Who will tend the garden? The board of the Blenkinsop Valley Community Association is looking for additional volunteers to help shape the future direction of this part of rural Saanich. Black Press File

Community leader fears demise of Saanich’s community association

A community leader fears for the future of community associations.

“I think there is a potential for them to be imploding,” said Illarion Gallant, a director with the Blenkinsop Valley Community Association. “I think there is a potential for them to disappear. I know our board is tired. People have been on it for a long time, and there is no one stepping up.”

Gallant, a prominent local sculptor, has served on the board of the association for five years, as one of six board members. He has very much enjoyed the experience, both on personal and professional level. He has also been able to balance his time commitment towards the

“I find the engagement worth the time commitment [and] I don’t think it takes that much time that you can’t do it. It is just a matter of doing it.”

But Gallant would also like to see others step up. He estimates current board members have served on average between six and eight years, with one board member having served for 13 years.

“We have to get new people on board, so that they can learn about it, and they can learn what the issues are,” he said.

Community associations, according to Saanich’s web site, consists of Saanich residents that “provide valuable input to council and Saanich staff on items such as land use and planning proposals.”

This status makes them important transmission points between the public-at-large in each of the 18 neighbourhoods that they represent, elected officials and other actors, including private enterprise, non-for-profit agencies and other members of local civil society.

Saanich recognizes this status by affording representatives of community associations additional time to comment on development and land use issues, and their influence can be significant, as in the case of the Camosun Community Association, which played an influential role in the eventual re-development of Townley Lodge.

As such, community associations represent democratic laboratories and training grounds, and yes, stepping stones, towards larger, elected political offices.

But various community associations have at various times also struggled to maintain membership against the backdrop of changing societal norms, especially around volunteerism. “The whole idea of community associations came out of a time, when there was way more community participation,” said Gallant. “That’s the whole thing about volunteerism.”

A Statistics Canada survey found that in 2010 about one-half of Canadians volunteered. But if the number of volunteers has increased since 2004, actual volunteer hours have plateaued. In fact, according to the survey, 10 per cent of all volunteers accounted for 53 per cent of all volunteer hours given to non-profit and charitable organizations.

In short, more people are more volunteering, but their respective commitments are fleeting, thereby leaving the heavy lifting to a small, dedicated core of individuals. Sound familiar?

Gallant also hopes to see his community association become more reflective of the area’s demographics. While the Blenkinsop Valley has an undeniable agricultural feel, it also has commercial and residential pockets, which perhaps lack effective representation.

“Their use of land is different than mine,” he said.

Looking more broadly, these conditions — a lack of fresh voices and unreflective representation — contain the seeds of illegitimacy.

If community associations cannot accurately capture the interests of their respective communities, if the same people continue to shape their direction, why should community associations continue to exist as an additional layer between council and the community at large?

Gallant still believes that community associations are important. “Working in the capacity, I believe they should be working in, they should have the ear and be the voice of the community,” he said. When you have a clear voice and a clear identity of the community, you can go to the municipality, and say ‘we feel this.’”

But Gallant nonetheless considers questions about the legitimacy of community association valid.

“People are talking about it right now,” he said. “You know who is talking about it? Developers. ‘Really? We are going to talk to these few people and they are going to tell us if this development is going to go through?’”

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