From a clearing atop Smoke Bluffs Park, Catherine Jackson casts her eyes over the cliff and down into town, where they snag on creeping sprawl and waiting brownfields, rivers and sloughs, homes and businesses, traffic and trails — a collection of people, places and things that contribute to Squamish’s identity. When she reels in the line, there’s a platform on the hook, one she hopes will propel her to district council, a position she’d use to tweak that identity towards a vision she finds lacking.
“I’ve seen the amount of growth that’s happened,” she says, citing her 12 years in Squamish and 22 in the corridor. “I acknowledge that growth is going to happen and is beneficial to us as a town — and we need it. But I’m also sensitive to the fact that we have incredible natural assets here, and, if we’re not careful, we’ll lose a lot of what we enjoy.”
Jackson has been president of the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society (SECS) for the past year, time spent pushing a number of agendas, from opposing a controversial third access to Garibaldi Highlands to protecting and promoting the estuary. Her work in that role poses something of a quandary: While it’s gone a long way to introducing her to the general public, it’s also shaped her as something of a one dimensional candidate, someone voters have gotten to know mainly as a result of SECS’ high profile opposition to Garibaldi at Squamish (G@S), the four seasons resort proposed for the area around Cat Lake.
“I’ve always been passionate about other issues,” she says, nodding to addiction, homelessness and the greater social safety net. “I hardly ever speak about G@S. It’s not on my agenda right now. I just tick that box, but there’s a lot more going on. I think the main focus is economic development.”
Meanwhile, her presidency with SECS has not been without peripheral benefit. A regular in the gallery at council chambers, Jackson has for months been intimate with the doings of council. In fact, she’s been a consistent presence in chambers, more so than any other candidate not blessed with incumbency. All that time taking notes has made her intimate with issues surrounding regional development, leadership and fiscal management, as well as visionary documents like the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan (DNP), as well as prominent planning paradigms like Smart Growth.
Those documents are the key to economic development of any kind, and Jackson wants them bent to her vision, one that sees Squamish shore up industries like tourism, renewable energy, arts, education and light industry — with room leftover for old favourites like natural resources. At the same time, she wants Smart Growth principles more stringently followed, a direction she says will require increased leadership.