative we choose in the upcoming election.

I'm not a writer and I apologise that this is hurried and clumsy. Please read it through and read it again, and seriously consider attending the public hearing on Wednesday at Manson's Hall, if only to express, verbally and/or in writing, that you want the bylaw rejected and back in our hands for further work.

(I suppose it goes without saying that anyone who supports adoption of this mess is politically biased :-)