The recent decision by the Squamish Nation to outright reject the amended plan for a gondola project in Squamish was not the first such action by local aboriginal people to kibosh tourism infrastructure projects. In addition to Al and Nancy Raine's Cayoosh Project, the Garibaldi at Squamish proposal and the Shannon Falls gondola mentioned in last week's Pique article, a natural hot springs spa at Shovelnose Creek and a zoning amendment to bring Callaghan Country's existing facilities at Alexander Falls into compliance have also been summarily rejected by band councils recently.
In one small region of the province where substantial economic growth has come from sustainable tourism initiatives, this signals big trouble. In Whistler, with its predominant youth culture, this loss of potential opportunity spells disaster. Clearly, our elected officials are failing to see the signals here.
To say that the process is derailed is an understatement. It's a wholesale #!&%*@ trainwreck, complete with a smoking shell of public policy and a landscape littered with bloodied and dazed citizens. If the current provincial government is to make due on its announcement of increased tourism opportunities then it will first need to make a demonstrated commitment to ensure a reasonable chance for success for Crown land applicants. The current charade of pitting individual proponents against Band Councils has promoted practices which will not fare well under the closer examination and brighter lights of open public process.
The intent of the Legacy Agreement signed between the province and both the Lil'wat and Squamish Nations in anticipation of the Olympics was to usher in a whole new relationship between the corridor communities based on mutual respect and opportunity. It would be refreshing to see some evidence of this.
Now Im no civics teacher, but I do believe that prescribed public processes must be seen to be fair and transparent and that it is our elected officials duty to safeguard and ensure this. First Nations must be consulted in a meaningful dialogue over a prescribed time period and a forum established to focus on identifying and solving real issues. After which, touch decisions have to be made in a timely fashion.
World tourism is one of the planet's bright economic spots. We on the South Coast of British Columbia are positioned perfectly to capitalize on this in the coming five years. It is up to all of us to at least give fair hearing to qualified proponents. In the spirit of the upcoming Games we must each ask ourselves, "Is this my best?" We owe that much to all of our children.
In the interim, we, the non-aboriginal members of the corridor, would be wise to borrow a page from the strategic playbook of the First Nation people and adopt their respect and guidance offered through the wisdom of their elders. Al and Nancy Raine and Peter Alder are internationally renowned tourism leaders and are senior community members of Whistler. Together, they have played significant roles in transforming the corridor's economy from a rapacious resource-depleting monster to an imperfect world model for sustainable tourism infrastructure. We would be wise to at least listen to what it is they have to say. We would be even wiser to ensure we elect and retain officials blessed with this understanding.