We are no longer campaigning for re-election in the BC local elections.
Yup, you heard that right. Our campaign has been cancelled and we are no longer in a competitive race for council, let alone against each other. Can you imagine living in this house if only one of us got elected? We live in a tiny community that has always had one of the highest voter turnouts in the whole province. However, as of closing date for the candidate nominations, (Sept. 14th) there were 6 councillors (us being two of them) and one mayoral candidate, and all but one of those were incumbents. Highlands has an acclaimed council.
So what makes a community not exercise democracy in an election? Good question, and this blog post will provide our personal perspective of what makes the Highlands a little different.
People get sucked in. Yup, it happened to us.
When we look back to our introduction to the community it started 13 years ago when we were looking for a place to call home. We sent a letter to potential communities (specifically the planners and some community groups) indicating what we wanted to do, and seeking a response as to how “open” they would be to crazy people who wanted to build a mud house with solar panels, compost toilets, rain water, living roofs and to grow food. When it came to the Highlands, it was Eric with the Highlands Stewardship Foundation (HSF) that reached out and told us we (and our educational water, energy, food and lifestyle project), would be most welcome here. Little did we realize it was a ploy to suck us in a few years later to be treasurer and secretary for the HSF. Obviously positions they needed filled.
How did this happen? Well when we were young and naive and had an open house for the community to drop by and see the beginnings of our first cob structure (the cob workshop), Libby showed up with locally grown ground beef donated for hamburgers. Our neighbour Janet, who volunteered in our first cob workshop introduced us to Libby. Janet also regularly dropped by with extra eggs from her chickens. Then Libby’s Dad, Bob who is now 94, showed up as a volunteer to help tamp concrete for the foundation of the cob house alongside our family: Emily 6, Parker 9, and Ann’s mom and dad, Merrily and Howie. Bob was Highlands first mayor 25 years ago and has been a leader on just about every volunteer project, organization, and work party in the Highlands. Be like Bob.
What was the next thing that sucked? When somehow we were gently convinced by Bob to build a cob composting toilet at the local lake. How could we say no to Bob? We are not sure how he convinced the council of the day, but Bob has a history of making things happen. Well, our yes, led to a hard labour sentence of 400 volunteer hours when we really could have used the money. Gord was sick of eating cabbage and carrots. All of this to build a public park bathroom that has become a tourist destination. The cob bathroom with compost toilet has become a symbol of something that feeds us in a different way. It feeds a few trees too and sequesters some carbon in the soil. This is when the big money started rolling in. For the past 6 years we have had the bathroom cleaning contract…finally some paid work in the community even if it means scrubbing the bathroom floor. This same cob bathroom was chosen without our knowledge to be the Highlands quilted square in the CRD 50 year celebration.
Our friend Pattie, I think the third Highlander we met, spent many hours interviewing us for various well written articles in the local paper. This was our very positive first introduction to the media. Over the years, thanks to Pattie’s articles, we have had hundreds of hours spent giving media interviews… which has become one of our biggest volunteer projects. We also introduced Pattie to dinner with cabbage and carrot soup…they were lean but happy times.
Then Ann got sucked in to look after all the financials for the “Save Mary Lake” campaign where she was literally processing 1000’s upon 1000’s of small donations, doing tax filings and attending endless meeting. The Save Mary Lake campaign was lead by Bob…and eight years later, Bob is still hard at work with this project with the Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary still making progress towards the permanent protection of this beautiful and ecologically rich oasis. Donations are still required for this conservation project. Bob is unbelievably persistent. In fact Bob once described himself as a dog with a bone when he gets and idea in his head. Lots of photos here:
But amidst these early naive episodes where either Ann or Gord would say “Sure” to various volunteer projects in the Highlands, there were wonderful things that started to happen in return. Ripples. When we hoped to register for the Living Building Challenge (LBC) for our Eco-Sense home we didn’t think we could find the $1000 fee, but Neville (an HSF director), without us knowing, put up half the monies to allow us to register. Then our other friends in the HSF (Warren, Eric, Len, Lin, and Greg), followed up with the other half. We had tears as we had no funds to do this ourselves. The result was we became the first project rated on the LBC internationally, and the first home ever to receive petal recognition (Oct 2010) and for many years to follow, our home was called, the “world’s greenest modern house”. Link to case study on our home.
