Chris Istace

Chris Istace – Candidate for North Cowichan Council

Please tell us a bit about yourself and what made you decide to run in this election?

I am a resident and local small retail business owner in Chemainus. I serve years on the Chemainus Business Assoc with last 4 years as President. I also serve on the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society board for the last 7 year. I have always been engaged as a resident, business leader, community volunteer, ambassador and working on behalf of my fellow residents. I have attended open houses, surveys, workshops and presented to North Cowichan council on several occasions. I want to take the next step in serving my community at a higher level. 

The climate science is clear - we need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 45% from 2005 levels by 2030 to address the devastating climate impacts (heat waves, fires, floods, droughts) we face. What priority actions to reduce GHG emissions locally will you advocate to get local government on course to meet that 45% reduction by 2030, less than 7 ½ years from now?

The clearest and best way to achieve this is to build on the new OCP that was just passed and act upon the recommendations. This would be to preserve rural integrity, direct development to infill urban selected growth centers, reduce car centric developments, protect greenfields, forests & rivers in their natural state and strongly invest in transit and active transportation.

Transportation, mostly in private cars and trucks, is reported to be responsible for 72% of GHG emissions in the Cowichan Valley. What three strategies to reduce emissions from transportation, while also supporting local people getting where they need to go, would you work to implement?

The key aim of having focused growth centres is to encourage housing, business and amenity development to support the “15-minute community” planning concept. Within this model it creates the ability for residents to walk or cycle in 15 minutes to all their needs, but this will also require that we prioritize the upcoming new Transportation Master Plan as a top agenda topic for the new council. We also need to work with the CVRD to immediately move up the timeline to connect communities via the Cowichan Valley Trail system as well as give more transit options with BC Transit.

We’re not only in a climate crisis, we’re in multiple overlapping crises, including affordable housing, homelessness, and the opioid overdose crises. If elected to local government, what interconnected solutions would you advocate to address these social and environmental crises in the Cowichan Valley?

This is one area that I am not an expert in or have the immediate right answers but what I do feel with regards to what local level government can achieve is limited. For several decades now Provincial and Federal governments have been downloading or outright not meeting their responsibilities. Mental Health, Social Housing and health support systems have seen a decrease in funding and infrastructure. North Cowichan can provide land and resources, but the upper levels of government MUST get back to their mandates of providing essential social supports.

The Cowichan Valley is experiencing increasing climate-related cycles of drought and flooding in our watersheds, as well as other damage to natural ecosystems and farmland caused by development pressures. These trends threaten our salmon and our food security. What actions must local government take to better protect our watersheds and drinking water, as well as increase local food production and food security? What protections should local government put in place?

Through the Forest Engagement process as well as the updated Climate Action Energy Plan there are clear objectives that need to be met. Preservation and rehabilitation of the watersheds of North Cowichan from mountain tops, through the forests and into the creeks, rivers, and lakes eventually to the ocean have been impacted for years and now we have the chance to look to them for climate resiliency. Retaining the integrity of the rural character as well as farmlands of the valley is clear in the new OCP.

Emissions from buildings are second only to transportation emissions here in the Cowichan Valley. Local groups working together on climate change solutions have asked all five of our local governments to commit to getting fossil fuel emissions - gas and oil - out of our built environment. Do you support this move, and what next steps would you advocate local government take to achieve this?

Nothing is possible overnight but as each new project comes forward it has been shown that moving towards higher standards of building code energy efficiencies, encouraging denser smaller buildings reducing resource inputs as well as encouraging renewable energy sources for power and heating demands will get us to those targets. While there is urgency to get to a fossil fuel free lifestyle, buildings and infrastructure we need to do so in a manner that nobody is left behind or unfairly excluded. 

Most of our local governments have either, like North Cowichan, recently approved a new Official Community Plan (OCP) or are in the process of updating or harmonizing their OCP (CVRD) with stronger social and environmental directions for our Cowichan communities. How would you support the OCP approved for your community in moving forward, including implementing the bylaws needed?

I would hope to be an ambassador or champion for encouraging the multitudes of benefit for focused growth in our targeted centres. Showing the benefits of what building the missing middle will accomplish while working towards moving away from exclusionary zoning. I would also advocate for granny flats, lane homes, basement suites and other means with which our residents can add to the housing inventory.  Lastly ensuring the walkability and cycling infrastructure build out to support this densification.

What do you consider the three most pressing issues facing local government and the one most important thing local government should do on each one?

Housing – Facilitate building of housing immediately and treat it with the urgency it deserves. Remove exclusionary zoning and empower staff to approve new builds quickly and efficiently for developers and residents.
Social Issues – Homelessness, mental health and opioid crisis are responsibilities of upper levels of government. Province and Fed efforts need to ramp up. Municipality can facilitate land, staff and resources only when they come to the table.
Forests – The local community forest engagement process on updating a several decades-old policy was long past due. The changing climate has drastically changed the lens in which we look at the forests.

How do you plan to work with other governments within our region, including working with Local First Nations, as well as the provincial and federal governments?

We need to be transparent in our government-to-government relationship and consider long term implications of council decisions that will have a direct effect on local First Nations communities. Remain committed to reviewing the relationship agreement between North Cowichan and Cowichan Tribes but also the significance of the cultural and historical place the local rivers, mountains and forests play in the local First Nations. Recognizing inclusion of all communities and knowing that the history of Cowichan extends beyond the 150 years of the Municipality of North Cowichan, the Coast Salish Peoples have called this land home for centuries.