Last month, a Leger poll showed only six per cent of Canadians blame the country’s onerous housing costs on municipalities. As local government, we must remember we are the most powerful level of government for affordability and environmental sustainability because of our ability to zone lands. Zoning land is a powerful tool that must be used wisely and for the public interest.
The pressure from the province to build more houses is immense. But, knowing Saanich does not have adequate environmental protections, tree protection, and streamside and foreshore protections in place is causing me duress. I also believe our Memorandum of Understanding with the WSANEC leadership council in question. I am advocating for sustainable development. I am advocating for consultation with First Nations. I am advocating for good fiscal management. Losing biological diversity comes at a cost, and maintaining it should be a priority.
As a local councillor, I do not belong to a political party. I am also 100% NOT developer funded. I make decisions that do not include private, development, or industrial influence. My focus is on sustainable land use. As a councillor, I have been consistently advocating for fair public amenities and environmental protection during subdivision and development applications. My voting record confirms my understanding of zoning.
I am also not on the Homes For Living team and I did not fill out the Homes For Living survey. It was created by a development lobby group and includes their definitions of the crisis and their solutions. I do not agree with a majority of these solutions, including their definition of affordability.
As citizens of the region, my husband and I consider the in-perpetuity protection of Madrona Farm among our most important marital achievements. These 24 acres are among the most speculated, expensive, and sought over lands in Canada. We are so pleased to have, through the help of family, friends of Madrona Farm, and the public, protected these lands forever and created this legacy in the most biodiverse part of Saanich, BC, and Canada. It has been our life.
Without environmental protection during development, the results are not sustainable. When we convert a biodiversity hotspot into non-pervious surfaces and pipes it is not good financial management. When we tear out natural features, we are removing free ecosystem services known more commonly as Nature-based solutions. Nature provides resiliency from disturbance and mitigates climate impacts (flooding, landslides, extreme heat, etc.). The cost of preservation is much cheaper than restoration.
I advocate for smaller house sizes and wise placement. I am of the mindset we should build around trees. We do not have much room in some parts of Saanich for tree replacement. Therefore, when we remove trees we really are removing them, and giving up their free ecosystem services: water retention, flood abatement, pollution filtration, pollination, carbon sequestration, etc. Trees protect us from the elements, provide shade, and are part of the hydrological cycle. Native trees provide habitat for birds and bees and butterflies and a myriad of other creatures. We live in an incredibly biologically diverse region with dozens of federally endangered species. We should be celebrating and stewarding these unique habitats. Instead, we are unravelling generations of traditional land-use techniques and fertility and habitats and replacing them with buildings that may only last 60-100 years.
Even large non-native trees should be prioritized over pavement. Removing trees for bike lanes when tree removal accelerates climate change and increases the impacts of heat domes does not make sense. I just came back from Corsica, where it was 45°Celcius and there are beautiful bike lanes there. Guess what? They were bare. Nobody feels like riding in those temperatures. So more thoughtful planning is needed. With each tree removal we eliminate ecosystem services without properly understanding their true value.
There is value in biodiversity that is never adequately quantified or included in fiscal calculations. These are free services that Nature provides us on the most biodiverse and fertile lands in Canada. This is why I advocate strongly for Development Cost Charges (DCC) and Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) and public amenities. We need to put a price tag on biodiversity, and insist on updated development fees. My motto “developers pay their fair share” comes from this. As a food grower, I know the cost and time of building fertility and doing sustainable land use. Also as a restoration ecologist I know the cost of replacing these ecological attributes. The cost of maintaining Nature Based Solutions is far cheaper than restoration. And, unfortunately, the public is always on the hook for restoration.
Coming from a background of conservation and protecting lands, I am very busy strategizing on what comes next. Sustainability is about conducting land use that meets the needs of current generations without impairing future generations’ ability to meet their needs. It is about returning to the reverence that was practiced here since time immemorial. To me this is synonymous with climate action. We love our kids – right? We are currently doing one-generation land use, not stewarding the earth for the next generations.
Much of my hope lies in private property owners protecting their own properties in a variety of ways. I am inspired by the WSANEC land trust and the first land transfer of Maber Flats. I believe it will be the first of many. Raincoast Conservation Foundation can also write covenants and protect lands through land trusting. I hope to raise millions between these two organizations, as well as a fund for people who want to covenants on their property but cannot afford to so.
People often come to me and ask me how to protect their lands and now I can direct them better. I will not give up on the ability and will still strongly advocate for local government to protect the environment through zoning and environmental policy. Creating a biodiverse refugia for the health of family/community and a legacy for future generations is possible.
I can not emphasize how important it is that citizens pay attention to changes in zoning in light of our demand for new housing. As always I welcome you to speak with me.
We can “be the change we wish to see in the world”.