Then when we were looking for windows to make our greenhouse, Neville stepped in again. He was just doing an energy upgrade on his home and we picked up all his old windows for a very reasonable price.
Somewhere’s in the middle of this, a neighbour spoke poorly about us for using recycled materials to build our house. They also shunned our kids for showing up at a birthday party with homemade gifts and a potted plant rather than buying stuff. Another neighbour upon hearing this neighbourhood gossip was immediately interested in us as potential friend material. Ingo has become one of our best friends, and dug up 3 of his apple trees that he didn’t have room for and helped us plant them in our yard. Hence our passion for tree crops was initiated. This marked the beginning our of food forest, our perennial edible plant nursery and the Eco-Sense farm. Now we have TOO much food.
But we have figured out a way to deal with that excess food. We share it in the community and we swap it for things we don’t grow. This has resulted in learning and experiencing the gift and sharing economy. We have also been known to take food to council meetings to share with staff, council, and community members.
About 6 years ago something happened right next door to us that really sucked…it sucked our energy. The farm across the street became a dumping ground for fill. Sound familiar? Bothered by the failings of the system to protect our community, our ecosystems, and our ground water and playing chicken with 40,000 dump trucks on our narrow winding roads, we ran for council. It’s been eye opening to see how “the system” works and doesn’t work, but ultimately it’s been a rewarding council experience that sucked up our time, and made us even closer to our community. So four years into this, we have now been acclaimed for another four year sentence.
Highlands citizens are currently united over the latest threat to our community, our ecosystems, and our water. No one wants a mine in the Highlands and a couple years ago, our council denied the rezoning of 65 acres of biologically diverse land complete with wetlands and rare species. We underwent a full public engagement process along with a financial review to explore the impacts and implications of allowing 25-35 years of land clearing, blasting, grinding, and processing of rock for sand and gravel. This land is adjacent to Thetis lakes park and residential neighbourhoods, and even a nature based daycare. Highlands council and virtually ALL of our citizens said no to this proposed land use. So, what happened after we said a collective and very firm NO? Well, the company that owns the land then went above municipal jurisdiction and applied for a mining permit with the provincial government. IF granted this would allow the mining operation to begin and override many of our municipal bylaws. Check out the community created Facebook page It’s #notOK to learn more.
On a more positive note, our small community fares pretty good from a financial perspective when compared to the other 152 communities in BC. The Canadian Federation of Independant Business over the past 7 years has ranked our community very well. 5 years ago we were 41st, 4 years ago we were 8th, 3 years ago we were 3rd, two years ago we were 2nd, and last year we were #1. We would like to say that this is due to our council. But reality sucks. It’s due to prior councils, this council, our staff, and our community volunteers including our volunteer fire department.
If it were not for all the volunteers that participate, that get sucked in to committees, work parties, the fling, the craft fair, the volunteer fire department, the coffee house, the informative talks, garden groups, bingo nights, broom pulls, clean ups, Easter eggs hunts, park protection, apple pruning, picking, juicing, the HSF, HDCA, HPRA, HHPA, VNB, the horse club, looking after the heritage homestead, … we would be taxing their money rather than their time. Our volunteers are to thank otherwise we would not be the BEST IN BC…on so many levels. Volunteers are good for financial capital, social capital, human capital, natural capital, and manufactured capital. But most importantly being a volunteer helps contribute to our individual sense of well being and belonging.
This fall our Highlands community is celebrating 25 years with a big party with the focus on ALL of our volunteers. Volunteers are what make the Highlands a special community we are proud to call home.
Ann and Gord